In The Cemeteries of New Orleans, Peter B. Dedek reveals the origins and evolution of the Crescent City’s world-famous necropolises, exploring both their distinctive architecture and their cultural impact. Spanning centuries, this fascinating body of research takes readers from muddy fields of crude burial markers to extravagantly designed cities of the dead, illuminating a vital and vulnerable piece of New Orleans’s identity.
Where many histories of New Orleans cemeteries have revolved around the famous people buried within them, Dedek focuses on the marble cutters, burial society members, journalists, and tourists who shaped these graveyards into internationally recognizable emblems of the city. In addition to these cultural actors, Dedek’s exploration of cemetery architecture reveals the impact of ancient and medieval grave traditions and styles, the city’s geography, and the arrival of trained European tomb designers, such as the French architect J. N. B. de Pouilly in 1833 and Italian artist and architect Pietro Gualdi in 1851.
As Dedek shows, the nineteenth century was a particularly critical era in the city’s cemetery design. Notably, the cemeteries embodied traditional French and Spanish precedents, until the first garden cemetery—the Metairie Cemetery—was built on the site of an old racetrack in 1872. Like the older walled cemeteries, this iconic venue served as a lavish expression of fraternal and ethnic unity, a backdrop to exuberant social celebrations, and a destination for sightseeing excursions. During this time, cultural and religious practices, such as the celebration of All Saints’ Day and the practice of Voodoo rituals, flourished within the spatial bounds of these resting places. Over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, episodes of neglect and destruction gave rise to groups that aimed to preserve the historic cemeteries of New Orleans—an endeavor, which, according to Dedek, is still wanting for resources and political will.
Containing ample primary source material, abundant illustrations, appendices on both tomb styles and the history of each of the city’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cemeteries, The Cemeteries of New Orleans offers a comprehensive and intriguing resource on these fascinating historic sites.
Peter B. Dedek, author of Historic Preservation for Designers and Hip to the Trip: A Cultural History of Route 66, is associate professor at Texas State University, where he teaches history of design, historic preservation, and architectural history.
Praise for The Cemeteries of New Orleans
“Peter Dedek has authored a definitive cultural history of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries. Well researched and illustrated with photos, maps, and engravings, The Cemeteries of New Orleans tells tales of immigrants, Creoles, Africans, free people of color, and the diverse burial practices of the Crescent City from Civil War soldiers to voodoo practitioners. Dedek writes about the cities of the dead and their connections to Roman and Greek mortuary traditions as well as the impact of Parisian architects and mixed-race stonecutters. Dedek has done careful scholarly research on the fusion of Louisiana disease and death, race and caste, tomb building and social status. The book is also a valuable treatise on cemetery preservation. Like the 19th- and 20th-century vaults Dedek describes, The Cemeteries of New Orleans is a monument to a place and time unique in American history.”—Andrew Gulliford, editor of Preserving Western History
“Peter Dedek’s history of New Orleans cemeteries offers a broad overview of the city’s burying grounds, their monuments, and their makers. The inclusion of African-American cemetery customs and monument makers is particularly noteworthy. For those who want to know more about these renowned landmarks than tourist myths offer, this book will be essential reading.”—Dell Upton, author of What Can and Can’t Be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument-Building in the Contemporary South