There are numerous reports of paranormal activity, making
it the most haunted American cemetery.
St Louis Cemetery Number 1 is one of three Roman Catholic cemeteries which make up Saint Louis Cemetery. It opened in 1789, to replace the old Saint Peters Cemetery, once located closer to the heart of the city. New Orleans was redesigned after the huge fire of 1788. It was thought that it would be healthier to have the cemetery further away from where people lived.
Though this high walled St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 is only one square block in diameter, it is the resting place of over 100,000 departed New Orleans citizens, due to burial customs, based on practicality. Because New Orleans has issues with high ground water, and a lack of land for burial, nearly all the graves are in above-ground vaults, which offered a variety of choices, showing the creativity of the human spirit. One does see one or two very old slab graves, with a slab of cement, bricks on top of the burial site, to keep the coffin(s) from popping out!
The traditional family vault ranged from simple to very grand: The deceased was placed in a wooden coffin, that was put in the above ground rectangular slot in the vault, and kept there for a year and a day. The coffin was then removed, and the bones were put in a bag, labeled and shoved to the back of the vault, leaving room for the next family member who may pass on. Sometimes the vault had another slot for an emergency, in case a death happened in the family or group before the year and a day time frame had elapsed. The grander the vault, the more slots were available. Sometimes, another vault space was borrowed in cases of multiple deaths in one year.
There were also group vaults, where a group of families or an organization got together and bought a large vault for their final resting place. These group vaults took on a variety of shapes in this cemetery of house-like vaults, which altogether resemble a neighborhood of structures for the dead.
Alleys and pathways wind around the various vaults of the very prominent, making the way to the very back of the cemetery, to the resting place of the lowly of their society. The paupers field area of unmarked graves is located here, for people who couldn’t afford to buy a vault, and had no one to offer a space in another vault for burial. Also in the back of the cemetery is where the Protestant and Jewish minorities were buried, separate from the Catholics, yet still allowed in the cemetery.
St Louis Cemetery Number 1 is the final resting place of a variety of characters; some of the very notable, others that were flawed yet good citizens, and some very infamous characters with personal issues as well.
In the notable category
One can find the family vault of Etienne de Boré, King’s Musketeer turned sugar entrepreneur and Mayor of New Orleans.
One can find the family vault of Paul Morphy, a world famous chess champion.
Also of note is the large memorial vault honoring the remains of the men who died in the Battle of New Orleans.
Flawed yet good citizens
Bernard de Marigny is best known for his love of gambling, and bringing the game of Hazard (craps) to New Orleans, though he also served honorably on the New Orleans City Council and as President of the Louisiana Senate. Because of his debts from gambling, Bernard sub-divided part of his plantation into sixty ft lots, which he sold to individuals for home development, becoming a real estate broker for a time, making money to feed his habit and support his luxurious, spoiled life-style. At the end of his life, he died without money because of his gambling, which eventually ate through the family fortune.
Infamous characters with personal issues
Model citizen turned Brigand, Barthelemy Lafon – Got off to a great start, as an architect, engineer, city planner for the City of New Orleans, making some great contributions. In 1803, when Americans began to flood New Orleans, he became Deputy Surveyor of Orleans County, and developed new housing and buildings in the Lower Garden District. However, after the Battle of New Orleans, he gave up his gifts and service, and joined the notorious Lafitte brothers, becoming a pirate and smuggler, being seduced by the thrills and easy, ill-gotten money. He died from yellow fever.
Voudou Priestess – Marie Laveau – She and then her daughter sought fame and attention through practicing Voudou “magic” for both the good of people and to bring negative consequences to those whom they thought deserved it. They developed huge followings and cult status.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
There are numerous reports of paranormal activity, earning this cemetery the honor by some as the most haunted cemetery in the United States. Here are just a few.
When a grave isn’t properly respected as a person’s remains, and honor due them is missing, entities have become restless, and haunt the area. Sometimes having personal regrets about life’s choices can cause restless spirits.
Voudou Priestess – Marie Laveau
Marie began life as an illegitimate daughter of a neglectful plantation owner and a free creole women. She married at 18 to a Haitian free man. Marie became a hair dresser to the wealthy after he died. She began to practice Voudou, and developed a huge following, by doing both good works, and other not so nice acts through her supposed magical powers, conjured up from a dark power.
Her practice was based on elements of the Catholic religion, African religion and culture. Realists say that the results of her magical powers were based on the information she was able to gather through her hair dressing occupation and the vast network of informants made up of the creole servants, working in the wealthy households. Others say she actually used the black arts of darkness.
Why? Perhaps she was trying to get even or have power and respect from her father’s class, and society in general, becoming something above her lowly beginning. Her many followers came from all walks of life, from the wealthy to the poor.
She did volunteer to take care of the sick along side the priest during the many epidemics which rolled through New Orleans, perhaps to develop good PR among the people, or perhaps because she did have a heart and a will to do good, underneath all her issues, and her quest for power and fame. When she died, her daughter, also named Marie took over her mother’s Voudou cult.
Marie Laveau was buried in an unmarked tomb, not in the family vault. Because of the fame and attention she received through practicing Voudou ” black magic”, the authorities didn’t want to turn the cemetery into a shrine for her followers. Her daughter Marie, also a Voudou Priestess was buried in the family vault years later, which may seem unfair to Marie Laveau, and perhaps has some regret about becoming involved with Voudou, as she is also seen praying twice a day at Saint Louis Cathedral-Basilica.
The Entity of Henry Vignes – Victim of a betrayal by a trusted person
Henry was a seaman, who foolishly gave the papers to his family’s vault to his landlady, who owned the building where he lived. He trusted her to be in charge if he died at sea. She proved to be of poor character, and she sold his vault for her personal gain. When he suddenly died, before he could seek justice, there was no vault to put him in, so he was buried in an unmarked grave in the back of this cemetery in the pauper’s field area.
Suffering a sudden, unexpected death, especially at the hands of another can cause restless spirits.
The entity of a young man – known as Alphonse – Never has gotten past his own demise…
He is lonely and misses his loved ones terribly. He seems to long for his home, and mourns his own death. This entity behaves like his life was suddenly taken from him, perhaps the victim of a member of the Pinead Clan, or a disease.
The Entity of Marie Laveau
Was not a happy camper, for a very long time. Her distinctive apparition had been seen in the area of her unmarked tomb, probably fuming, frustrated with the living, and longing for the fame and power she enjoyed during her life-time as a Voudou Priestess.
Perhaps she has regrets about turning from her Catholic faith, dividing her worship with the black arts, causing her burial to be anonymous. She has been seen, in a foul mood, storming along a pathway, chanting curses, aimed at the living.
She slapped a man who was passing by the area of her unmarked tomb. Perhaps he unknowingly stepped on her grave Perhaps he looked a lot like someone she was furious with when she was still alive.
Many believe that her death didn’t stop her from practicing her black magic, using the powers of darkness. Some say she turns herself into a black crow or a big black dog. Both such animals have been seen roaming the cemetery. Many people leave notes, requests, and offerings on the family vault for her.
Entity of Henry Vignes
In search of a vault for his remains.
Appears to the unsuspecting tourist or tour guide in a full, solid form, looking very much alive. He is described as tall, dressed in a white shirt, with piercing blue eyes, still looking for his family’s lost vault, or a place in someone else’s vault, so he could be properly buried.
It has been reported by witnesses, who are visiting the cemetery that the entity of Henry will approach the unsuspecting person, and ask if they know where his family’s old vault, for the Vignes family, is located. He then walks away and suddenly disappears.
Sometimes this entity will tap the living on the shoulder, and ask, “Do you know anything about this Tomb here?”
At family funerals, Henry has asked the mourners if there is any room in the vault for his remains.
Lonely entity of a young man – Alphonse
The entity of this young man will walk up to the visitor, looking like a real, live person, will take their hand into his ice cold hand, and with a big smile on his face, ask for help in going to his home. He will start to cry and then disappear.
This same entity is very much afraid of the Pinead family vault, and warns visitors to stay away from it.
The entity of Alphonse has been seen carrying vases and flowers from other vaults to his own, perhaps to try to make himself feel better.
Yes indeed, in a big way! Evidence abounds, pointing to the restless ones who walk its pathways, searching for the something that keeps them in this world.
Throughout the years, the living have gathered evidence of Orbs, taken photos with entities in full form, recorded EVPs, and experienced strange paranormal activity. The entity of Henry Vignes’ image has been seen in photos, wearing a dark suit with no shirt. On EVPs, he pleads with the living, “I need to rest!” The entity of Alphonse will also appear in photos, and his voice has been recorded on EVPs as well.
The restless, bitter entity of Marie Laveau – May have mellowed a bit. While her angry presence has been seen and heard by many eye witnesses throughout the years, she may have found some peace. Perhaps to try to calm her spirit, a plaque about Marie and her Voudou practice was placed on the outside of an unmarked tomb that possibly is her resting place, though nobody knows for sure. People have marked three Saint Louis-cemeteries on the outside of the vault, leave a note about their request, and leave an offering. When they believe that their wish came true because of her, they draw a line through the three Xs.
499 Basin Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70112
St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 can be found just northwest of Basin St, and just 1 block west of N. Rampart St, which is the furthest inland border of the French Quarter. It is 8 blocks from the Mississippi River, being the riverside border of the French Quarter. St. Louis St. borders the cemetery’s eastern side, while its western and northern sides have the Iberville public housing as its neighbors.
NOTE: Because of its closeness to the Iberville public housing, which in the past has housed a few people who like to rob tourists in the narrow alleys between vaults, there is a high wall surrounding the cemetery, and the cemetery closes at 3:00 sharp. It is strongly recommended that tourists visit via a tour group. When the gates are locked, the cemetery is left to the restless spirits who walk its paths.
Tom and I took the Haunted Cemetery Tour, run by a preservation group. No ghost stories were told, but we learned a lot about this cemetery and the people whose remains are in these vaults.
- HAUNTED PLACES: The National Directory
by Dennis William Hauk
- The Saint Louis Cemetery page on Wikipedia
- “The Ten Most Haunted Places in New Orleans, Louisiana To see a Real Ghost!” on Haunted America Tours