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Legends of the St. Louis Cemetery: Getting to Know the Residents of the City of the Dead

We’re pleased to welcome back guest blogger Harry Parsons of Arcadia Publishing. You may remember his post about 6 of the most notorious graveyards in America. This post profiles the eternal residents of one of those graveyards. 

Originally published in Harper’s Weekly in 1885 (Public domain image)
Originally published in Harper’s Weekly in 1885 (Public domain image)

 

If you’ve always wondered which of America’s most famous cemeteries is notorious for being the most heavily haunted, then look no further than New Orleans’s own St. Louis Cemetery #1. It’s located in the shadow of the Big Easy’s world famous French Quarter and also has the honor of being one of the oldest places to go in town.

St. Louis Cemetery not only looks and feels old, but is steeped in mystery and tradition as well. You’ll see beautifully sculpted tombs and very unique markers. If you’re lucky, you may even come face to face with a real, not-so-live ghost. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more fascinating legends, people, and events associated with this one-of-a-kind, must-see location.

The Notorious Marie Laveau

St. Louis Cemetery is said to be haunted by several noteworthy ghosts with multiple sightings to their credit. However, no ghostly resident of the City of the Dead is more famous or notorious than Marie Laveau.

Marie began life as the illegitimate offspring of a free Creole woman and a white plantation owner. At the age of 18, she married a freedman from Haiti, and then she became a hairdresser with a long list of wealthy clients upon his death. However, her flair for putting together gorgeous hairstyles is far from her claim to fame. Marie Laveau is famous for her alleged magical powers and connection to voodoo. As such, she developed a massive following that included people from all walks of life. She was also just as famous for doing dark deeds as she was performing positive, helpful acts.

Upon her death, Laveau was not buried in a family vault, but in an unmarked tomb. It is said that this was done because New Orleans authorities wished to prevent the cemetery becoming a shrine to her memory and attracting too many of her followers. Even so, people to this very day regularly visit the tomb where she is thought to be buried. Legend has it that Laveau will grant a wish to anyone who marks her tomb with a triple X (although it is not recommended that you do this, as it’s an act of vandalism).

Marie is also said to haunt the cemetery. Many people have reported experiencing supernatural phenomena while trying to interact with the deceased voodoo practitioner. They include being touched by ghostly hands, hearing voices, and suddenly being struck ill inexplicably. They have also seen Marie strolling among the graves on many occasions.

The Spirit of Henry Vignes

Another well-known shade associated with St. Louis Cemetery #1 is Henry Vignes. Vignes was a sailor during the 19th century and, as such, had no real home to speak of. Instead he traveled the high seas and saw numerous places. When he happened to be in New Orleans, he would stay at a local boarding house.

However, despite being a dyed-in-the-wool nomad to the bone, Vignes worried constantly about the well-being of his important papers. That’s exactly why he eventually turned to his landlady at the boarding house for help, asking her to hold onto them for him and take care of them in the event of his death at sea. These papers, of course, included the ones related to his family’s tomb within the cemetery.

Although Henry’s landlady swore to him that he had nothing to worry about, he really should have been worrying — not about death, but about the integrity of the people he trusted. During one of Henry’s sea-going excursions, the landlady took it upon herself to sell the Vignes family tomb for her own gain.

Despite being horrified and trying desperately to set the situation to rights upon finding out what had happened, Vignes was never able to get that tomb back – not legally, and not via other, less savory means. When he eventually did fall ill and pass away, there was nowhere for him to be buried. This led to his burial in an unmarked grave in St. Louis Cemetery #1’s pauper field.

This state of affairs apparently continues to bother Mr. Vignes, as his ghost is frequently seen wandering around the grounds. In fact, his ghost is considered to be so real-seeming that it’s spoken with visitors to the cemetery without their being aware he was dead. He always asks for directions to the Vignes tomb, saying he can’t find it himself. He has even been said to approach mourners at other tombs and ask if there might be any room inside for him.

The Mysterious Young Alphonse

After Marie Laveau and Henry Vignes, the most famous spectral denizen at St. Louis #1 would probably be that of a mysterious boy known only as Alphonse. In fact, Alphonse and Vignes have one very important thing in common – no permanent place to rest, causing them to wander the grounds of the cemetery looking for one.

Visitors who claim to have spotted Alphonse say that he introduces himself by taking their hands and pulling them to a stop. He smiles invitingly and asks the person to help him get home. However, no one knows where that home is. If asked, he often starts to cry right before disappearing or running away. Sometimes he is seen gathering flowers and trinkets from some of the other graves right before placing them on what is thought to be his own tomb.

Some believe that Alphonse met an untimely end at the hands of someone from the Pinead family. This is because sometimes when a visitor goes near that particular family’s tomb, Alphonse appears and warns them to stay away.

Planning a Visit to St. Louis Cemetery #1

In addition to these three very famous figures, St. Louis #1 is said to be home to hundreds of different spirits, including Civil War heroes, yellow fever victims, and many more. That said, a visit to this most haunted place is well worth your time if you’re interested in experiencing haunted New Orleans at its best.

You can sign up for one of the many ghost tours that operate within the cemetery. Alternatively, you can undergo a self-guided tour instead. Happy phantom hunting!

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