Sunday, February 18, 2007

PLEASE! don’t bury me in New Orleans

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

I’ve long been fascinated by cemeteries. I’ve been known to stroll around in the older ones, reading inscriptions and wondering what the lives of the people interred below me were like by what people had to say about them. Some people might think this weird [hey, #7 to add to my Six Weird Things About Me], but I find them interesting and strangely soothing. But those burial grounds are nothing like the ones in New Orleans. No, not at all. Row after row of whitewashed brick, marble, statues, and wrought iron march ever onward. Crypt upon crypt. Tomb after tomb. Haunting [and more than likely haunted] and eerie; mysterious. They are indeed, as their name suggests, Cities of the Dead.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey


Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

All the more strange and mysterious, is to realize that they are not just a monument or a marker like a headstone. They are true above-ground burial vaults. Add to that the fact that they are used over and over again by various members of a family is a bit much to take in. The phrase “keeping it all in the family” takes on a whole new meaning. But rather than me tell you about this strange rite of burial, I’ll take advantage of the internet and let this excerpt from a web site tell you all the gruesome facts. Read on.

“The above-ground tombs of New Orleans, the origin of the nickname “City of the Dead” have an interesting history. Early settlers in the area struggled with different methods to bury the dead who never seemed to want to stay below the ground. The city’s high water table means that holes more than a few feet deep fill with water - causing an airtight casket to literally float and eventually push its way back out of the ground. Various methods were tried to remedy the problem, such as placing rocks on top of the graves and boring holes in the coffins. None were very successful, however. One good rain would pop the caskets right out of the ground, and even the waterlogged coffins that stayed put led to unsanitary conditions. Under mayor Esetban Miro, New Orleans eventually adopted the Spanish-style wall vaults, and now 90% of the city’s burials are above ground.

New Orleans has some interesting burial customs too. Due to lack of space, the tombs in New Orleans cemeteries are used again and again. The hot climate causes extemely high temperatures inside the tombs, causing the bodies to decompose rapidly in a process that has been compared to a slow cremation. Within about a year, only bones are left. In some cases, after the first year has passed, the cremains of the departed are swept into a communal pit in the floor of the tomb, leaving it ready for its next occupant. It is a common practice to bury all the members of a family in the same tomb, with names and dates added to a plaque or headstone. The rich are buried in ornate tombs with intricate carvings and ironwork, but most families have simple, economical vaults (many of the older ones are made of local whitewashed brick) that are stacked one on top of the other, forming walls. There are even “rental” units built into the walls of some of the cemeteries, for corpses who do not yet have a space available in the family tomb. “

Examples of “rental” units can be seen below in-between the vaults.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

This one looks a bit crowded to me:

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

So, if I happen to perish while in New Orleans, please don’t “bury” me there. Get me out on the next flight. Not that I don’t secretly like the fact of immortalising myself in a fancy tomb. No, it’s something more personal. I just happen to like plenty of space when I sleep.

Sweet dreams!

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey


Welcome, I'm Lynne. You know me better as a 'new' Jersey Girl. But now I've moved once again, this time to North Carolina. Here I write about my thoughts, good food, and of course, dogs.

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