New Orleans History – All Souls Day, All Saints, and All Hallows Eve

New Orleans History – All Souls Day, All Saints, and All Hallows Eve

New Orleans History – All Souls Day and above ground cemeteries in New Orleans in celebration of Halloween!

new orleans history - all souls

House decorated for Halloween (Infrogmation photo)

New Orleans History – All Souls, Saints, and All Hallows Eve

Ghosts and ghouls and goblins! All Hallows’ Eve is upon us! New Orleans never lacks for an excuse to party. Halloween provides a fun theme. Even in New Orleans, the season offers more than jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and witches on broomsticks. On Halloween, Catholics gear up for the really important day: The Feast of All Souls, on November 2.

Halloween

new orleans history - all souls

Feast of All Saints, novel by Anne Rice

Halloween wasn’t really A Thing in New Orleans until the 1980s. Anne Rice’s first novel of her “Vampire Chronicles” dropped in 1976. The series enticed people. Readers accepted the notion of vampires in New Orleans. Combine this with other authors like Poppy Z. Brite (Billy Martin), writing about paranormal New Orleans. It was as if we always had vampires. Add The Witching Hour and Rice’s other “Mayfair Witches” stories. Halloween and New Orleans connected.

Voudon and Halloween

new orleans history - all souls

Voodoo Experience Stage, 2009 (courtesy Commons user Njmaki)

Voudon doesn’t have a lot of connection to Samhain or All Hallows Eve. St. John’s Eve, at midsummer, was always the big “feast day” for followers of Voudon. While the focus should be on the Celtic traditions, Voudon gets caught in the mix. The annual Voodoo Music Fest contributes to this, much to the dismay of those who don’t approve of the mashup.

All Saints Day

New Orleans History - all souls

Three “double” tombs in front of the Italian Society Mausoleum in St. Louis Cemetery Number One in Faubourg Treme (author’s photo)

The Catholic Church recognizes individuals believed to be in heaven as saints. (New Orleans recognizes football players wearing black and gold as Saints). While conclusive evidence of such a state is hard to come by, Catholics make it happen. So the Church looks for supernatural events after a person’s death. Those taking up the “cause” of a prospective Saint attribute “miracles” to them. A sick person prays to a holy person for intercession. Their illness passes. The Church calls that a miracle. So, the Pope declares the holy person a saint.

Martyrs

new orleans history - all souls

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a Redemptorist priest whose work in New Orleans helped make him a candidate for sainthood. (Wikimedia Commons)

Martyrs, those who give their lives defending their faith, are believed to go immediately to heaven, which is why the yearly calendar of saints’ feast days includes a large number of them. In fact, the first recorded general recognition of saints was in 609, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome for the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs. May 13 was designated the date this event would be commemorated. During the papacy of Gregory III (731-741), the recognition of “all saints” was moved from May 13 to November 1. This commemoration gave the Church a “catch-all” day, where folks could pray for their “personal saints,” family and friends who they believed were in heaven but would never be formally recognized by the Church as such.

All Souls

The tradition of All Hallows (All Saints) is a strong one, but it’s still secondary in New Orleans. Faithful Catholics rise and go to Mass on November 1st. So, then they head out to the cemeteries. They clean up and prepare their family tombs for November 2nd. That’s the “Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed.” Catholics call the day, the Feast of All Souls.

While most people don’t want to believe that Grandpa is burning in the fiery pit for all eternity, maybe he wasn’t as good a person as he could have been. Catholics have a solution for that situation: Purgatory.

Purgatory

The idea was, since Grandpa wasn’t ready to go directly to heaven, he had to make a stop along the way, for purification. This pit stop was worked up over centuries into an elaborate system, where the faithful could pray for a “reduction in sentence” as it were, for their loved ones that were in Purgatory. Knowing that Grandpa wasn’t on the express train motivated Grandma to make sure the family tomb was kept up well and prayers regularly said for the repose of his soul. Since November 2 was a work day (the day before often is a holiday in Catholic-dominated countries), any clean-up projects at the cemetery had to be done on the day before.

new orleans history - all souls

“Decorating the Tombs” from Harper’s Weekly, 1885 (public domain)

Fixing up the Family Tomb

Cleaning up the family plot is often a bit more complicated in New Orleans than other parts of the United States, because we regularly bury our loved ones above-ground. The New Orleans cemetery tour guides will tell stories of how this had to be done in the early years of the city, since burying coffins below sea level would force them to the surface as the water table would rise. The truth of the tradition is a bit more simple (and obvious): above-ground burial was something that came over to New Orleans from France. Above-ground tombs gave families a better focal point for visiting the departed and praying for a remission of their time in Purgatory.

Above Ground

These tombs are usually made of regular brick-and-mortar, then plastered over and whitewashed. Catholic cemeteries in New Orleans were usually constructed by the various ethnic groups that made up the city’s faithful. The French-Spanish-African Creoles had the original St. Louis cemeteries in Faubourg Treme and Faubourg St. John. The Irish built the St. Patrick’s cemeteries at the head of Canal Street, and the Germans had their cemeteries dedicated to St. Joseph on Washington Avenue.

new orelans history - all souls

“Ovens” in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (Mugnier photo)

The heat and humidity of the city’s climate takes its toll on those structures. They require periodic maintenance. Families share tombs. They also share the maintenance duties.

One Big Picnic

So, the adult children go out to the cemetery with Grandma on All Saints Day. The kids come along, of course. So the scene in the cemeteries was often quite festive. Everyone spruced up their tomb. What started as work details became picnics where families that grew apart would come together for a very worthy cause. Siblings and cousins could catch up with each other, and Grandma was able to go to the cemetery regularly for another year with her head held high.

 

 

 

 

Happy Halloween, Blessed Samhain, All Saints and All Souls!

Locoul Family Tomb, New Orleans, Orleans Parish, LA

Locoul Family Tomb, New Orleans, Orleans Parish, LA

Locoul Family Tomb, in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

locoul family tomb

Locoul Family Tomb drawing from its HABS survey. (Library of Congress)

Locoul Family Tomb

Locoul Family Tomb

Locoul Family Tomb HABS Survey (Library of Congress)

The Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection at the Library of Congress contains several surveys of tombs in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, in Faubourg Treme. The Locoul family’s tomb is particularly interesting, because of the family’s links to Laura Plantation.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 draws large numbers of tourists daily to Basin Street. The city opened the cemetery in 1789. St. Louis No. 1 replaced an earlier cemetery, St. Peter’s, in the Vieux Carre. So, the French tradition of above-ground burials in tombs and vaults allowed families a lot of creativity in designing their resting places. Therefore, individual tombs attract study. Catholics and Protestants buried their dead in St. Louis No. 1, until Christ Episcopal opened Girod Cemetery in 1822.

Significance of the tomb

Locoul Family Tomb

Emile Locoul (1822-1879)From the survey entry:

Significance: The Locoul family owned the Laura Plantation on River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The family’s patriarch, George Raymond Locoul, arrived in New Orleans in 1821 and shortly thereafter married Elisabeth Duparc, whose family owned one of the largest sugar plantations in St. James Parish. Raymond himself had a lucrative wine importing business. From 1820 to 1920 the plantation was a main distribution point for French wines and other liquors, with a 10,000 bottle capacity. Raymond died in 1850 from yellow fever, leaving Elisabeth and their two children, Louis Raymond Emile and Mary Elisabeth Aimee.

It was after his death the tomb was built, for the contagiousness of the disease prevented the body from being transported upriver to the family tomb. Elisabeth ran the plantation during the Civil War up until her death in 1882. The plantation later became the focus of a bitter property war between siblings Emile and Aimee. Since Aimee owned the sugar mill on the land, Emile built his own and subsequently named it after his daughter, Laura. Laura Locoul Gore would later go on to write a memoir, “Memories of the Old Plantation Home,” of the Locoul family’s history.

The Locouls were Creole in heritage and one of the wealthiest families in Louisiana at the peak of the plantation’s production. The tomb puts that wealth on display by employing a slate and granite foundation and has some of the cemetery’s finest ironwork surrounding the tomb.

The first image in the survey includes a map of St. Louis No. 1. The map shows the location in the cemetery of the Locoul tomb.

HABS and St. Louis No. 1

Locoul Family Tomb

Map of St. Louis Cemetery No 1 included in the HABS surveys of tombs in the cemetery.

There are a number of HABS surveys on tombs in St. Louis No. 1. So, we’ll look at them as we go forward.

In the meantime, if you’d like to visit St. Louis No. 1 and the Locoul tomb, check out my friends at Two Chicks Walking Tours.

 

 

 

Roses for Marie Laveau in St. Louis Number 1

Roses for Marie Laveau in St. Louis Number 1

"Roses for Marie" by Edward Branley

“Roses for Marie” by Edward Branley

 

The Voodoo that Marie Laveau do

Marie Laveau. This is an older photo, from before St. Louis Cemetery #1 was restricted to tours given by licensed tour guides. The “X” marks on the tomb offended one visitor so much a couple of years ago, they painted the tomb pink, thinking it was a help. Wrong kind of paint, though, which caused thousands of dollars to be spent on restoration. I hope people continue to leave the offerings and mementos, even if they don’t mark the tomb itself.

 

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Glapion family tomb in St. Louis #1, 1930s (WPA photo in the public domain)

This WPA photo from the 1930s shows the tomb unmarked.

"Tomb of Marie Laveau", 1970s, unknown photographer (State Office of Tourism, in the public domain)

“Tomb of Marie Laveau”, 1970s, unknown photographer (State Office of Tourism, in the public domain)

The tradition of the “X” marks was in full swing by the 1970s, though, as can be seen in this tourism promotion photo.