Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cemetery "research" in New Orleans, part 2

Hello wonderful followers (and non-followers). Remember last year when I took a trip to New Orleans to do some research-slash-vacationing? Well, I decided to do it again this year. This trip was actually wrapped around a concert, but we'll get to that later.

I have a completed-ish novel (which I thought was done but decided to revise yet again) about a zombie outbreak that begins in New Orleans. The outbreak begins with a truck crash in Lafayette Cemetery; the truck is carrying toxic chemicals carrying the virus that seep into the ground. It wasn't until after I'd written the stupid thing, of course, that I remembered New Orleans graves are above ground, rendering it virtually impossible to spread a zombie virus this way. Fortunately, a character drinks water from one of the pumps at the grounds, and that sets off the chain. But I digress.

Even though the story is finished, I still wanted to visit Lafayette Cemetery. I wanted to visit last year, but didn't realize there was a tour that went through it. Then I found out about the Garden District Ghosts & Legend tour, put on by Haunted History Tours, the same company that did the tour I went on last year. That tour was fantastic, so I decided to book this one as well.

But first, I had to stop by Cafe du Monde again and watch pigeons fight over beignet scraps.

The tour started in the cemetery, and I wanted to snap pictures of the surrounding area, just to get a mental picture. I thought this sign across the street was funny, considering my story begins with a truck crash outside the cemetery.

We spent about an hour in the cemetery; half before the tour began, and the first half of the tour. It was pretty similar to St. Louis Cemetery no. 1 (where we went last year), but much grassier.

This last photo on the right is one of the rare exceptions to the "no bodies below ground" rule. If I remember correctly, they're Jewish tombs, and apparently Jewish law says bodies can't be buried above ground. So they dig a hole like a little swimming pool and put those walls around it so the bodies won't float away if there's flooding. Speaking of which, that's only part of the reason why the tombs are above ground. The other reason is that the land they're built on belonged to the Spanish when the cemetery was first established. They said we could only have the land if we built tombs in the Spanish style, which was above ground vaults. So it worked out pretty nicely, because it kept us from having to bury bodies along the levees of the Mississippi, where they washed up once a year.

Also, the difference between a vault and a mausoleum: Mausoleums are meant to hold a few bodies, buried once and not disturbed again. Vaults are meant to be opened multiple times, housing more and more bodies each time. Last year on the cemetery history tour, we learned about the "shake and bake" method. A body was buried in the family vault and left for a year and a day minimum. When the next family member died, they took the last body, broke it up, put it in a bag, and shoved it to the back of the vault. Over the decades and even centuries, the oldest bodies withered away to virtually nothing. Theoretically, you could bury thousands of bodies in one vault.

Another cool fact about NOLA cemeteries. These are called wall vaults, and they make up the walls surrounding the cemetery. You can buy one as your family vault if you don't have enough money to buy one of the free standing ones (which cost well over ten thousand dollars). But they were mostly used for people who died before the year and a day minimum required to open the family tomb (so, if one person died in January and someone else died in June, the June body would be put in here). Once that minimum time was up, the body was buried in the family vault. Unless, of course, the family wasn't keeping up with their payments -- in which case, the body was shaken and baked, bagged, and tagged, and shoved with a long pole to the back of the wall. Thus the phrases "getting the shaft" and "wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole."

Our tour guide was a girl named Elizabeth -- well, I say girl; she was probably about my age, maybe a little older. Just like our tour guide last year, she was awesome. She's also an actress, and she mentioned she was filming scenes in a couple of weeks for American Horror Story (which is filming in NOLA right now, yay!). When she found out how much I love the show, she took us by the Buckner Mansion (which was used in filming season 3), even though it wasn't officially on the tour.

Look familiar? They used it for exterior (and I believe some interior) shots for the school in Coven.

The next day I did what I really came to NOLA to do: I saw One Direction. Because nothing says "zombie apocalypse" like 40,000 1D fans, most of them teenage girls, under one roof.

Their stage for this tour was one of the strangest I've ever seen.

You had to have wristband if you were sitting on the floor. I guess they didn't want people sneaking down and giving them trouble because, you know, zombie apocalypse and all.

One of my co-workers said the wristbands were a rip-off because they didn't play  music.

Unfortunately, the few photos I got from the actual show were embarrassingly bad. Not only were there lights flashing all over the place, but my phone died pretty early on, and I spent most of my time saving my battery rather than trying to get good shots. But rest assured, I did see all five of their beautiful faces in the flesh. BTW, Harry's hair is ten trillion times more luscious in person than in any photo. And I didn't even think that was possible.

So that was my NOLA trip. Maybe next year I'll take the French Quarter ghost tour.

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