Frequently Asked Questions
Have a question about SOC or the local cemeteries?
This section is a compilation of answers to the questions most commonly asked about Save Our Cemeteries. If you can’t find the question you wanted to ask, don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why are the cemeteries important?
Of the approximately 40 major cemeteries in New Orleans today, 31 are deemed historic. Five of these historical cemeteries are on the National Register of Historic Places (Lafayette No. 1, St. Louis No.'s 1 and 2, Odd Fellow's Rest and Metairie Cemetery).
In addition to being the final resting place for thousands of individuals, these New Orleans cemeteries are “outdoor museums.” They contain an array of artistic treasures, including antebellum mortuary art, ornamental ironwork, carved sculpture, and varied architectural designs. They are a key part of the culture of New Orleans and of importance for the history lessons learned from the many notable military, jazz, political and society figures who are buried within these cemeteries.
New Orleans’ cemeteries have always played an important role in the local cultural economy. Last year, approximately 200,000 individuals visited Lafayette No. 1 and St. Louis No. 1 alone.
Who is responsible for maintaining the historic cemeteries?
Six cemeteries are operated by the City of New Orleans and the others are owned and operated by churches, fraternal organizations, synagogues or private corporations. The tombs and plots within the cemeteries are owned by individuals, families, burial societies and in some cases, the cemetery operator.
It is the responsibility of the cemetery operators to maintain the common areas of a cemetery. The private owners are expected to maintain their respective tombs and plots.
Some operating entities and families lack the financial resources, knowledge or skills to maintain and preserve these sites and structures. Also, as families disperse, fall out of contact or a lineage ends, many tombs become abandoned and vulnerable to deterioration. Many of the historic cemeteries are falling to ruin due to neglect, vandalism, and deferred or improper maintenance.
What is Save Our Cemeteries?
Save Our Cemeteries, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, was founded in 1974 to promote, preserve, protect and restore the historic cemeteries of New Orleans.
We work to address the issues facing the cemeteries through a multi-layered approach that addresses both the immediate needs of the historic sites, as well as the systemic issues that contribute to their deterioration.
In addition to capital restoration project s, Save Our Cemeteries operates the following programs:
Documentation – Save Our Cemeteries conducts surveys that provide valuable documentation regarding the overall conditions of the cemeteries, theft, vandalism, and deterioration. We also help to determine and evaluate best practices for restoration techniques.
Research and Record Keeping – This program provides information for teachers, historians and the general public about the cemeteries. It also assists individuals with genealogical research and reconnecting with abandoned family tombs. An example of this type of project is the Names Recording Project: for which 250 Xavier University students recorded the names from each tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 and created an index to post online.
Education – Save Our Cemeteries offers several educational programs to promote and foster a public appreciation for the cemeteries, including tours, a day-long cemetery seminar, public lectures and classroom presentations.
Advocacy and Legislative Affairs – Save Our Cemeteries works with community groups, preservation organizations, and local and state officials to advocate for the protection of historic cemeteries across Louisiana. In 2008, we successfully introduced a bill to create a state trust fund for historic cemetery preservation.
Volunteer Cleanups – Save Our Cemeteries partners with local neighborhood associations, schools, corporate groups and organization members to remove invasive vegetation, complete minor tomb repairs and conduct basic tomb maintenance. On average six to eight cleanups or smaller restoration projects are conducted per year.
What are some of Save Our Cemeteries’ accomplishments?
Save Our Cemeteries has secured historic designations for several of the city’s oldest cemeteries, maximizing their potential for future funding. including. These cemeteries include: Odd Fellow’s Rest, St. Louis No.'s 1 and 2.
Save Our Cemeteries has advocated for the proper care and maintenance of historic cemeteries, both on a local and statewide level. Advocacy and legislative efforts have included:
- Working with city officials on the feasibility of instituting perpetual care for city-owned cemeteries
- Introducing legislation to establish a statewide trust fund for historic cemetery preservation
- Funding and participating in several valuable research, surveying and recording projects to ensure that valuable documentation regarding the historic and cultural value of the cemeteries, as well as their overall conditions, are recorded for posterity
Such projects include:
- The tombstone collection and recording project for St. Louis No. 1 and No. 2, in collaboration with the Historic New Orleans Collection
- A survey and preservation plan for Lafayette No. 1
- A conditions survey and database project focused on nine of New Orleans' cemeteries, in collaboration with The Historic New Orleans Collection
Save Our Cemeteries has also completed millions of dollars worth of capital improvements in the cemeteries, including:
- Repairs to the French Society tomb in St. Louis No. 1
- Repairs to 15 tombs in Lafayette No.1, including the Jefferson Fire Company society and the Chalmette Fire Co. society tombs
- Stabilization and repairs to wall vaults surrounding St. Louis No. 2 (three square city blocks)
- Stabilization and repairs to the wall vaults along the main entrance to Lafayette No. 1 and stabilization and repairs to the wall vaults surrounding Odd Fellow's Rest Cemetery
- In collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania and Save America's Treasures, completed a conditions survey and GIS map of St. Louis No. 1, as well as stabilization of 35 tombs in imminent danger of collapse
- Installed a monument honoring war veterans buried in Holt Cemetery
What are some of Save Our Cemeteries’ key future goals?
- Full restoration of the heavily-vandalized Alaux tomb in St. Louis No. 1, repairing broken closure tablets from Lafayette No. 1, and completing repairs on several tombs and copings in Carrollton No. 1, including a German benevolent society tomb
- Work with the City of New Orleans to increase the level of ongoing care and maintenance of the six city cemeteries, including the closure and repair of open or vandalized tombs and vaults
- In partnership with the Historic New Orleans Collection and with the help of dedicated volunteers, digitize cemetery records in order to both insure their preservation and increase their availability to the public
How can I get involved?
We’re always on the lookout for individuals wanting to get involved. Visit our How To Help section to find out ways to donate or volunteer.