May 13, 2015

Scenes from the Garden District (and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1)

To anyone familiar with New Orleans, the city offers much more than the French Quarter, jazz, and parting on Bourbon Street.  That’s why, while I always seem to book my hotels in the Quarter or the Central Business District, I always try to spend at least one day of every trip I make to New Orleans in another part of the city. 

For most people, venturing outside of downtown means a streetcar ride down St. Charles Avenue to the Garden District.  Synonymous with New Orleans “old money,” the Garden District is easily one of the oldest and most famous neighborhoods in the city.  The combination of ornate mansions/former plantation homes, tree-lined streets and lush gardens at nearly every residence give the neighborhood its name and well-deserved reputation as one of the most beautiful areas in the city. 

Exploring the Garden District and a New Orleans Cemetery were two items on The April’s “to do” list on our most recent trip to NOLA.  Fortunately, with Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District, we could do both.  And on a day when tourists were seemingly invading the city in advance of French Quarter Festival, it seems like a lot of other people were notching those items off their “to do” lists as well. 

Standing room only for most of the trip ... 
The streetcars were packed, and there never seemed to be enough cars on the line to accommodate the crowds.  But that is another story …

Like most tourists, on this day we chose the Washington Avenue stop as our jumping off point.  The historic landmark confirmed we had made the right choice.

The St. Charles/Washington Avenue stop is actually an easy choice because of its close proximity to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which is the oldest cemetery in the city.      

Complete with valet service ...
The main entrance is a mere two blocks off the streetcar line, and the world-famous Commander’s Palace restaurant is directly across the street.  

The cemetery, which is open to the public, provides an excellent showcase of the family vaults, grave markers and society tombs that are indicative of the necessary above-ground burials in New Orleans.  

Sadly, many markers are seriously worn or have become illegible over time, but the New Orleans Save Our Cemeteries and Lafayette Cemeteries Research Project organizations work tirelessly to restore graves and identify those who are buried there.  Save Our Cemeteries also provides excellent guided tours of the property if you’re interested in learning more about the history surrounding the cemetery. 

The corner lots must have been highly valued. 
Some vaults, of course, are much larger and more elaborate than others, an indication of the family’s wealth and stature in society. 

Then there are the shared society tombs, such as this one reserved for members of the Chalmette Fire Co.   

Perhaps most surprisingly to some visitors, though, is the realization that Lafayette No. 1 is still an “active” cemetery – many family plots are still being used for burials. 

After The April and I toured Lafayette No. 1 and got a refreshing beverage at a nearby coffee shop, we walked toward – and then several blocks down – Magazine Street.  I always love Magazine Street because of its variety of nice homey residences (unlike much of the Garden District, ones I could actually envision myself affording to live in), but also for its diversity of shops, restaurants and drinking establishments …     

… such as this po-boy shop, for instance. 

A few blocks later, we turned into the heart of the Garden District, which is exactly what The April was waiting for.  Not only does each residence stand out on its own merits, each has its own rich heritage …

… like this home where Jefferson Davis died. 

Looks like they didn't answer the service call. 
Since these homes are all still private residences for the rich and/or famous, the tall fences and lush gardens also provide a barrier from all the slack-jawed onlookers who pass by (like us).

Ok, now you're just showing off.  
Then there are the homes that simply stand out for their elaborateness. 

And then there’s the home The April was looking for above all others.  Her love of Anne Rice made this walk, in some small way, feel like a pilgrimage.  

The Rices no longer live there, but whoever does is keeping the place in magnificent shape. 

I readily admit I’m far from being a worthy photographer, but it really is hard to capture the elegance and beauty you’ll find strolling through the Garden District on a sunny spring day.  It’s worth the trip if you plan to visit New Orleans, although you may want to question the reliability of the streetcar these days. 

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