Responding to the threat of demolition, Save Our Cemeteries was established in 1974 to preserve one of New Orleans’ oldest cemeteries and has since been instrumental in the protection of several others throughout the city.
Save Our Cemeteries is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization founded on the mission of “bringing New Orleans’ cities of the dead back to life.”¹ In addition to its maintenance and protection of historic tombs, vaults, and funerary ironwork, Save Our Cemeteries also cultivates public appreciation of the city’s burial grounds through educational programs and popular walking tours.
The organization began in response to the near-demolition of the wall vaults at St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, a historic cemetery just outside of the Vieux Carré that was consecrated in August 1823.² After years of neglect, which was due in large part to the indifference or absence of the families who owned the tombs and were responsible for their upkeep, the cemetery was in such disrepair in the early 1970s that the Louisiana Health Department refused to issue licenses for new burials in the wall vaults.³ In 1974, the Archdiocese of New Orleans announced a plan to tear down the vaults and replace them with a chain-link fence.⁴ Faced with this demolition plan, Monsignor Raymond A. Wegmann of the Archdiocesan Cemeteries of New Orleans, at the time a self-supporting entity separate from the Archdiocese, estimated a cost of $1 million to repair the vaults alone and another $2 million to restore the remaining tombs, a prohibitively high price.⁵ It was at this point that a group of citizens, among them noted preservationist and author Mary Louise Christovich, formed Save Our Cemeteries and began a partnership with the Archdiocese to restore the cemetery, a process that included a National Register of Historic Places designation in July 1975.⁶
After discovering the pervasive issue of cemetery neglect throughout the city, Save Our Cemeteries expanded its mission to include work in all of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries but continues to concentrate its efforts on those either listed on or eligible for the National Register, including St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Metairie Cemetery, Odd Fellows Rest, and Cypress Grove Cemetery.⁷ Today, the organization’s activities include education and outreach, surveying and recording tombstones, and stabilization and repair of numerous tombs and wall vaults.
1. Save Our Cemeteries, “Mission & History.”
2. Leonard V. Huber, “New Orleans Cemeteries: A Brief History,” in New Orleans Architecture, Volume III: The Cemeteries, ed. Mary Louise Christovich (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1974), 10.
3. Joyce M. Davis, “$3 Million Needed to Save St. Louis Cemetery No. 2,” The Times-Picayune, December 8, 1974.
4. Save Our Cemeteries, “St. Louis Cemetery No. 2.”
5. Davis, “$3 Million Needed to Save St. Louis Cemetery No. 2.”
6. Davis, “$3 Million Needed to Save St. Louis Cemetery No. 2”; and Mary Louise Christovich, “St. Louis Cemeteries I & II,” Preservation In Print 1, no. 1 (August 1975): 2.
7. Save Our Cemeteries, “Cemeteries.”
Suggestions for Additional Reading and Research
Brock, Eric J. New Orleans Cemeteries. Images of America Series. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 1999.
Krotzer, Henry W., Jr. The Care and Maintenance of Ancient Tombs. New Orleans: Save Our Cemeteries, 1977.
Save Our Cemeteries Collection, 1923–1978. Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.
Survey of Historic New Orleans Cemeteries, 1981–83. Williams Research Center, The Historic New Orleans Collection.