Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cryptically Yours with Guest Blogger: Pauline B. Jones

Win a AnaBanana Gift Card &
Chat with author Pauline B. Jones 
today at the Book Boost!

You Don’t Have To Die to Get into the “Little Cities of the Dead.”

Most US cities don’t encourage tourist tours to their cemeteries. They’re trying to keep the tourists out of the cemetery. But most cities aren’t New Orleans.

Get a load of that nighttime “crypt-line.” But you won’t want to visit at night unless you are part of an official tour, or you might join the dead--or “just” get mugged. If you’re feeling brave, try a ghost tour.
Copyright by WyoJones. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

A Little History

So back in the day, New Orleans was a) smaller and b) mostly swamp. So to live (or to die) they had to use the available dry ground. Eventually they worked out methods for draining the swamp, but it was work, so the cemeteries were still close to the city.

Then there were some plagues and they a) began to run out of space and b) feared the dead were infecting the survivors, so they tried to push the cemeteries out away from the city.

But the city kept growing and growing and today it has grown around the cemeteries that remain. (Some sort of got repurposed. I used to hear rumors that the Louisiana Superdome was built on top of one, but apparently it was only built near a cemetery. So there is no curse. Really. Some years the Saints just suck.)

A stroll down this avenue of the dead will take you right into the past. Some tombs are well kept, but many are so old, you can no longer read the names of those interred there. There are some ongoing preservation projects in some of the older cemeteries. Copyright by WyoJones. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Why are the New Orleans’ Dead buried above ground?

You’ll hear different theories about why New Orleans residents started burying their dead in above ground crypts, or family tombs.

1. European settlers brought the practice of above ground crypts with them.

2. Space.

3. Water problems.

Whatever the actual reason or reasons, the cemeteries will grab your imagination by the throat (does it have a throat?) and send it into some fascinating and scary places. The little cities of the dead are a popular location for film crews, too.

Just the facts, ma’am.

Even the facts are...on the creepy side.

Because of #2, the space problems, the tombs aren’t just used over and over, they are designed for almost endless use.

So here’s the deal. New Orleans is hot a lot of the year, so decomposition happens fast. And inside a tomb, you can multiply that heat by a lot.

Creepy alert: they kind of compare it to slow cremation.

The deceased goes into a coffin, which goes into the crypt. And then about a year later, the remains are (respectfully) removed from the coffin. The coffin is destroyed (get a cheap one!) and the remains are placed in a sort of communal space beneath the tomb. With all the previous remains. Yes, all of them.

If you want to know about specific types of tombs, check out “Burial Styles and Traditions.”

This sad lady mourns the dead in an elaborate, family vault in the Metairie cemetery. Many of the tombs are amazingly
detailed, resembling pyramids, cathedrals and more--all in crypt-scale. Copyright by WyoJones. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

 New Orleans’ famous dead

While there are many famous people buried in the various New Orleans cemeteries, probably the most notorious was the voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau. She is believed to be interred in St. Louis #1.

Note the “offerings” placed at the foot of Laveau’s tomb. Believers come, leave gifts, and draw XXX’s or ///’s, called “gris gris” marks, on her tomb in hopes she’ll grant them a wish. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain photo by Patrick S Carroll.

Also called the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie inspired movie characters, stories and a song.  Click here to listen.

So, if you got the chance, would you visit a New Orleans cemetery? Have you already? Did it inspire you? Creep you out? Both? All comments are entered into a drawing for a $20 AnaBanana Gift Card (my favorite place to buy Zombie Zoaps)

Perilously yours, Pauline

A Note from the Book Boost:  I love NOLA history and all the creepiness factor.  Took one of those tours when my oldest was 2 years old.  I don't recommend them with a little one in a stroller.  Those lots are not stroller friendly.  LOL  The new book looks amazing and I can't wait to check it out.  Thanks for joining us today!


When an aspiring illustrator attracts the attention of a New Orleans mob family, and secrets long hidden are unearthed from the past, a handsome homicide detective may be her only chance of surviving the Big Easy.

The oldest of thirteen, Alex Baker does two things: he solves murders and avoids children.

Until the day Nell Whitby foils a carjacking, knocks Alex off his feet and turns his life upside down. When the shots start flying and every rock he turns over reveals another wise guy, Alex decides he needs to stick close to the quirky yet captivating children’s book author while he discovers who is behind a series of mob hits. But can he resist the urge to kiss the kid magnet now in the crosshairs?

A relative newcomer to New Orleans—with no family but her college friend Sarah —Nell spends her days in seeming obscurity, sketching tourists in the French Quarter and serving canapés for Sarah’s catering business. When a chance encounter makes Nell the target of a mob hit, the only silver lining is meeting the cute cop who is determined to protect her.

But when she finds herself at the head of a second line made up of goons and gangsters, and secrets start bubbling up out of her own past, Nell must figure out what she's made of so she can live long enough to kiss the cop again…

Excerpt (edited for length):

“Cute kids,” Alex said, aware the words came out a bit flat. Once again her gaze assessed him. It seemed to see through him and inside him, all the way down to the parts he wasn’t that proud of, to his fear of being back in that kid zone. A familiar panicked feeling rose inside him, one all too familiar. All those eyes, all those gazes assessing him and finding him wanting. All those years of never being quite enough. Because he wasn’t mom, or his sisters’ mom. They were both gone and he’d missed them, too. Had never been able to take their place.

Nell’s mouth curved slowly into a smile that was new and just for him—though he didn’t know how he knew it. Might be deluding himself. Didn’t mind. Delusions had their place when a day started out like theirs did. Her eyes rejected the new smile, too. She took her portfolio back, tucking it under one arm. Took his hand in hers, sliding her fingers between his with the innocent trust of a kid and said, “Two questions?”

He couldn’t speak yet, his throat was still tight, though tight was easing, as if the palm of her hand was absorbing the panic and neutralizing it. He arched his brows, giving her tacit permission to continue.

“What’s your name?”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” He pulled out his ID and showed it to her. “Alex Baker.”

“Homicide.” Her eyes widened briefly.

A typical reaction to his job. Seemed like she took a step back though she didn’t move. So he inched closer. “You said two questions.” The tension inside him was almost gone now. Her face relaxed a bit, her lips trying to curve. 

“Where are we going to eat?”

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Pauline said...

Many thanks for having me here today, Kerri! So fun you've done the tour and no, not stroller friendly at all!

Raine Thomas said...

Great post, Pauline! I met my hubby in New Orleans, but we didn't make it out to any of the cemeteries. I know we'll go back for a visit, though, and I think we'll take a tour. Why not?

Andrew McAllister said...

As I read through the post, it kept getting creepier and creepier. Before reading this I thought there was basically one way to bury people, but that business about adding remains to other remains ... just ... wow.

Thanks for the eye-opening virtual tour :)

Pauline said...

@ Raine - The cemetery tours are really a whole different New Orleans. I wanted to write about the funerals, too, but ran out of room. Very interesting to this former Wyoming girl!

@ Andrew - I know what you mean! I grew up with single occupancy. But the first time I visited a cemetery, I was so hooked. They are just fascinating!

jaydee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jaydee said...

I think you would have been at home in the City of Edinburgh between the 17th and 19th Century.. I had to remove the previous post as my spelling was "terabul"

Pauline said...

Jaydee - those are great! I loved Edinburgh when I visited in this century! Not sure I'd want to be in time without good plumbing. LOL!