Cemeteries of Canal Street

“Many of the cemeteries are beautiful, and are kept in perfect order. When one goes from the levee or the business streets [of New Orleans] to it, to a cemetery, he observes to himself that if those people down there would live as neatly while they are alive as they do after they are dead, they would find many advantages in it; and besides, their quarter would be the wonder and admiration of the business world.”
—Mark Twain

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Once the outermost edge of the Crescent City, the intersection of Canal Street and City Park Avenue now stands as the axis for a sea of cemeteries. Thirteen in all, these graveyards are neither the oldest nor most haunted of New Orleans’ necropolises (those dubious honors belong to St. Louis No. 1). Yet, Canal Street’s ‘Cities of the Dead’ are by far the largest—both in size and ‘population.’

Adorned with stained marble, rust-iron roses, and bronze statuaries, each of the thirteen cemeteries are architectural masterpieces designed to commemorate the sleeping dead. For within these cities of cold splendor and decaying grandeur, myriad generations rot and rest -and for some, their rest is far from peaceful.

Among the thirteen, the following are most prominent:

Greenwood: Opened in 1852, Greenwood is one of the city’s largest cemeteries. Notable features include a gigantic bronze elk that perches atop a mausoleum (and allegedly serves as a golem-esque sentinel) and the Confederate Monument, wherein the remains of six hundred rebel soldiers rot and rail against the South’s ignominious defeat. Seeking to free these battle-hungry dead are the ghosts of three interred confederate officers: Brigadier Generals Young Marshall Moody, Thomas M. Scott, and James Argyle Smith. Thus far, they have been successfully thwarted by the a single, but shrewd Unionist: Brevet Major General William Plummer Benton. As New Orleans’ former Collector of Internal Revenue during Reconstruction, General Benton is said to hoard a vast fortune with which he bribes both the living and dead to aid him in ceaseless battle with the rebels. How long his coffers will last is a matter of intense speculation amongst Greenwood’s inhabitants.

Metarie: Previously the site of a racino and then a Confederate camp, this cemetery was built in 1872. Today, it has the largest collection of elaborate marble tombs and funerary statues in the city. Notable sites include a pseudo-Egyptian pyramid said to be haunted by undead warlocks, the tomb of the famed brothel-madam Josie Arlington who reportedly will teach sybarites secret pleasures of the flesh for the exchange of hard coin, the 60 foot Moriaty tomb, and the memorial of 19th-century police chief David Hennesy (whose mob assassination lead to a lynch-riot) whose spirit cannot rest until the Black Hand’s grip on the Big Easy is broken for good. Beyond such apocryphal wonders, Metarie Cemetery is home to scores of now-dead opera stars, actresses, and musicians that continue to practice for performances that will never come.

Heaven’s Pets: A subset of Metarie and Lawn Park, this massive pet cemetery is prowled by all manner of spectral and cadaverous cats, dogs, snakes, and stranger beasts.

Cypress Grove: Built in 1840, this cemetery of fine-marble mausoleums, cast-iron tombs, and eponymous cypresses was constructed to house the Big Easy’s firemen who died in the line of duty. Urban legend holds that no fire will burn in Cypress Grove at night. As a result, some criminals (and vampires) have used the cemetery as a neutral meeting ground, for not even gunpowder will ignite under the ever-vigilant and over-zealous watch of the graveyard’s inhabitants -and woe to any who would test their mettle or resolve.

St. Patrick’s No.1, 2, & 3: Mirroring St. Louis’ more famous triad, this cemetery is a collection of three graveyards, maintained by the Catholic Church. As its name implies, St. Patrick’s is home to Irish-Americans, many of whom died building the nearby Canal. Supernatural activity is particularly marked during All Hallow’s Eve.

Gates of Prayer: Like its adjacent peer, the Dispersed of Judah, and their attached synagogue, this cemetery was established as a burial place for the Crescent City’s jewish population. Allegedly, the ghosts of interred rabbi-magi whittle away the night by playing chess and bickering over recipes for creating golems and latkes while dead shylocks gamble over fortunes they no longer own.

Odd Fellows Rest: Comprising more than 500 graves and tombs of Renaissance and Exotic Revival architecture, this abandoned cemetery has fallen victim to the cruel depredations of time, neglect, and vandalism. Allegedly locked to protect the tombs from further defacement by vagrants and delinquents, some whisper that the heavy chains’ true purpose is to protect would-be trespassers from the incensed dead -whose undying memories neither forget nor forgive those who deface or forsake them.

Holt: Established in 1879 as a resting place for the indigent and unknown, this potter’s field holds the remains of many tragedies, both private and public, including the victims of the UpStairs Lounge arson attack and the Storyville Murders. It also once held the remains of Robert Charles, the black laborer who killed six white police officers (and injured a dozen more) and sparked the 1900 New Orleans race riot. Robert’s body was later dug up and incinerated by either the NOPD or KKK (which were, and remain, not mutually exclusive categories). Yet, Robert’s corpse-less, chary shade is said to still haunt the cemetery and was known to converse quite frequently with the Black Panthers in the 1960s.

Cemeteries of Canal Street

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