Friday, November 11, 2011

New Orleans Burials

Wishing a peaceful Veterans Day for our heros!  RIP Dad, I'm thinking of you, my favorite veteran.

     Well I was going to post about our trip to the Mirliton Festival, but Birdie asked about the practice of tomb burial in New Orleans.  And of course I love to talk about my home town, so I am more than happy to blather on about our "Cities of the Dead."  So you want the gory details, lol?  Here goes...
This is the inside of a tomb.  They are also called "ovens."
You can see the bottom casket in this tomb would rest on these wire supports.

     Basically a tomb is constructed so that the casket lies on a shelf or slats, or some sort of support which rests about six inches to a foot above the ground.   The shelf/slats/some sort of support has an area that is open to the ground in the back of the tomb.  Our family tomb has a cement shelf with an opening in the back of the tomb.  The casket of the previous occupant is taken out of the tomb and destroyed.  The remains are from what I understand, crushed and placed in a small container, either a bag or a small cardboard box, and pushed to the back of the tomb where it falls to the ground below.  The new casket with the remains are then placed on the shelf over the older remains.

Wooden caskets please!

     There are two things to note about this kind of burial:  First, you must wait a year and a day before you can remove a casket and use that space again.  You have to let the body decompose before you can remove it from the coffin.  So what do you do if you have to wait for someone to decompose?  The cemetery has temporary holding spots that you can use.  Second, you cannot use a metal coffin.  The coffins are destroyed and I imagine, (gonna be gross here so stop reading if you are squeamish), that the metal doesn't allow for the draining of bodily fluids like the wooden ones do and the wood will eventually break down unlike the metal.  Both of these stipulations are Louisiana law.

Too crowded?

     Do tombs get full?  Well, yes and no.  Because the remains are crushed and are dropped to the back of the tomb they continue to decompose so there is plenty of room down there for a lot of people, so some tombs have been used for centuries.  The main problem is where do you put all those names?  Names are placed on the front of the tomb on a granite or marble door/marker.  Once the "door" is full of names, it is moved to the side of the tomb.  I've seen tombs that are covered with these marker/doors.  I once asked Dad what they did when there was no more room and he shrugged his shoulders and said, "I guess you get a new tomb."

Who owns the tomb?

     Who owns the tomb and decides who is buried in them?  Tombs are like little houses and you own them just like houses.  When you buy a tomb you get a deed and that deed has to be presented when you go to use the tomb.  I can't tell you what other families do, but I can tell you that for our little tomb the deed is handed over to the person who needs to use it at the time.  If there is a family rift, (not that we have one), and the person with the deed doesn't want to hand it over, you do have a back up plan.  Basically, if you are a direct descendant of the person who originally purchased the tomb, you have a right to the deed and can get a copy of the deed issued to you by obtaining a form that says you are a direct descendant from the cemetery/funeral home and having a notary affirm your statement is true.  I learned after we lost the deed in Katrina and I had to go get another copy.

     People do get cremated and are placed in tombs.  We did this just last year with my father-in-law.  Yes people are embalmed so that there can be the viewing of the body, wake, etc., but in the NOLA heat and humidity, bodies don't last long, remember that year and a day thing.  

     Why above ground?   Some will tell you that it's because of the high water table, but in all honesty we have to look at our Mother County, France.  The French buried their loved ones this way, as well as Spain, and we just continued the tradition.

Here is a link that basically explains what I just said if y'all want to check it out:

PS for locals:  I don't know why, but I am fascinated with our 610 Stompers, (it's like a SNL skit in a parade).  It seems that they are heading out to New York for the Macy's Thanksgiving and they are looking for your support tonight, 11-11-11 at the Howlin' Wolf!  


  1. I *really* enjoyed reading this post. Thank you so much for all the great information. :-)

  2. I really enjoyed posting it! Thanks Birdie : D