Friday, April 13, 2012

Metairie's Cemetery City

The "cemetery cities" of New Orleans are unique to this city.

With the city below sea-level and the water level high, digging a few feet down will hit water. Thus the casket would
float--literally (and yes, this did happen during Katrina.)

We decided against the half dozen or so tours of ceme-teries--haunted or not--and instead opted to tour the Metairie Lake Lawn Cemetery, the largest of 42 cemeteries in the New Orleans area, on our own. All cemeteries feature family-built tombs capable of interring as many as a dozen deceased.

When you look at this cemetery,
"city" seems an appropriate description for the rows and rows of tombs, resembling homes along a street.

Near the former entrance to the cemetery is one of the most famous tombs and funeral statuary in the city. This is the Army of Tennessee, Louisiana Division monument, a monumental tomb of Confederate soldiers of the American Civil War.
The monument includes an 1877 equestrian statue of General Albert Sidney Johnston on his horse "Fire-eater," holding binoculars in his right hand.

To the right of the entrance to the tomb is a statue representing a Confederate officer about to read the roll of the dead during the American Civil War.

Nearby is the Moriarty monument, reputed to be the tallest (85') privately-owned monument in the country.

It is the Moriarity tomb. As the story goes, Daniel Moriarity, an Irish immigrant, became a very successful businessman, but he and his wife could never break into New Orleans society, lacking the "proper" blood lines.

His beloved wife, who was much older than Daniel, died in 1887, and he set about to honor her in death in a big way. He had a friend design the impressive memorial to his beloved--a huge granite shaft topped with a cross of the same material. Daniel wanted his wife, in death, to look down her nose at those who had snubbed the couple for so many years.

He told the sculptor he wanted four life-sized statues, signifying the four virtues, placed atop the monument. Puzzled, the sculptor noted that there were only three virtues--Faith, Hope and Charity. Daniel firmly stated that the fourth virtue would be Mrs. Moriarity.

Because of the couple's age differences, Mrs. Moriarity stipulated in her will that only the date of her death be shown, not wanting to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing how much older than her spouse she was.

As we drove around the cemetery, we thought that the following description was deserved:
"Visiting other New Orleans cemeteries doesn’t quite prepare you for the architectural splendor and over-the-top extravagance of Metairie Cemetery. ...this is the most American of New Orleans’ (cemeteries) and, like the houses of the Garden District, its tombs appear to be attempts at one-upmanship" (

This quality of excess was as interesting as the cemetery's origin. As the story goes: "In the mid-1800s, this was the site of the Metairie Racetrack and Jockey Club. Legend is that an American millionaire named Charles Howard was denied admission to the clubhouse.

"The miffed millionaire vowed to buy and bury the track and the club. In l872, the company went bankrupt, and Howard was able to see his threat come true. The site became a cemetery. In 1885, when Howard died, his eternal resting place was on the grounds of the former Jockey Club. His ornate mausoleum features a statue of a man with his finger to his lips, seeking an atmosphere of respectful silence for those in rest here" (

As we drove around the cemetery, we traveled the former racetrack's oval. Criss-crossing the interior were a number of wide, paved streets and some grassy walkways.

Some of the tombs looked like small religious structures,

others like small cottages,

others like monuments

or familiar structures,

and others like Greek temples.

And it may have been the stained glass window in this tomb that Mark Twain had in mind when he stated, "There is no architecture in New Orleans, except in the cemeteries."

1 comment:

kk parker said...

Great article and photos, Wanderers!