Self-guided St. Louis Cemetery # 1 Tour
New Orleans is known for many things, but the most iconic sights to see here are New Orleans’ cemeteries. There are three St. Louis Cemeteries in New Orleans, but the oldest cemetery is St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. That one is also the one that is closest to the French Quarter. You can discover this historic cemetery on our self-guided St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 tour or come and take a tour with Free Tours by Foot’s best tour guides and see it with your own eyes.
- Guide to New Orleans Cemeteries
- Self-guided tour of Lafayette Cemetery
- Full list of self-guided tours in New Orleans
The self guided tour is below, but check out this view of St. Louis Cemetery #1 from a drone.
NOTE: new rules by the Catholic Archdioesces of New Orleans require all visitors to the cemetery to be part of an organized walking tour. Join us on a guided walking tour of St. Louis Cemetery 1 every day.
Consecrated in 1789, it was based on the idea that cemeteries were breeding grounds for disease. The original cemetery in the early days was St. Peter’s cemetery, which wasn’t situated at the same location St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 is located today. St. Peter’s was located at Toulouse and Rampart Street, but it was later moved to the current location of St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. The burials at St. Peter’s used to be below ground, and excavations in that area as well as flooding often uncovered bodies.
The year 1788 was a deadly year for New Orleans, as the city saw flooding and then its near complete destruction in a fire – epidemics began to spread. It was decided that the land for St. Peter’s would be better used as housing and that by moving the bodies away, epidemics would be less common. They were wrong about epidemics. Yellow fever and cholera killed thousands in the 1800s. Outbreaks of malaria and typhoid were also common. The plague even struck on occasion. Mass burials were very common.
While in ground tombs were the first forms of burial in St. Louis cemetery, you’ll notice that the cemetery’s graves are above ground monument tombs. This burial style reflected the European/Caribbean traditions of New Orleans ancestors. Mark Twain even referred to New Orleans’ Cemeteries as “Cities of the Dead because they resembled small houses and looked like a city in itself.
START: If you are coming from Jackson Square, walk up St. Peter’s Street for 3 blocks, take a left turn on Dauphine Street and walk three blocks, and turn right on Conti Street.
As you walk down Conti Street towards the cemetery you will notice Our Lady of Guadeloupe Church. This was the Mortuary Chapel, where the burial rites were performed, prior to the interment in the cemeteries. With St. Louis # 1 filling up due to massive epidemics and with the city’s continuous growth, the second cemetery St. Louis # 2 was consecrated in 1823, followed in 1853 by the St. Louis #3 Cemetery located on Bayou St. John at the site of the original Leper Colony.
1. Varney Tomb FACING THE FRONT.
Enter the cemetery at Basin Street. Upon entering you will see the Varney tomb, an odd pyramid-shaped tomb. This used to be the original center of the cemetery as depicted in a watercolor by Henry H. B. Latrobe in 1837, before the entire cemetery was reduced in size over the years to make way for canals, roads, and housing. The tomb inters two young children who are said to have died in one of the yellow fever epidemics.
2. Wall oven Vaults FACING THE VARNEY TOMB.
The first vault that you will see facing the Varney tomb in not the oldest wall vault in the cemetery. There are 2 wall oven vaults, one you will see later. The one in the back that separates the protestant section from the catholic is considered the oldest wall vault in any cemetery.
WALK 6 TOMBS DOWN FROM THE VARNEY TOMB and TURN RIGHT. THERE ARE 2 TOMBS. FACE THE TOMBS.
3. Morial and Glapion Tombs TOMB ON THE LEFT SIDE.
Side by side are two prominent New Orleans legends. The well-maintained tomb was once the resting place of Ernest Nathan Morial or better known as “Dutch” Morial, the first black mayor of New Orleans in the late 1970s to mid-80s. One of his great achievements was the French Quarter Fest – back then it was an effort to make the French Quarter popular again with business owners, today it’s an annual event. Morial was reinterred in St. Louis Number 3 in 2014 after a spate of vandalism. Since then the Archdiocese only allows groups in with a licensed tour guide.
The Glapion tomb is most likely the final resting place of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Her life is covered in myth, but it is said an offering at her tomb will allow a wish to be granted, hence the trinkets found at her tomb. She was born in 1801 and died in 1881. She is buried in the Center Vault. Her name in on the top tablet along with her daughter’s name, though her daughter supposedly is not interred in this tomb. The Tomb belongs to The Glapion Family.
TURN LEFT AFTER LEAVING MARIE’S TOMB.
4. Paul Morphy Tomb
The Morphy family tomb contains the remains of one of the world’s greatest chess players. By age 23 Morphy had defeated every chess master in America and Europe. He retired from the game, first trying to join the Confederate Army and then starting a law practice. It failed in part because Morphy was extremely lazy and eccentric. He later became a lawyer and hated it. Morphy lived where the Brennan’s Restaurant is located today, just across from the Supreme Court Building. He spent the last 15 years of his life walking the streets of New Orleans in his bathroom robe and slippers talking to himself. He was convinced that his brother was trying to poison him. He was found dead in his home at the age of 47. A dining area in the Brennan’s restaurant is devoted to Paul Morphy today.
NOTE THE TOMB IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AISLE DOWN FROM MORPHY’S TOMB.
5. Tomb facing East
This tomb faces east – a common practice since it was believed that Jesus would return from that direction. The maze like layout of St. Louis Number 1 was avoided in other cemeteries.
WALK BEHIND MORPHY’S TOMB AND TURN LEFT GO TO THE END OF THE AISLE.
6. Supposedly Marie Laveau tomb
While the Galpion tomb is the most likely resting place, this one was rumored to her remains. It was also conveniently near the cemetery walls, making it easy for people at night to jump the wall and leave an offering or sign xxx, based on the belief that Marie Laveau was illiterate. The current tomb is abandoned and like other such tombs can be purchased for $20-30,000 with perpetual care.
TURN RIGHT AND THEN RIGHT AGAIN.
7. Nicolas Cage Tomb
No, he isn’t dead yet. The famed actor lived in New Orleans from 2006-2009. Before running into financial trouble he had this pyramid shaped tomb constructed. The phrase on it is Latin: “Omni Ab Uno” means “Everything From One.” Also note the lipstick on the name blank plate.
ACCROSS FROM CAGE’S TOMB.
8. In-ground burials
Across from Cage’s tomb are partial in ground burials. The one with the cross dates back to the early 1800’s or late 1700’s and is considered the first type burials in the cemetery.
PROCEED LEFT TO THE LARGE CIRCULAR TOMB.
9. Italian Benevolent Society
Starting in the 1820s and accelerating in 1850s, waves of Irish, German, and Italian immigrants moved into New Orleans. Many were poor and had to rely on benevolent societies to find work and shelter. These societies also provided cheap burials, and thousands are buried in the various society tombs.
This tomb reflects a very wealthy society group. Arriving before the Sicilians, this tomb was pre-fabricated in Italy and constructed of Italian Marble surrounded by a beautiful cast iron fence. The caveau is in the rear and was broken into by vandals in past years and all of the remains were spread throughout the cemetery. This is also the filming site for Easy Rider. After the archdiocese saw the film, they banned all filming except for documentaries in the cemetery. It was said that the statue in the rear of the tomb (Charity) lost her head because Dennis Hopper, the director of the movie Easy Rider, pulled it off but that is untrue. This is also named the Hex Tomb. It’s the last work of Italian-born designer Pietro Gualdi who completed the tomb, only to die of Malaria and to be the first one to be interred in the tomb. The second person to be interred was the Society’s President Birelli. The tomb was then said to be hexed.
GO TO THE FRONT OF THE ITALIAN TOMB. LOOK TO YOUR LEFT AT THE PORTUGESE TOMB.
10. French, Spanish, Portuguese tombs
Nearby are society tombs for the French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The latter is commonly the final resting place for bodies discovered in the old St. Peter’s Cemetery lot.
11. New Orleans Battalion of Artillery
Entombed here are locals who fought in the artillery units in the Battle of New Orleans. The battle was among the worst defeats the British army has ever suffered. Much of that was due to the cannons Andrew Jackson had massed. The vaults show a wreath, which represents victory, and a torch point downward, a symbol of death. The iron fence depicts ships chains, cannons and cannon balls with flames.
YOU WERE FACING THE FRONT OF THE BATTALION TOMB.
GO LEFT TO THE END OF THE AISE.
12. Homer Plessy’s Tomb
This tomb, which is actively maintained, holds one of the founders of the Civil Rights movement. Plessy got onto a white-only railcar at Press and Royal Street. His intention was to get segregation laws repealed. The case that followed went to the Supreme Court, but the court upheld segregation in Plessey vs. Ferguson and was not repealed until 1954 with Brown vs. Board of Education.
FACE PLESSY’S TOMB AND PROCEED LEFT.
13. Jean-Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville’s Tomb
Buried here is one of the most colorful local figures of the city. Marigny was a gambler, politician, businessman, and acclaimed duelist. At one time the richest man in America, he lost most of his fortune before his death, shortly after the American Civil War began. Also buried here is Lloyd Sensat, who helped to renovate both St. Louis Number 1 and the new neighborhood Marigny founded just outside of New Orleans: the Faubourg Marigny.
TAKE A RIGHT AT THE AISLE NEXT TO MARIGNY’S TOMB. Note the Oven Vault Walls. These are the oldest walls that were referred to earlier.
WALK DOWN BESIDE THE WALLS AND TAKE A LEFT AT THE FIRST OPENING.
14. Protestant Section
This area is mostly barren today. When Americans started to move to New Orleans in the 1780s, there was much antagonisms between them and the Creoles. Since most Americans were Protestant, they were buried separately. Most graves were moved to the Girod Street Cemetery in the 1820s, which is today the sight of the Superdome parking garage. The body of Benjamin Latrobe, one of the greatest architects of all time and the most prestigious man buried in St. Louis Number 1, was buried in a mass grave. He was preceded by his son Henry Bonnable Latrobe who had arrived here to design New Orleans’ waterworks system. He died of yellow fever in 1817. His father arrived after his death to complete the project and died as well of yellow fever in an epidemic. You can find a plaque on the wall honoring Latrobe.
15. Eliza Claiborne’s Tomb
Buried here is the first wife of William C. C. Claiborne, first American governor of Louisiana. Eliza died of yellow fever in 1804 along with her daughter. Also buried here is her brother, who died in a duel defending the honor of William C. C. Claiborne. The monument on top was designed by Benjamin Latrobe.
BACKTRACK OUT OF THE PROTESTANT SECTION AND GO TO THE TOMB THAT IS DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ELIZA CLABORNE’S TOMB. THIS IS THE TOMB OF HIS SECOND WIFE CLARICE DURALDE CLABORNE.
16. Clarice Claiborne, Daniel Clark, and Myra Gaines
Facing Eliza’s grave is the resting place of Claiborne’s second wife, Clarice. She was a French Creole and helped to make William C. C. Claiborne more popular in Louisiana. William used to be buried there but was moved to Metairie Cemetery since he was not Catholic. Next door to him is the grave of Daniel Clark, a spy, womanizer, and slave trader who nearly killed Claiborne in a duel. Also buried with him is his illegitimate daughter Myra who fought a 57 year court battle over Clark’s vast inheritance. She appeared in court 87 times. She died before the money was awarded to her.
PROCEED PAST CLARKS TOMB AND ENTER THE AISLE. THE 3RD TOMB ON YOUR RIGHT.
17. Etienne de Bore
Entombed here is the first mayor of New Orleans. Before that position, he was a French officer in the famed musketeers and had figured out how to granulate sugar, which led to Louisiana’s booming sugar industry. Buried with him is his grandson Charles Gayarré, a noted politician, author, and historian. He was buried there with the aid of his student, Grace King. Gayarré died an unpopular man due to his progressive views on race relations.
FACING DE BORE’S TOMB GO LEFT DOWN THE AISLE TO THE MUSICIANS TOMB.
18. Musicians Tomb
Many acclaimed New Orleans musicians are resting here, in particular the Barbarin Jazz Dynasty. The most famed member was Isidore he played trumpet and mellophone in the Excelsior and later the Onward Brass Band. He was also a driver of the horse-drawn buggies that undertakers used as hearses, meaning he was involved in many early Jazz funerals. Members of the family are still buried in this tomb, the last being in 2014.
GO LEFT AND PROCEED TOWARD THE FRONT OF THE CEMETERY.
WHEN YOU GET BY THE FRONT WALLS, TURN LEFT AND PROCEED TO THE TOMB OF:
19. Alexander Bergamini
On the top of the tomb is the little weeper statue that appears to be melting away.
FACING THE TOMB GO LEFT TO EXIT.
20. Derbigny Buried Tomb
Here is the tomb of the prominent Derbigny family. The most famous member was Pierre Derbigny, an acclaimed lawyer and politician. He bitterly opposed Louisiana becoming an American territory and argued for the creation of a civil code that drew on French traditions. He succeeded in this and in 1828 defeated Marigny, his old friend, for the governorship. He then died after being thrown out of a buggy in Gretna in 1829.
21. Joseph Montegut, Bouligny, and LaLaurie
This alleyway has seen more action than most of its kind. Joseph Montegut was a doctor who recommended placing the St. Louis Cemetery where it is today, making him the unofficial founder. Across from him is the Bouligny family grave, an important family in the Spanish and antebellum period. Near here is where a fabricated plaque was found for Delphine LaLaurie, a woman who infamously tortured her slaves. Her resting place remains unknown but is most likely in St. Louis Number 1 or 2. Her home was once owned by Nicolas Cage. In the 1840s her neighbor was Marigny.