New Orleans Cemeteries Through the Eyes of a Designer

New Orleans has always been a city filled with a rich history and an eerie presence. What better time than spooky-season itself to explore one of the city’s most unique features—New Orleans cemeteries.

In New Orleans, cemeteries are not just places for the late to reside, but rather tourist attractions that draw visitors from around the world. Whether it’s your first time in New Orleans, or you’ve lived here for a lifetime, there are a plethora of details to check out on your next stroll through a local cemetery. 

With 42 cemeteries in the New Orleans area, it’s difficult to see everything, so we’ve highlighted some of the best design details and attractions. 

Why Is it Called “Cities of the Dead”?

New Orleans cemeteries are designed with unique layouts and are sometimes referred to as the “cities of the dead.” The first thing you’ll notice on your visit to a cemetery is the above-ground tombs. Design-wise these tombs often look like small houses. When taking a detailed look, you’ll see that tombs are embellished with decorations or religious symbols and are often surrounded by an iron gate. Today, this could be reminiscent of a fence around someone’s property. The large clusters of the small houses and street-style layout can often look like a city, which is why those have coined the term “cities of the dead.” 

Determining What Your Eternal Resting Place Will Look Like

Tombs and wall vaults in New Orleans cemetery

There are two main types of grave designs in New Orleans cemeteries—above-ground tombs and wall vaults. Both graves reside above the ground because of the frequent flooding in the city. Back in the day when caskets were buried below ground, the high water table would raise the caskets out of their burials, likely surprising residents with a visit from their deceased relatives. above-ground tombs and wall vaults are the design solution to this issue that is still in use today.

When visiting a New Orleans cemetery you will find the cemetery lined by a thick wall known as a wall vault. This thick wall made up of stacked chambers is the resting place of those who could not afford an elaborate tomb burial.

above-ground tombs are the more notable and embellished burial sites that are usually the resting place of wealthier families. This style of tomb has also been said to resemble the sarcophaguses of ancient egypt. When walking around the cemeteries, take note of the detail and typography etched into the stone as well as the varying styles of architecture. Take a look at the broad range of fonts and styles used on the tombs and around the cemetery as well as the detailed sculptures. 

Tomb in New Orleans Cemetery

Notable Sites in New Orleans Cemeteries

Nicholas Cage’s Pyramid Tomb

Nicholas Cage's Tomb

The famous actor, Nicholas Cage, has prematurely built himself a resting place. His tomb resides in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. It has become a staple tourist attraction there because of it’s famous owner and uniquely sleek pyramid design. 

Elk Tomb

Elk Statue on Tomb in Greenwood Cemetery

The greenwood cemetery of New Orleans houses the very elaborate “Elk” tomb which was designed “by architect Benjamin M. Harrod and features a statue carved in Italy.” The extravagant design on this grave makes it clear those resting inside were wealthy!

Planning Your Visit

If you’re looking for a spook this Halloween, make a trip over to one of New Orleans’ local cemeteries and take a closer look at the tombs than you did last time! Or, check out the cemeteries on November 1st as locals celebrate All Saints Day. On this day, relatives come together to honor those who have passed and beautify their graves. 

Cemeteries’ scary reputations usually overshadow their unique and mysterious design details. New Orleans cemeteries have intricacies that cannot be seen from your car as you drive past them on the highway. To truly see the vast array of fonts, architectural techniques and scale of the graves you must take a walk through one of these historic cemeteries. Enjoy your visit, but watch out for ghosts.