Thursday, March 22, 2018:
Morning started as it had before, light from the courtyard and Lily poking me with her nose. I told her to go back to sleep and she did. Eventually, I woke and took her for a walk. Along the way, I saw several trucks that had the phrase “Hollywood Trucks” on them. At first, there was one, as we passed in one direction, but as we circled back, there were four around the block. Even now, I have no idea what they were setting up for, but it looked like they were hosting a film crew. Lily was being difficult again and didn’t want to “go” so we headed to the dog park.
When we got to the dog park, it was earlier than the day before. As there was a school across the street, and apparently the hangout for other schools, the place was packed with school kids. Because I was there for a reason, I wasn’t interested in having people play with Lily, so I tried my hardest to avoid people, circling far from the crowds. Lily wanted to say hi to everyone and started pulling towards a pair of off-leash dogs. I got her concentration back on task and she did her thing. As we were leaving, a lady came in with a bunch of little dogs, all unleashed. Lily was being on her best behavior and ignored them. One ran away from the pack and came sniffing near Lily. She continued to ignore. The lady tending to them was very polite and said he was harmless, but I was more concerned with Lily flipping and stepping on him, as she does with small dogs and puppies of all sizes. We walked on, and the lady followed for a bit. She mentioned she liked staying in front of the fountain and that it was just fixed a few months ago. It had been nonfunctioning for years (I think she actually said decades), but it broke again a few weeks ago.
We moved on and ran into some kids. They were so excited to see Lily, I let them play with her because she was being so good. As we stopped, a man came out of his car, right where we stopped and brought his little dog out. I wasn’t sure of the breed, but he said it was something unique and even more unique was the color. He was mentioning this to a lady that stopped and had a similar dog she was sure what the breed was. They thought they had twins and would play in the park. As they were distracted, Lily and I snuck off back to the room.
I got ready for my morning trip to one of the cemeteries after verifying they opened at 9 and put Lily in her crate. I had some time, so I went to the dining area and had breakfast without the dog this time. I checked where they kept glasses and could not see anything appropriate for juice, so I grabbed a flute. I was just barely able to get it under the juice dispenser and was able to get some OJ to ward off scurvy for another day.
The hot breakfast of the morning was biscuits and gravy and eggs. I’m not a fan of gravy on my biscuits so I just asked for the starch and eggs… over medium this time. The biscuits were nothing special. Probably would have tasted good with the gravy. The eggs came out uneven. One was over hard and the other over medium. I ate my food and refilled the flute with water, which was easier to do and then returned to the room.
I gave Lily a treat, said goodbye, and parted. Before I got in my car, I informed the front desk I was leaving Lily behind, so they were not surprised, but I warned she was crated so housekeeping could go in. This was the beginning of a solo day. The first in my life out in public that was not related to a job. Doesn’t seem like much for most, but for me, this was a big deal.
I was still leaving early, so I decided to scope the place out. I had a three-mile drive and a little under forty minutes. I passed Canal Street as I headed to St. Louis Cemetery #1. Canal is one of the more popular strips in the area. I continued and drove past the cemetery and shocked that it was as small as it seemed. I wasn’t sure because I was keeping up with traffic. As I continued, I saw lots of places that sold po’boys, including several gas stations. I passed probably ten school zones. My GPS informed me almost every other block there was another one. After seeing nothing of real interest, I turned back around and headed toward my destination. I went to the nearest parking lot and dropped off the car.
Following what my GPS said, I went across the street through the parking lot. I saw the depth of the cemetery, and earlier saw the width. This was not a very large place and it was in the middle of an urban area. On one side, a tourist spot and the other, residence. I approached the front and saw a pop-up tent, one finds at a sales event. It covered the entire front interior entrance. As I got closer, I was greeted by a guard that directed me to my travel guide, who had already started the tour. It was 9:02 a.m. I met with Ernie, my tour guide and another guest. She was a bit older than me and from Canada and was as polite as they stereotypically are, as I interrupted her tour. I apologized for getting there late and paid my admission. The only way to tour the cemetery now is with permission from the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans. It was labeled on the tent, I mentioned earlier. To the right of the entrance was a security booth, and the left was the beginning of the tour.
I pulled out a $20 bill, the only cash I had on me, and paid for the tour, which was exactly $20, cash only. Ernie said he would repeat the part I missed at the end of the tour, but when I was walking up, he was finishing his comment about “shake and bake.” Personally, I think “shake and WAKE” would have been a better term. Basically, the cemetery consisted of above-ground crypts that were used for families. Several members were interred in a vault and when a year and a day passed, their remains were shaken out of the body bags they were in and moved to the back of the crypt to fall to the bottom level. It’s a pretty ingenious system for land management, but not something that the general populous is cool with. Personally, I think it is a great idea, but you can get lost in the shuffle. Ernie seemed very interested in getting us to buy some space, as he tried several times during the tour.
As we moved a foot away from the spot I joined, two other people, from Ireland, joined us. They seemed nice enough, but always in the way. One was tall and lanky with an expensive camera, taking lots of pictures through the tour, and the other was just an average burly guy. I would expect to see him sitting at a pub with pint of Guinness in hand, cheering the local football (soccer) team.
We continued and Ernie repeated that he would mention what they missed at the end of the tour. From there we went down the line and saw a lot of crypts. Literally, a lot, as the whole cemetery only took up a block. Behind us was a building Ernie mentioned, but I forgot, and to the left of us, was a housing project. Ernie continued to tell us the history of the cemetery and how it was useful to have the above-ground crypts to avoid issues when flooding occurs.
We moved on to the reason I was there. Marie Laveau. It was a boring, three high, white crypt that had been painted over. Apparently, it was all pink at one point. There were a few notable markers and one or two “XXX” on it, but nothing made it stand out from the other crypts. There were somewhat, fresh flowers in one of the stands and dead ones in the other. Ernie mentioned that people were not allowed in anymore without supervision because they were vandalizing the crypt with the XXXs. Apparently, one makes a request to Marie and leaves the mark. If she fulfills the request, you return and circle the mark and leave a thank you gift. Usually, a coin, money of larger denominations, food, or animal parts were left. Chicken feet seemed to be all too common. The new rule (because you know, when making an offering to a dead voodoo queen, can easily be changed by the church years after the fact and the dead will gladly accept that change), is say your request and if granted, come back and leave flowers. I’m not the most superstitious person, but that seems odd to change the rules and expect it to still work. I get why they did it because there were other graves people said were Marie’s just to con people out of their money, and those were littered with XXXs.
So, the story of Marie goes something like this. A local born in New Orleans meets a Frenchman and gets married when she is about 14. A year or two later, he disappears, never to be heard from again. Supposedly because he got on the wrong side of her, as you never piss off the Voodoo queen of New Orleans. A few years later, she gets together with another Frenchman and they have 15 children together. Contrary to being satanic, Marie is devoutly Catholic and went to church every Sunday. She was still a practitioner of Voodoo. Some of her “powers” included being able to cure the sick, tell fortunes, and make people fall in love with others. She just knew everything about everyone. She was also supposed to be very long-lived. She possibly knew so much be she might have been a hairdresser, and that was the internet of old. She was possibly undying because her daughter looked just like her so sometimes she appeared in two places at once and other times it seemed she never aged. I’m repeating these details based on what I was told. Ironically, this would not be the last time I heard these same details.
We moved on to other tombs in the cemetery. No one was quite as interesting, but a day tour of a cemetery doesn’t have much of a scare factor to it was just a history lesson from then on. We learned about crypts having the list of people interred added to and when the list got too long, it was placed on the side of the crypt. We were also told that there was a permanent upkeep fee and if it wasn’t paid by the family, no one did anything with the crypt. It just decayed. Some of the tombs had different material and not all of it lasted. Granite seemed to be better than marble over the years. Some of the faceplates were bowing over time. It was interesting to see there was no permanence and if you did not spend some cash, you would be forgotten in those spots. Of course, there were records that said who was there, but unlike a tombstone, nothing seemed to last there. Several of the crypts looked like brick ovens and if they wanted to move the bodies to the back after a year and a day, it kinda made sense.
The next interesting point we hit was the pyramid tomb of Nic Cage. Less than a decade ago, he bought a spot and made a pyramid because of his interest in the occult, Illuminati, National Treasure, or something else. On top of the “entrance,” it has the following Latin quote from Alister Crawly, “Omni Ab Uno,” meaning, “Everything From One.” As with several other shots, the Irish guy was in the way.
We stayed for some time at the Italian society’s tomb. It was huge and could be seen clearly from other parts of town. It was designed by an Italian engineer and when he finished it and they were about to unveil it, he passed and was put into it shortly after. There was another large tomb for the Portuguese Society.
We were informed about the scene from Easy Rider that was filmed in the cemetery. I never saw the movie, but I thought I knew who was in it. Being the only American on the tour, I was able to answer the questions about who stared in it, what Ernie was having issues recalling. What I had no idea about he did mention. Toni Basil and Karen Black were in it. Toni Basil of the song “Mickey” fame and Karen Black of Trilogy of Terror and Burnt Offerings fame, being the Dan Curtis horror fan that I am (he created Dark Shadows). They were part of a sex/LSD trip scene in the film, that I not only had no idea about, but it seems I had no idea that the plot was going from California to New Orleans to experience Mardi Gras. I only knew of the counterculture aspect of it, not where they were going. This was really interesting to me, as I was making an opposite journey. We were told because of that scene, filming was prohibited in the cemetery without permission from the Diocese.
We then passed several other tombs and went to the Protestant section. There wasn’t much there except for a drainage pipe and a single below ground plot. At this point, because it was easier to see everything, Ernie mentioned that the housing area used to be the red-light district, that whole area was Storyville, and the cemetery shrunk over the years. I had to ask if the bodies were all gathered, and he said unlikely. Clearly, there was a Poltergeist moment, as there were swimming pools nearby.
We moved on and other than the architecture, the only other person I found of interest was the person who produced the first granulated sugar, Étienne de Boré. I love my sugar.
We finished the tour and I asked Ernie about the part I missed in the beginning, he then repeated the same “shake and bake” method of burial I already heard.