Self-guided tour of St. Louis Cemetery #2
Self-Guided Tour of St Louis Cemetery #2
Note: St. Louis Cemetery #2 is owned by the Archdiocese of New Orleans and is still an active cemetery. Although this self-guided tour focuses on the stories of New Orleans history and culture that can be learned from the cemetery, it is still first and foremost a sacred burial ground. If you encounter a funeral while you are visiting, kindly go to one of the other two squares and return later to complete the tour. The graveside portion of a New Orleans funeral does not last long.
St Louis Cemetery #2, established in 1823, is one of the oldest and most beautiful of New Orleans’ above-ground cemeteries. It is also one of the most endangered. The neighborhood around it suffered in the 1960s when Claiborne Avenue, once a lovely, wide, oak tree-lined thoroughfare, was stripped of its trees so Interstate 10 could go directly through the historically-rich neighborhood. The result was irreparable blight, followed in the 1980s and 90s by crime and deterioration. In addition to such problems, vibrations and pollution from the interstate overpass itself has damaged the physical structures in the cemetery, adding to the typical problems of plant overgrowth and age. Between the 1930s and the 1990s, the cemetery lost 25% of its tombs, as they crumbled to the ground and were removed.
However, its charm can’t be erased by these problems. In its three blocks are the stories of New Orleans last 200 years: celebrations, music, miracles, heartbreaks, war, and families. Ironically, it is our cemeteries that make us reflect on life, that make us think of the incredible things that each person can do, and that help us define who we are now.
The cemetery is open every day (except holidays) from 9am till 3pm, but since the caretakers have to make their rounds of several cemeteries to open and close every day, it is advisable to not go too close to opening or closing time to avoid the chance of waiting by the gate or being kicked out. No bikes or animals (except certified service animals) are allowed in the cemetery
CEMETERY ETIQUETTE: Like the Girl Scouts say, “Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.” Obviously, do not take anything off of any tombs or walls. It would be a wonderful thing to go a step further and bring an empty bag to fill with trash. Leaving offerings like flowers, pennies, or other mementoes is appropriate; marking graves is definitely not. Leaving food is not allowed. There are trashcans in the cemetery.
Take lots and lots of pictures. Bring water to drink.
Enter the cemetery on Conti Street between Claiborne and S. Robertson. The cemetery is divided into three blocks, or squares. The first square you will visit is the downriver square, so if you are facing the Claiborne overpass, the entrance is on your right.
On either side of you as you enter, you will notice that the walls are actually interment chambers themselves. These are wall vaults, one of the oldest and most common tomb-types in New Orleans. The deceased is placed in the vault, usually in a plain wooden or cardboard casket. The vault gets very hot inside and the body deteriorates significantly. When the family wishes to put another member in the chamber, the vault is opened, the remains pushed to the back of the chamber, and the new casket is put in. In this way, several family members can rest together in the same chamber.
Most of the individual tombs that line the walkways are called family tombs. These are meant to contain several generations of the same family. Inside each tomb are 2-3 shelves. When a family member dies, he or she is placed in a plain wooden or cardboard casket on a shelf, and the tomb is sealed with one course of bricks and a thin layer of mortar. When all the shelves are full and another family member dies, the remains of the person who has been in the tomb the longest are removed and placed in the bottom of the tomb (in a chamber called a caveau – like a basement) and the recently deceased is placed on the now-vacant shelf. In this way, dozens of family members can lie in rest together for eternity. Traditionally, you must wait one year and one day before you disturb the remains of one person to place the remains of another in the tomb. If several deaths occur in the same family within a short period of time and the year-and-a-day rule cannot be met, someone may be put in a wall vault temporarily, to be removed and brought to the family tomb the next year.
The second family tomb on your right is the Treme tomb. The neighborhood you are in right now is called “Treme” or “The Treme” after Claude Treme, who is interred in this tomb with his wife, Julie Moro. Claude Treme was born in 1759 in France and came to New Orleans as a young man to open a hat-making business. Not necessarily inclined to hard work (and having just served a 5-year jail term for shooting and killing a slave), Claude began courting young Julie Moro, whose family owned a vast plantation where you now stand. When Claude married Julie, the Moro (or Moreau) Plantation became the Treme Plantation, which Claude promptly divided up into lots and sold mostly to free people of color, creating one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in this country. The Treme neighborhood is known as the “birthplace of jazz.”
Turn away from the Treme tomb and walk between the tombs in front of you (a white one is on your left). Turn right after you go between these tombs. There will be an orange tomb on your right now.
There is an enormous tomb in front of you on your left. Walk up to it. It is the Cazadores d’Orleans Tomb. The tomb-type is a society tomb. Society tombs belong to a group like a religious order, trade union, social club or fraternal organization. The members pay dues and one benefit of membership is that the member can be interred in the society tomb when they die. This particular tomb is the tomb of the Cazadores d’Orleans, a self-formed militia of Spanish-American men. When it was built in 1836, this impressive tomb cost 15,000 dollars. Militias were popular and well-organized. The Cazadores d’Orleans were a sub-unit of the Louisiana Legion, a militia group who were at the ready for protection of the city, putting down slave rebellions, and controlling riots. Mostly, however, they liked to march in formation for almost every celebration in New Orleans. They wore elaborate uniforms and were reportedly an impressive sight. All the militias of the Louisiana Legion were disbanded by law in 1862 so their members could fight for the Confederacy.
With the Cazadores tomb on your left and a fenced tomb ahead on your right, go ahead and around the fenced tomb and across the main aisle to the fenced Villere tomb.
The Villere’ tomb was restored in the 1970s to honor this important family in New Orleans history. The first Villere’ in Louisiana, Etienne, came here with Iberville in 1699 to begin colonizing the region for France. Etienne’s son, Joseph, was executed by Governor O’Reilly for resisting Spanish rule. Joseph’s son, Jacques, interred here, was the first native-born (or Creole) governor of Louisiana from 1816-1820. His son, Rene Gabriel, was a Major in the Battle of New Orleans. Gabriel, as he was called, was smoking a cigar on the porch of the family plantation when the British took him by surprise and imprisoned him in his own house. He escaped through a window and ran to the woods, where he climbed a tree. His faithful dog found him and stood at the base of the tree crying after him. With tears in his eyes, he shot his own dog to avoid being found by the pursuing British. He made his way to the city, where he was able to warn General Andrew Jackson that the British were advancing on New Orleans.
Facing the Villere tomb, turn left (your back is to the spot where you entered the cemetery).
Look for the Placide Forstall tomb almost to the end of the aisle on your right.
Placide Forstall – Placide, an insurance broker, was the husband of Marie-Borja “Borquita” Delphine Lopez y Angulla de la Candelaria, who was the first-born of Madame Delphine Lalaurie, a woman whose horrible treatment of her slaves is notorious fodder for nighttime ghost tours and who was portrayed by Kathy Bates in “American Horror Story: Coven”. Placide handled the Lalaurie’s local affairs after they escaped to France following the discovery of Madame Lalaurie’s horrible crimes. Placide’s wife, Borquita, whose name is on the tablet on the side of this tomb, was born during a shipwreck in Cuba. Placide and Borquita had nine children.
2 more tombs down on same side, there is a closure tablet which is on the ground, leaning on the tomb. It lists 11 family members who died young, 8 children and 3 adults. Life was hard in New Orleans, with continuous epidemics of yellow fever, malaria, tuberculosis, influenza, and other maladies. In French, “ans” is years, “mois” is months, and “jours” is days.
Across the aisle from the tomb with the leaning tablet is deArmas tomb. Note the hourglass with wings and wreath. The hourglass with wings is the symbol of Chronos, the Greek Titan of time. Simply translated, it means “time flies,” or death comes too soon. The wreath is a wreath of victory, which can be interpreted to mean the victory of eternal life over death. It is an excellent example of a combination of Greek and Christian symbolism.
Turn right at the end of the aisle. Look for a large white tomb on your right (Geo. J. Marin), and the one right after it is Jacques Pitot.
Jacques (James) Pitot, who served as mayor of New Orleans from 1804-1805, lived in the Pitot House on Bayou St. John, an excellent example of French Colonial architecture, which is today open for tours.
Turn right after Pitot’s tomb.
Go straight ahead through a narrow spot between 2 tombs. When you come out from between these two tombs, there will be a large leaning tomb ahead on your right. Turn right to walk in front of this leaning tomb so that it is now on your left. Notice that you’re walking by the veteran’s marker of Guy Soniat, who served in WW1 and WW2.
Straight ahead and a little to your right, there is a red brick tomb. Go closer and you will see it has a DAR marker on it. DAR stands for Daughters of the American Revolution. If you know your Louisiana history, you know that during the American Revolution Louisiana was not part of the United States. We were a Spanish colony. However, the Louisiana Militia under General Bernardo Galvez fought off the British at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Pensacola, thereby aiding the American fight for independence. So the men of the Louisiana Militia, mostly Frenchmen fighting for Spain, are considered American Revolutionary soldiers and their descendants are eligible to be members of the DAR. When the DAR finds the tombs of the soldiers of the Louisiana Militia, they affix these markers on them. A very large statue of General Galvez stands at the foot of Canal Street near the Canal Street ferry landing.
Facing the brick tomb with the DAR marker, turn left. Keep walking in this direction. Ahead on your right is the large fenced tomb of Maj. Daniel Carmick. Carmick, one of the very first U.S. Marines, is sometimes credited with helping to establish the term “leatherneck” for a marine due to the fact that he wore his protective leather collar constantly. He was wounded by a rocket during a skirmish leading up to the Battle of New Orleans. Perhaps knowing that his time on earth was drawing to a close, he married Margaret Cowperthwait six weeks after the battle, soon had a daughter, and died almost two years after receiving his wounds. It is believed that he died of his wounds. Had he not died, he probably would have been promoted to commandant of the marines. When he died, he was the second-ranking Marine in the Corps. Marines frequently gather at his tomb for ceremonies and memorials.
Turn away from Carmick’s tomb and go straight ahead of you, toward a large white tomb. Go around to the back of that tomb. You are now in the last aisle. Turn right. The wall vaults will be on your left. Continue in this direction.
On your right you will see a big gated tomb. This is the final resting place of the Lanusse-McCarty family. This family’s history is scattered throughout Louisiana history and research into their obituaries reveals that although the members of the family usually moved away and died in other parts of the country, they were always brought back home and laid to rest in this magnificent family tomb. This is one of the advantages to our method of interment: families usually return to the family tomb, all together again.
Continue up the aisle and turn right at the end, walking along the row of wall vaults toward the entrance. In the row of wall vaults you will see a wide shelf across two vaults, directly across from an empty space. Here lies J.N.B. dePouilly, probably the most famous of all New Orleans’ architects. His most famous works are the façade of St. Louis Cathedral and St. Augustine Church, but his legacy and remarkable artistry is most seen in the cemeteries of New Orleans. He built the Orleans battalion of Artillery tomb and the French Society tomb in St. Louis #1, the Cazadores tomb in this cemetery, and the Caballero, Bouligny, and Duplantier-Peniston tombs which you will see in the next square. But the man himself is interred in this humble wall vault. The last sketch in his notebook was for a grand tomb for himself and his family, but he died before he could build it.
Walk to the place where you entered the cemetery, cross the street and enter the next square.
(SQUARE 2)- This square contains some of the grander tombs in the cemetery, including several built by J.N.B. de Pouilly.
Begin by walking up the center aisle. Notice the statue of the woman on theLaLande de Ferriere tomb on your left. Mourning girls and women are common funerary symbols. One rarely sees images of mourning men in cemeteries. This statue was once holding onto a large cross.
When you reach the wide main aisle, turn right. There are two large columned tombs on your right. The first one is the Duplantier-Peniston tomb, which as you see on the plaque, was designed by JNB dePouilly, whose humble wall vault we saw in square 1. The next one is the Miltenberger tomb. Take a quick detour by walking between these two tombs to see the resting place of Ernie K-Doe. Just marking the row on your right, there will be an empty space, then the fourth tomb is Ernie K-Doe’s.
Ernie K-Doe’s metal marker, which proclaims him “Emperor of the Universe,” is a testament to his larger-than-life spirit. Internationally known for his R&B hit “Mother-In-Law” but a local celebrity of the highest order, K-Doe died in 2001 and was laid to rest in this donated space because it was close to his Mother-In-Law Lounge and other prominent New Orleans musicians are also here.
Retrace your steps out of this aisle, and back to the aisle you were in before the detour. Turn right.
Straight ahead of you is the beautiful Barelli Tomb.
Joseph Albino Barelli, Jr. was the son of a prominent merchant who was also the president of the Italian Mutual Benevolent Society. In 1849, when Joseph Jr. was 18, his family escorted him to the dock to wave goodbye as he boarded the steamboat Louisiana for a trip to St. Louis. As the ship was still preparing to depart, there was an explosion in the boiler room, the ship exploded, killing 150 and wounding hundreds more. Young Joseph Barelli was among the dead. His father was heartbroken and commissioned this beautiful tomb. Five angels adorn the top and the scene in the front is of the Louisiana explosion, from which young Joseph, already shrouded in his Heavenly attire, rises, escorted by an angel, into a Heaven filled with cherubs and the eye of God. The tomb-builder, Pietro Gualdi, would later design the elaborate Italian Benevolent Society tomb in St. Louis #1.
Go around Barelli (face the overpass) and look to your left. Walk to the Paul Babarin tomb. Here lies Paul and Onelia Babarin, Danny Barker and his wife, Louisa “Blue Lu” Barker. Paul Babarin was a noted jazz drummer and marching band leader who died while marching in the Krewe of Proteus Mardi Gras parade in 1969. Danny was Paul Babarin’s nephew. Danny and Blue Lu, both from New Orleans, were accomplished musicians and jazz historians. Blue Lu was famous for her risqué hits such as “Leave my man alone” and “Don’t you feel my leg,” and she and Danny played with Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Jellyroll Morton, and Lena Horne. The Barkers lived in New York for 35 years, but returned to New Orleans in 1965 and set about reviving and preserving New Orleans brass band traditions. Babarin and both Barkers were laid to rest with the traditional jazz funerals that they perhaps saved from extinction.
Keep going past Babarin to see tombs in good and bad condition, some restored and some forgotten.
Notice on your left the Dufilho family tomb, and the veteran’s marker for Ida Mary Grosch DuFilho, yeoman (f). Ida Difilho was 49 and a widow with three children when, in 1916, the U.S. Navy first started allowing women to enlist. She quickly came to the aid of her country during World War I and was given a veterans’ marker when she died in 1936.
On your right (almost to the end) is a tomb with 2 urns. This is the tomb of Pierre Soule’.
Pierre Soule’ is one of the most interesting characters in the history of a city full of interesting characters. Exiled from France as a teenager for revolutionary activities, he returned to his native country only to be jailed for publishing more anti-government papers. He escaped from prison and immigrated to New Orleans. Here, he established a law practice and became a U.S. Senator (during which time he helped to secure the release of Solomon Northup of Twelve Years a Slave), then the United States Minister to Spain (even though he could not set foot in neighboring France and risk being arrested). In Spain, he and his son were involved in several scandals and two duels (one sword, one pistol) against a French Duke after the Duke made a snide comment about his wife’s dress at a ball. Returning to New Orleans, he opposed secession but eventually aligned himself with the Confederacy. In April 1862, as Union gunboats trained their cannons on the French Quarter, Soule’ convinced the people to surrender rather than have the city destroyed. For this, we tour guides are grateful. Arrested for treason against the Unites States, the former senator escaped, aided the Confederates some more, then spent the rest of the war in Cuba. He returned to New Orleans after the war, was pardoned, and resumed his law practice. In 1868, suffering from dementia, he retired and died two years later. His former home is now Café Soule’ in the French Quarter. Note the draped urn monument behind the urn on the right, which fell from the pediment on top of the tomb. The draped urn is another of the classic funerary symbols. Although the Catholics did not allow cremation until the 1960s, the Romans cremated their dead, so the draped urn became common symbol in cemeteries.
At the end of this aisle, turn left. Keep going, cross the main aisle, and turn left at the white Boissiere tomb. Ahead of you a little to the right is the large Young Men of Liberty society tomb. You will turn left, and then right. You are now walking in a grassy aisle with a tall grey monument ahead of you. Walk toward the monument.
You will see the white tomb of J. B. Zenon Cavaleir on your left with the upside-down torches. An upside-down torch is another symbol of the end of life, because when a burning torch is turned upside-down, the fire is extinguished.
Further along, notice the wide Tuyes family tomb on your right. Donald Glenn Tuyes was killed in Vietnam one month after his 21st birthday. The PH after Vietnam means that he received the Purple Heart medal for dying in combat.
When you get to the grey monument, step around to the front of it. Time has worn down the engraving, but you can probably make out that this is the tomb of Judge Francois Xavier Martin.
Judge Martin, the first Attorney general of Louisiana, was known for being miserly, but he spared no expense in the building of his tomb, which once had gold lettering. Despite the fact that his eyesight was poor and he eventually was completely blind, he sat on the bench until he was forced off at the age of 84. His forced retirement was not because of his eyesight, however; he was removed after unpopularly freeing a slave named Sally Miller who claimed she was a German immigrant who had been abducted into slavery as a child. The story of Sally Miller was made into the book The Lost German Slave Girl (2003) by John Bailey. Judge Martin’s home is now known as The Cornstalk Fence Hotel, named for its distinctive cast-iron fence that looks like a row of corn.
Keep going away from the center aisle (Apartment buildings in front, overpass behind)
Pass the Cabalerro and Bouligny tombs (both built by J.N.B dePouilly) on your right.
On your left you will see the Blache(across from Bouligny) and the Plauche’ tombs. Go between them to the big grey monument. This is the tomb of Alexander Milne.
Alexander Milne was born in Scotland and came to New Orleans during the Spanish Colonial period. He was given huge tracts of land near Lake Pontchartrain, and, presumably liking it out there, continued to buy up more land in the area and set up brick foundries and hardware stores. He made quite a fortune, especially when two devastating fires in 1788 and 1794 forced the Spanish crown to forbid the building of wooden houses in town. Suddenly, the brick business was booming! The area became known as Milneburg. When he died at the age of 97, Milne, who had no children of his own, bequeathed his fortune to build two orphan asylums (one for boys and one for girls). Fearing that his final wishes would be disputed, he had the sections of his will pertaining to the orphan asylums engraved on his tomb before he died.
Turn away from Milne. Walk toward a crooked tomb. When you are standing right in front of this crooked tomb, turn left between the backs of two tombs. When you emerge on a grassy aisle, turn right. Go to the center aisle and turn left.
There will be an orange tomb on your right. Keep going till you see the lower-than-average tomb on your left that reads Dominique You.
Dominique You was a pirate and a patriot, as evidenced by the War of 1812 Service marker. Born in France and having served in the French Revolution and the slave revolt in Haiti, You came to New Orleans and fell in with the Baratarians, a group of pirates led by Pierre and Jean Lafitte who practically ruled the town through organized crime. When the U.S. Navy raided the Baratarians stronghold in 1814, You was arrested. Jean Lafitte, who managed to escape capture, was hiding out on Grand Isle when he was approached by the British. This was during the War of 1812 and the Brits wanted the pirate to use his knowledge of the secret waterways around the city to help them plan a surprise attack on New Orleans. The wily Jean Lafitte showed the British offer to the Americans and offered to help the U.S. in exchange for the release of his men. The pirates were released, helped the Americans, and, after the victory, were given amnesty for all their crimes. Some of the pirates returned to their smuggling ways, but Dominique You stayed in New Orleans, became sort of a local celebrity, was sought after for his pirate stories, served as a city alderman, and was even involved in a plot to rescue Napoleon from exile on St. Helena. When he died in 1830, penniless but beloved, he was given a full military funeral, paid for by the City Council of New Orleans.
Note the tomb to the right of You’s tomb (Reynes) has a tablet on the side. When a closure tablet gets full of names, it is often moved to the side and a new tablet begun.
Facing Dominique You, turn right and continue out to the last square.
(SQUARE 3) Although the cemetery is not officially segregated, Square 3 was thought of as the “black square” and therefore has some of the most important people of color in our city.
Enter and go left.
We love the palm tree growing in the large society tomb ahead.
At the end of this aisle on the left is the large society tomb of the Ladies and Young Ladies Veterans B.M.A.A., which serves as the tomb of the Louisiana Native Guards, the first black regiment of the Unites States (then the Union) Army. Among the men who fought in the Civil War and rest here is Andre Cailloux.
Andre Cailloux was born into slavery, learned the cigar-making trade, and purchased himself out of slavery with the money he earned making cigars. He married, taught himself to read French and English, and opened a modestly successful cigar shop. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Cailloux joined the Confederate Army. The black Confederate troops, comprised completely of free men of color (not slaves) were not sent into combat and when the Union Army occupied New Orleans in April 1862, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard of the Confederacy was disbanded. Five months later, when Union General Benjamin Butler called for black men to form a Louisiana regiment of black soldiers, Cailloux was one of the first to enlist and was given the rank of captain. At first called the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, the corps soon became known as the Corps d’Afrique. As freed slaves flocked to the city, a second and a third regiment was added. The 2nd and 3rd regiments had white commanders, but Andre Cailloux, who liked to say he was the “blackest man in New Orleans,” remained in charge of his regiment. His regiment was deployed at the Seige of Port Hudson under General Nathaniel Banks. The Union ultimately won the battle and wrested control of the Mississippi from the Confederates, but it was a 48-day siege. Cailloux was killed on the fifth day, bravely charging ahead and calling out encouragement to his men in French and in English. Although the Confederates allowed a brief truce so the Union could collect their dead, they did not allow for the collection of the fallen soldiers of the Corps d’Afrique. Andre Cailloux’s body lay on the battlefield, decomposing in the Louisiana summer sun, for 47 days. When his remains were collected, he was identified by his ring. Thousands of people attended his full military funeral, and the mass was said by an abolitionist priest. The following year, an American flag stained with the hero’s blood draped the podium of Fredrick Douglass at the National Negro Convention.
In the alcove behind the Native Guards tomb is a wall vault bearing the name Glapion. A.C and Emma Glapion are most likely Alexis Celestin Glapion and his wife Emma Vickner Glapion. If so, A.C is the grandson of famed voodoo queen Marie Laveau, who rests in St. Louis Cemetery #1 a few blocks away. People often leave candy for the queen’s grandson on the shelf or in the empty chamber under the Glapion family vault.
Turn right and keep walking along the wall of vaults. You will go all the way to the end of this aisle without any tomb stops, but there are several tombs in a beautiful state of decay as well as poignant inscriptions. You will get some great pictures here.
Turn right at the end of the aisle. Now, there will be another wall of vaults on your left. There are two important vaults in this wall, and they are right next to each other. They are the Wishing Vault and the Jordan Noble vault.
The so-called Wishing Vault is believed by some to be the “secret” resting place of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans who died in 1881. We believe that she is in her family tomb in St. Louis #1, where we give daily tours. The Archdiocese of New Orleans has no record of who is in this vault, only a notation that “this vault is full.” People leave offerings of flowers, candy, candles, pictures, fruit, and money here. The three Xs are common on voodoo tombs, and, according to the oldest traditions, must be made with a cemetery brick. The tradition, like the Voodoo religion itself, is a combination of Catholicism and African (Yoruban) spiritual practices. The X, or any crossed lines, represent the intersection between the physical and spiritual worlds, as we are always trying to communicate with the spirits, ancestors, and saints on “the other side.” Three of them represent the Holy trinity in the Catholic faith – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- which, to Catholics, is the upper echelon of that unseen world.
The vault next to it is the burial chamber of Jordan Noble, the drummer-boy at the Battle of New Orleans. He was born a slave, and it is unclear if he was still enslaved when he beat the drum in the battle, but the drum was the primary form of communication across a loud, confusing, smoke-filled battlefield. The beats of the drum conveyed the orders of the commander (Andrew Jackson) to his troops, and everyone who was at the battle attested to the 14-year-old’s precise handling of the drum. After the battle, Noble was a part of every celebration, was given numerous honors, and was well-known and much loved in New Orleans. In his 60s, he beat the drum to call black men to serve in the Native Guards (first for the Confederacy then for the Union), and in his 80s, gave popular drumming demonstrations at the World’s Fair. One of Jordan Noble’s drums was on display at the Louisiana State Museum’s exhibit celebrating the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans in 2015.
Continue walking in the direction of the overpass.
Note several ladies society tombs on your right. These societies provided ways for members to help each other in life and a proper burial after death.
Turn right in the center aisle. Keep going until you see a large tomb on the right that has a large metal tablet on its side. On the tablet are dozens of names. This is the tomb of Mother Henriette DeLille.
Henriette DeLille was a free woman of color from New Orleans. Her great-great grandmother had purchased herself out of freedom, securing the freedom of her descendants. Henriette was light-skinned enough to “pass” as white, as some of her family did, but chose instead to claim her African heritage and turn away from her family in order to pursue her devotion to the Catholic faith and her community. She and some friends formed an order which they originally called “Sisters of the Presentation”. The women taught free and enslaved African-Americans to read and tended to the poor and sick. When some elderly women in the neighborhood needed further care, the “sisters” took them into their home, beginning a tradition of care for the elderly that continues to this day. In 1837, the order was formally recognized by the Catholic Church and DeLille renamed her order The Sisters of the Holy Family, adopted a habit and a set of rules, and became the Mother Superior of the order. It was the first black order of nuns. She died in 1862 and in her will freed her slave, Betsy. In 1988, her case was opened for canonization as a saint. In 2010, she was declared “venerable,” which is two steps away from being declared a saint. There is a small prayer room dedicated to Mere Henriette in the front of St. Louis Cathedral.
Continue past the tomb of Mother Henriette DeLille until, almost to the end, you see a tall skinny white “Ladies Olive Branch” tomb on your left. In this tomb lies the body of Oscar Dunn.
Oscar Dunn was born enslaved in 1826 in New Orleans, but became the first black Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. Dunn’s parents, James and Maria, were owned by the same man, and therefore their children were as well. James Dunn purchased his own freedom from this man and continued to work for his former owner as a carpenter, eventually earning enough money to buy his wife and two children. James and Maria were able to pay for a good education for their children, Oscar and Jane. As a young man, Oscar was taught the painting and plastering trades and became active in Freemasonry. He married a widow, adopted her three children, and lived two blocks from where his tomb is today. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, Oscar Dunn advocated for equality in education, opened and/or managed employment agencies and cooperative enterprises for recently freed slaves, was elected to the city council, and eventually was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1868. Along the way, he made several political enemies, and when he died in 1871 of a sudden illness, many believed he had been poisoned. His family refused an autopsy, so his official cause of death was never determined.
Backtrack a bit from the Dunn tomb, on the other side of the aisle, go between Ward and Land Family tomb and the Ladies St. Ignace no. 3 society tomb.
In the next aisle you will see a very large brick society tomb on your left. Go between it and the Nolasco-Moss tomb.
Make a right in the next true aisle (not between the backs of tombs). Count three tombs, then an empty space, then the Chase Family tomb.
The people who rest here are the family of Leah Chase, the world-famous Creole chef, artist, and advocate for civil rights and African-American art. The closure tablet on this tomb is a list of some of the most significant contributors to New Orleans’ magnificent culinary culture. Emile Tennette (1882-1936) opened the first black creole restaurant (Tennette & Montegut) in the 1930s. He passed on his cooking skills to his daughter, Emily (1906-1992), who, with her husband Dooky Sr. (1901-1958) invested their savings – 60 dollars – to open a shop that sold lottery tickets and poboys. The shop soon expanded into a full restaurant and when their son, Dooky II, married Leah in 1949, Leah Came to work with the family. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant on Orleans Avenue became one of the finest establishments for authentic creole cuisine, as well as a landmark for the Civil Rights movements, hosting Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, among many others.
Leah Chase was also the inspiration for Princess Tiana in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. For more about Dooky Chase’s Restaurant CLICK HERE
To the left of the Chase tomb is the tomb of Advocates for Canonization of Henriette DeLille. This is one of numerous organizations who work toward the goal of having Mother Henriette officially declared a Catholic saint.
While facing these, turn left. Make your next right, then turn right in the center aisle and make your way out of the cemetery.
You did it! It really is quite a journey through New Orleans history!
Thank you for taking our self-guided tour of St. Louis Cemetery #2. We at Lucky Bean Tours hope that you continue to explore the rich culture and history of New Orleans. Please contact us if you have any questions about New Orleans, or leave a Google review and tell us what you thought about the tour.
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