More than any other topic, human beings have always been fascinated by death. Earth vortex's, space travel, and the hunting habits of the lion all come second to this eternal mystery. We will never crack it until we die ourselves and find out once and for all what's in store for us, but in the meantime we can study the fascinating cultural beliefs and practices surrounding death. You may think you know how Americans deal with their dead, but you've never been to New Orleans. Learn all about their death rituals by taking a cemetery tour.
The thing that makes death in New Orleans so much more different than death in another part of the United States is the Mississippi River. Up until the 1800s, all bodies in New Orleans were buried in the ground just like they would have been if the person had died elsewhere. However, periodically the river would overflow its banks and dislodge the buried dead from their graves. Therefore in the 1800s New Orleans followed the Parisian model and began building above ground mausoleums which could store many sets of remains.
Burial customs in New Orleans are different from the ones you're used to if you live in Canada and England. Cajun funerals are commonly known as "jazz funerals" because they frequently involve a parade of jazz musicians accompanying the casket on its way to the cemetery. They're a blend of African, French, and Spanish customs and the ceremonies are sometimes arranged by the same people who head up crews come Mardi Gras time. The music begins somber and gradually builds in tone and character to give the deceased a joyful send off.
Many cemeteries in New Orleans have never been divided by race or culture, so wandering around in one will introduce you to a wide variety of grave inscriptions and mausoleum decoration. Some mausoleums are what are known as "society tombs" and contain people from the same organization, club, or family. Two of the best cemeteries to visit during your stay in New Orleans are the #1 Lafayette cemetery, which was established in 1833, and the Charity Hospital Cemetery, which contains the Hurricane Katrina memorial.
If you would like to explore, you can take a cemetery tour simply by showing up at the cemetery on the hour and joining a group. The cost is around $10. Some tour groups take advance bookings. The best way to choose one is to stop into the nearest New Orleans tourist bureau and collect the brochures put out by the various groups, which are Tour New Orleans and New Orleans Spirit Tours.
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