Tradition – New Orleans, LA


“In the city of New Orleans, a body is never buried below ground.”

Michael told me that he has been familiar with this tradition all of his life.  As he explained to me, it is customary in New Orleans for bodies never to be buried underground.  This is in part due to the fact that New Orleans is below sea level, but also in part to a tradition, and to voodoo.  Because New Orleans is located below sea level and is frequently flooded, coffins that were buried below ground would sometimes get pushed upward through the ground.  This occurs because the coffins are filled with air and science has proven that oxygen rises in water.  After a while, bodies were everywhere and a solution was needed.  The only one that worked at the time was to bury all bodies above ground.  Though most people are familiar with this reasoning, less know that the first settlers to New Orleans had a custom of burying bodies exclusively above ground.  The reason for this custom is unknown but it was a tradition among the founding fathers of New Orleans.  As if that wasn’t enough, there are all sorts of legends and stories about Marie Laveau, the alleged “Voodoo Queen” who may or may not have been buried in a New Orleans Cemetery (Cities of the Dead).  While there are all sorts of legends surrounding her life and death, no one is sure whether or not her remains are present in one of the cities’ cemeteries.  In not wanting to wake her or disrespect the “Voodoo Queen” it has become a folk tradition in New Orleans to burry bodies above ground.

I would consider this a folk tradition, but interestingly enough, the tradition has a legend (the “Voodoo Queen”) within it.  In this respect, folklore has resulted in more folklore.  Other than the physical problems with burying bodies underground, no one knows for sure why the tradition has been kept.  There are theories, but nothing is definite.  Still the tradition keeps running strong and the city has come to respect and embrace this tradition instead of continuing to look for solutions to change the burial system.

“Cities of the Dead.”  Experience New Orleans! Compucast Web Design, 1994-2002.