A historic cemetery that may have started New Orleans' tradition of above-ground crypts will soon be off-limits to tourists on their own because of repeated vandalism. Starting in March, entry to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and its labyrinth of mausoleums will be restricted to the relatives of the dead buried there and to tourists whose guide is registered with the owner, the Archdiocese of New Orleans. "We've had unlicensed tour guides and others handing out markers and instructions on how to mark up various tombs," says an archdiocese spokeswoman.
One of the most famous tombs, reputed to be the burial site of 19th-century voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, is repeatedly marked with Xs and, in late 2013, was covered from one end to the other with pink latex paint. Established in 1789, the cemetery surrounded by 10-foot-high brick walls is the oldest remaining graveyard in New Orleans. Early burials in St. Louis No. 1 are thought to have been below ground or in low tombs that held a single coffin partly above ground, according to the website for Save Our Cemeteries, a nonprofit. Historians think that concrete and marble burial vaults were built on top of those earlier tombs to accommodate later burials. (Read more New Orleans stories.)