Join me on a self-guide walking tour of the beautiful and historic Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans!
I’m taking a slight break from holiday content today to talk about … cemeteries?!?
Yup, if you’ve ever been to The Big Easy, then you know that visiting New Orleans cemeteries is one of the most unique things to do there. These cities of the dead are full of history and character, and they’re the finally resting places for some NOLA’s most notable residents (of which there are quite a few!).
One of my favorites is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District. It’s easy to get to, located in a charming neighborhood, and unlike some of the other cemeteries in New Orleans, it’s safe to explore on your own or with a group.
This beautiful cemetery has appeared in many TV shows and movies and provided inspiration for novelist Anne Rice, too.
I mentioned this beautiful cemetery a few weeks ago in my Garden District Walking Tour post, and I’m excited to share more details (plus, tons of pictures) about it today!
Visiting Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is located in the heart of the Garden District. It was established in 1833 by the City of Lafayette (which is where it gets its name), and it’s the oldest of the seven municipal, city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans.
This historic cemetery takes up one city block. Although it’s small compared to some New Orleans cemeteries, it’s size makes it easy to navigate.
The Garden District cemetery is non-segregated and non-denominational. You’ll find vaults here holding remains of immigrants from over 25 different countries (many of German and Irish descent), as well as natives of 26 states.
It’s hard to believe based on it’s size, but Lafayette Cemetery holds about 1,100 family tombs and more than 7,000 people!
Lafayette Cemetery is easy to spot. As you approach the cemetery, you’ll see a wall with tombs peeking over the top.
There’s a gate on Sixth Street, but you can’t enter from that side .. unless you hop the gate. Not recommended … ha!
Look for the main gate at 1420 Washington Avenue instead.
It’s located kitty corner from the bright blue Commander’s Palace restaurant. You can’t miss it.
It’s free to enter and explore this Garden District cemetery.
And like I mentioned earlier, it’s safe to walk around here alone and in groups. I’ve been here a number of times by myself and have always felt totally secure. It’s small size means there’s always another tourist nearby!
The cemetery is divided into 4 quadrants, forming a cross in the middle.
As you explore the cemetery, you can take one of these four main paths, walk around the outside path following the wall, or explore the narrower paths in between the vaults.
I like to make a right when I enter the gate and start by walking around the outside path.
If you do the same, you’ll see some of 500 vaults located in the Washington Avenue wall (on your right). They’re sealed and most do not have markers.
Because Lafayette Cemetery is located in the Garden District, as you walk around you’ll see neighborhood homes peeking over the top of the wall.
I’m not sure I’d want to live in a house overlooking a cemetery.
But I guess if I had to live near a cemetery, it would be this one!
Isn’t it beautiful?
The cemetery has a garden-like appearance, which is fitting for the neighborhood it’s located in.
You’ll find lots of greenery and trees throughout.
The four tombs in the verdant corner above form The Secret Garden.
Four childhood friends purchased the land in this corner of the cemetery and built their tombs together. BFFs forever!
Nature has definitely taken over in some parts of the cemetery, and many of the tombs have plants growing out of them.
Keep an eye on the paths as you walk through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
A number of the vaults and markers are damaged (as they are in many New Orleans cemeteries).
It’s easy to step on these broken markers, if you’re not careful. Watch where you step.
Save Our Cemeteries is dedicated to restoring the tombs in this and other NOLA cemeteries. Their first restoration project in this famous New Orleans cemetery took place in 1979.
Since then, they’ve restored over 100 family and society tombs, as well as the wall vaults along Washington Avenue. Restorations are ongoing.
Read more about Save Our Cemeteries at the end of this post.
Why the Dead Aren’t Buried Underground in New Orleans
Did you know that New Orleans is located slightly below sea level? Depending on where you are in the city, you many be standing anywhere from 1 to 10 feet below sea level!
There are couple reason why the city’s residents bury their dead above ground. When water levels rose during NOLA’s frequent floods, so did it’s coffins. Because of this, people started burying their dead in raised tombs.
Another reason you’ll find raised tombs in New Orleans has to do with the origins of its residents, many of whom are of European descent. It’s common to bury the dead above ground in France and Spain, and immigrants likely carried on the same practice when they moved to the U.S.
When I was in Paris a few years ago, it actually struck me how similar the cemeteries are in these two far apart cities!
Different Types of Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
There are a few kinds of tombs to be found in this Garden District cemetery.
First, you’ll find many individual family vaults, such as those seen below. These tombs hold multiple members of the same family, and you’ll see inscriptions with the various family member’s names on the exterior of the vault.
In addition to family vaults, you’ll find raised burial plots like the one below.
Lafayette Cemetery holds a number of society tombs for fraternal organizations and charities. These associations were formed to provide aid, benefit, and insurance for relief from everyday difficulties
One of the most well known of these tombs is the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children (below). The society was formed to help children whose families where affected by devastating epidemics of tropical diseases, like yellow fever and malaria.
This organization is still in operation today as the Waldo Burton Memorial Home.
The cemetery is also home to a number of society tombs for volunteer firemen organizations.
You won’t be able to miss the distinctive Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 tomb, which is located near the center of the cemetery.
As you walk around the cemetery look out for more signs of these fraternal organizations.
You’ll spot many markers with their symbols.
I noticed a number of stones marked with Woodmen of the World, which is a nonprofit fraternal benefit society that was founded in 1890. WoodmenLife still operates today as a privately held insurance company.
These Woodmen of the World markers were some of the most ornate and unique that I spotted in the cemetery.
Here’s a little history for you … the traditional Woodmen of the World monument has four objects on it: a maul, axe, wedge and dove.
If you look closely you can see that imagery on the two markers above, as well as the stone below.
Lafayette Cemetery Self guided Tour
So just what is the best way to explore this cemetery?
Due to its small size, you can feel free to wander around here. It’s impossible to get lost.
If you walk along the paths dividing the four main quadrants you will come across both the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children and the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 tombs that I mentioned earlier. They’re hard to miss.
Personally, I like to start a self guided tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 by making a right when I enter the main gate.
If you do that, you’ll be able to walk around the outside edge of the cemetery, cutting into the narrower pathways between the tombs as you like.
You can also access any of the main paths separating the four cemetery quadrants from the outside path.
As you walk through the cemetery, keep your eyes peeled for all the unique details on the vaults.
They truly are beautiful!
Read the stones for interesting inscriptions and to try to make out family relations.
Make sure to look up, as many of the vaults have urns, small statues, and other markers on their roofs.
The space between the vaults is often narrow.
As you look around their corners, you’ll see rows of vaults behind, and maybe smaller stones in between.
I thought the iron cross below was so unique and spare … definitely different than the stone symbols found on most vaults.
I’m assuming it was placed here after the original cross was stolen or damaged.
If you’ve been to New Orleans before, you’re probably familiar with the intricate cast iron work that adorns many of the city’s homes and buildings.
As you walk around Lafayette Cemetery, you’ll find these same cast iron gates surrounding many family plots and vaults.
They’re just one of the many pretty details you’ll find in this historic cemetery!
Tips for Planning a Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 Self-Guided Walking Tour
I hope you enjoyed my tour of this beautiful Garden District Cemetery!
Would you liked to take your own self guided walking tour of Lafayette Cemetery? Here’s what you need to know:
- Location: The cemetery is located at 1416-1498 Washington Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana.
- Hours: It’s open seven days a week from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm, although it’s closed on most major holidays.
- Cost: Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans is free to visit. If you’d like to take a guided tour, there is a small cost. Visit Save Our Cemeteries for information on daily tours.
- Where to Enter: The entrance to the cemetery is located on Washington Street near the Commander’s Palace restaurant.
- Be Respectful: Although it’s fun to tour this historic cemetery, always keep in mind that this is the final resting place for many New Orleans residents. As you walk through the cemetery, you may see people attending their family vaults. Be respectful to them and avoid stepping or climbing on graves.
- Watch Where You Step: Many of the vaults and headstones in this cemetery are broken or in disrepair, as they are in many New Orleans cemeteries. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk to avoid stepping on pieces of these tombs and to avoid tripping on cracked cement, tree roots, etc.
- Notable Vaults and People: The Garden District cemetery is home to a number of tombs for volunteer fireman organizations. The most distinctive of these is the large Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 vault, which is located near the center of the cemetery. Keep your eyes peeled for fraternal emblems, such as the Woodmen of the World, too. Another notable vault is the Society for the Relief of Destitute Orphans (this nonprofit is still in operation today). You’ll also find tombs for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, German Presbyterian Community, Poydras Orphans Home, YMCA, the New Orleans Home for Incurables, and other groups. The cemetery is also home to the family tomb of Judge Ferguson of the Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate-but-equal” case, Samuel Jarvis Peters who was the father of the New Orleans public school system, Brigadier General Harry T. Hays who served in the Mexican-American War and in the Confederate Army, and the Brunie family who were notable jazz musicians.
- For More Information: Save Our Cemeteries is helping to restore New Orleans Cemeteries, and they are a great resource for information and tours for any of NOLA’s cities of the dead. If you’re looking for a specific plot in Lafayette Cemetery, visit the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 site.
- Looking for more things to do in New Orleans? Check out my Garden District Walking Tour and find out how I’d spend a Weekend in New Orleans!
Have you ever toured a New Orleans cemetery?
P.S. Check out all of my New Orleans travel guides here.