Tales from (Inside the) Crypt–Literally

One of the most interesting things about writing, for me, is the research. This week, I’ve been looking “into” the crypts of New Orleans.

Most of you are probably aware that many New Orleanians, especially in the older days, buried their dead in aboveground crypts. Usually, there’s a large crypt for a family or extended family. The oldest cemeteries in NOLA are the St. Louis No. 1 and St. Louis No. 2. (Dominique You, aka “Captain Dominique,” alleged half-brother of Jean Lafitte and certainly his best friend and most trusted lieutenant, is buried in No. 2.)

But what is inside those crypts in New Orleans’ famous Cities of the Dead? That was this week’s research. Turns out, it varies.

Some of them have shelves inside where bodies are placed until they run out of shelf space. Then the bones are collected, bagged, and stored in a pit or storage area in the back of the crypt.

Other crypts are just big open squares into which coffins are placed. The “floors” might be dirt or concrete (dirt in the older cemeteries).

Legend has it that people are buried aboveground in South Louisiana because the water table is so near the surface that one can’t bury anyone “six feet under.” And there have certainly been stories over the years of skeletons floating out of graves and crypts when areas have flooded. Actually, however, it was quite the French fashion to build crypts in the 1700s and early 1800s when the older cemeteries were built, and New Orleans was a French city far past 1803, when France pawned it off on the United States.

So that’s my grisly research for the month. Any guesses as to what it’s for? PENTON!