Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, padlocked since 2019, will open Thursday morning (Oct. 13) for a volunteer cleanup to ready the historic “city of the dead” for All Saints’ Day. Garden District neighbors will pull up weeds, remove broken concrete and clean walkways from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 was founded in 1833 and still in use today, although the city has closed it to the public to make repairs and to protect the delicate tombs.
Let’s say you plan an outing for a Friday or Saturday afternoon with a friend from out of town. You decide to visit the Garden District and have lunch at Commander’s Palace. As you exit, you remember what an experience it is to visit one of New Orleans’ most famous cities of the dead: Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, directly across the street from the restaurant. So you amble across Washington Avenue to its imposing wrought-iron gates.
A few months after the city padlocked the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in September 2019, Garden District neighbors, tour guides and family members wanting to visit the graves of loved ones were asking questions. Sixteen months into the temporary closure for repairs, those question continue: Is anything happening behind the antique brick walls? When will the city unlock the gates and let the public in again? Neighbors could get some answers Tuesday (Jan.
The city will allow residents to visit city-run cemeteries on Sunday, May 10 — Mother’s Day — to pay respects to loved ones. The day will include a temporary opening of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which has been closed for repairs since September 2019. The Garden District cemetery, which dates back to the 1830s, will be monitored by city staff, with supervision available at other cemeteries as well. Social distancing protocols will be enforced, with visitors required to limit their groups to no more than 10 people, and all visitors keeping the required six-foot distance from one another.
The city’s Department of Property Management is set to begin revitalizing and restoring Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of the city’s most treasured historic resting places and a popular tourist attraction. The DPM will work alongside District B City Councilman Jay Banks, representatives from other city departments, as well as local historic preservationists to plan and complete the repairs, a city press release states. Graves at the site date back to the 1830s. “We are excited about the opportunity to complete these much-needed repairs for our residents and for the many tourists who come to appreciate the cemetery’s history,” said Ramsey Green, Deputy CAO for Infrastructure.
Tourists flocking to what’s become one of the Garden District’s most popular destinations are met with is just a padlock and a sign: “Lafayette Cemetery #1 will be temporarily closed for repairs.”
It’s been over two months since the city of New Orleans, which owns the cemetery, shut down the area for public access, as it performs the most extensive restoration effort in recent history on the site, which has graves dating back to the 1830s. The city says that work there is long overdue, with natural weathering and a massive spike in tourist interest taking a toll on the historic tombs. That work so far has been scarce, though, according to Martin Leblanc, who says the tour groups he leads there will regularly consider the site among the top three or four to visit in the city. “I think they’re going to finish this cemetery after they finish the streets in New Orleans,” he said. “We haven’t seen any work.”
Martha Griset, who’s overseeing the work with city Property Management, said the city has spent time evaluating how to move forward on the restoration, and has already done some work clearing plant debris.