This Saturday is the last chance to wander the historic St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 unaccompanied. Beginning March 1, the Archdiocese of New Orleans will implement new rules requiring all visitors to be accompanied by a registered tour guide.
“Over time and particularly over the last year we’ve seen a rise in incidents of vandalism and other unacceptable activities inside the cemetery,” said archdiocese spokesperson Sarah MacDonald. “After much deliberation about the way to protect and preserve the sanctity and historic nature of the cemeteries, [the archdiocese] decided the new measures that visitors be accompanied by a licensed and registered tour guide was the best way for us to go.”
The most memorable act of vandalism occurred in December 2013, when someone painted the tomb of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau with bubblegum pink latex paint.
Tour companies will be required to pay $450 monthly or $4,500 annually for access to the cemetery, or $40 for a one-time pass. Since the new rules were announced in January, the archdiocese has added a 10-visit pass option for $300, MacDonald said.
A guided tour of St. Louis No. 1 by the nonprofit group Save Our Cemeteries
costs $20 per person. The cemetery will be free to Louisiana residents on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 1-2), days when Catholics in many parts of the world traditionally visit and decorate family graves. The archdiocese may also open the cemetery to residents on Good Friday, MacDonald said.
According to MacDonald, security upgrades at St. Louis No. 1 will include two full-time staff members and possibly additional cameras and lighting. The archdiocese has already started work on a half-million dollar project to refurbish the cemetery’s exterior walls, MacDonald said.
St. Louis No. 1 will not be the only historic cemetery to see new regulations. The archdiocese eventually plans to add additional security measures at St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 on Esplanade Ave. and at St. Roch Cemeteries along N. Roman and N. Derbigny streets. The archdiocese chose these sites, MacDonald said, “based on where’ve we had the most issues.”
A tour guide will not be required to visit St. Louis No. 3 or St. Roch, MacDonald said, adding that restrictions at St. Louis No. 3 will likely include new rules for tour buses. The archdiocese does not yet have a timeline for implementing rules at these cemeteries.
“Those who have family members buried or encrypted in [St. Louis No. 1] strongly support these measures. We’ve received a lot of very positive feedback,” said MacDonald. “We know some of the smaller tour operators are not as happy, but overwhelmingly everyone agrees that action needed to be taken to preserve and protect the cemeteries.”