Why Are New Orleans Cemeteries so Unique? (Hint: It’s In The Water)

If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know it’s a unique and exciting place to visit. The amazing culinary history and cultural celebrations like Mardi Gras throughout the year make it a must-visit destination.

And with Halloween approaching, another unique thing about The Big Easy is worth noting: Have you ever noticed the curious ways the dead are treated in NOLA?

Let’s start with the funeral processions. They aren’t like normal funerals, steeped in somber expressions of sadness that are common nearly everywhere else in the world. Instead, these are celebrations of life that often include parades for the passed with music, fanfare and of course, food.

But it doesn’t end there. Because New Orleans sits so far below sea level, they “bury” the dead above ground in mausoleums and columbariums. Just rows and rows of very large concrete blocks. While traditional cemeteries require burials of six feet below ground, in New Orleans that’s impossible because the city is too close to the water table. A traditional grave would have bodies floating all around town — not fun, word has it.

Photo of an above-ground vault.

Surface vaults are an adaptation of the typical entombment, in which three-fourths of the vault are underground, with the lid of the casket above ground. However with recent severe weather events and more aggressive flooding, surface vaults have become a thing of the past because of the potential to have floating caskets each time a heavy rain comes to the area.

A few years back, a large area around Calcasieu Parish experienced this situation when a heavy rain caused these tombs to float far from their final resting place. During the difficult time, people had to rebury their loved ones and decide on a better plan for the future.

Ever since, mortuaries began encouraging the above-ground entombment to people for the loved ones who have passed. The two most common types of above-ground burial are mausoleums and columbariums. A mausoleum is a stone building designed to house caskets in individual tombs. A columbarium houses urns of cremated remains.

Regardless of the style of cemetery, it is clear we all respect our family that has come before us, and we celebrate the lives of those that brought us here. By remembering the past, and celebrating it, we can focus on the hope of the future. CSWR is working to keep your families safe, to celebrate, remember and build for the future, by investing in water, a part of all of our lives.