“Funerary and burial rites and traditions are a little different here, which allows many, many generations of a family to be entombed together. For a start, the tombs are all built above the ground, in order for them to stay buried; before this, floods frequently dislodged the dead and saw their caskets float on down the street. One year and one day after death, it is customary to retrieve the remains if the body – teeth and bones – place them in a bag, and toss that bag back into a deep pit below the family tomb. With temperatures scorching in summer, the bones are generally turned to dust within another year, allowing the bags of bones to pile up almost indefinitely. “Wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole” – that’s what’s used to retrieve the remains, or so we overheard from a tour guide in one of the cemeteries we visited.”
“There were a lot of rice fields, and we started to notice a lot of burial sites in the rice fields. Cuong told us that tradition allows for bodies to be buried in rice fields, on anyone’s land, so long as permission has been asked & granted. They are then buried under a modest mound of dirt, only to be dug up 3 years later. The bones are collected & cleaned in rice wine, then placed in a beautiful burial urn for a second and final burial. If the family has had bad luck over the past 3 years, it is believed the relative is unhappy with their final resting place, allowing the family to chose a new location for the second burial.”
St Louis Cemetery #3
3421 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans
This was the third of the cemeteries I visited in New Orleans, and it was by far the most modern looking and well tended, despite being established in 1854. It’s in the Bayou St John area, which is gorgeous to walk through on a sunny day, and the cemetery itself is quite a bit bigger than numbers 1 and 2.
It’s laid out in three main “aisles” of tombs, which makes it very easy to navigate your way around. There are individual and family tombs, as at other cemeteries, but also large tombs containing the remains of priests and nuns, which I didn’t notice anywhere else.
The tombs here seemed, for the most part, to be well cared for and maintained, gleaming white marble with fresh inscriptions; some were also in various states of disrepair, which only made them even more beautiful next to the uniformed white ones.