Voodoo, Cemeteries, and Safety in New Orleans

A Cemetery tour seems like a strange thing to do on holiday perhaps. But in New Orleans as the water table is so high, bodies are buried over-ground, as opposed to being buried six-feet-under. The result is a rather eerie collection of large ornate graves.

GraveyardWhich leads me to the Cemetery tours – the tombs are the final resting places for some well-known people and historical figures. There are 3 main graveyards, but only went to one of them. We saw the tomb of Homer Plessy, of the Plessy v Ferguson civil rights case which challenged the shocking laws requiring a “black” and “white” section on trains. (We had seen info about this in the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis). The grave of the British architect who designed the Capitol in Washington DC is also there.

I also read that visits to the Cemeterys are safest with tour guides since muggers sometimes hide behind the tombs and jump out to attack tourists. I was pretty spooked when we went, as it is like a maze, with large stone tombs in all directions. Luckily another large family of around 8 people arrived at the same time as us so we pretty much stuck to them for safety. I wouldn’t be going there in the dark under any circumstances!

Graveyard 2There is a history of voodoo in New Orleans, which apparently originated from the spiritual customs of African slaves who were brought to Louisiana.  One of the main Voodoo Queens, Marie Laveau is buried in a cemetery in New Orleans also; her tomb decorated with crosses, flowers and trinkets.

In terms of the voodoo today, this is kept alive in the tourist trail with a couple of very ernest gift shops which take themselves quite seriously considering they are gift shops.  Ahem. which sell amulets, charms, powders and other knick-knacks. You’re not allowed to take photos in the shops due to beliefs about photos being taken of sacred things, etc.

Also to the North of the French Quarter is Armstrong Park, named after Louis Armstrong, not other more recent Armstrongs which shall not be named. We had a quick visit to this park and found it to be a lovely green space with a lake and many sculptures.

Armstrong ParkSafety

I had read some pretty dire warnings about safety in New Orleans before we went. These revolved around the general premise that it is safe for tourists within a strict perimeter of the French Quarter. (Look it up to find the exact streets marking the boundary of this). One website explained that in most cities the dangerous inner city “hood” is normally located a bit away from the touristy bit, but here it is right next door, so you apparently notice pretty quickly if you stray into it. I read horrific stories about unwary tourists turning the wrong way and being attacked / stabbed. Now I must stress that I cannot comment about the accuracy of this – this is simply what I read when I was researching safety in New Orleans.

I don’t want to scaremonger by repeating this information, and I certainly don’t want to put people off visiting. But as a tourist with no local knowledge yourself, all you can rely on is guidebooks and the internet for information. If this is the information you receive, I think there is a serious issue and it is reasonable for tourists to be wary. I am also aware that guns are legal in the US and the gun crime rate is much higher than in my country, so if the worst happened and you were attacked, I think it is conceivable that your attacker could be armed.

So I had the “safe” areas mapped out in my head, and we stuck to those pretty religiously and that worked as the touristy stuff is all in the safe zone anyway.  That sounds pretty awful, like a post-war Berlin, and who knows… maybe I was being over the top, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. And while we were there a man was shot on the street next to ours. Of course, with the American “grid pattern” streets, he could have been a mile away on the same street, but it was a bit sobering.

Overall, would I recommend a visit to New Orleans? Absolutely!! It is a fantastic city – one of the best in the USA in my opinion. I hope my blog posts have outlined the uniqueness and amazingness of this city. And I did feel completely safe within the French Quarter, even in the darkness in the evening as it is so lively.New Orleans 1Next post: Food in the Deep South, USA

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