The Cemeteries of New Orleans
A Cultural History
280 Pages / 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.70 in / 131 halftones
- Paperback /
- 9780807180389 /
- Published: July 2023
- Hardcover /
- 9780807166109 /
- Published: June 2017
- eBook /
- 9780807166123 /
- Published: June 2017
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. Drawing on a fascinating body of research, Dedek 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 focus on the famous people buried within them, Dedek sets his sights on the marble cutters, burial society members, journalists, and tourists who shaped these graveyards into internationally recognizable emblems of the city. In his detailed exploration of cemetery architecture, Dedek reveals the impacts 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. Traditional French and Spanish patterns prevailed until the first garden cemetery—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 sightseers. During this time, cultural and religious customs, 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 that, according to Dedek, is still wanting for resources and political will.
Containing abundant illustrations, The Cemeteries of New Orleans is a comprehensive and intriguing resource on these fascinating historic sites.
“Historians have given surprisingly scant attention to New Orleans’s cemeteries, leaving the topic to popular accounts, tourism guidebooks, and coffee-table pictorials. Peter Dedek finally fills this void with an impressively researched and copiously illustrated study that sets the cemeteries into their historical and geographical contexts. . . . The wide-ranging discussion of architectural traits forms the strength of this study. Dedek skillfully critiques the architecture of the tombs [and his] close reading of tombs rediscovers overlooked communities from the city’s past. . . . A must-read for scholars and general readers interested in New Orleans and the Gulf South.” ~Louisiana History
“Anthropologists and historians have long recognized that the form and function of cemeteries reveal cultural values and practices. Historian and preservationist Peter Dedek's The Cemeteries of New Orleans: A Cultural History is an engaging contribution that sheds light on these topics. . . . Dedek's careful study of tomb designs and his tomb typology appendix provide an opportunity for future research into a comparison between mortuary architecture and the built environment of the surrounding cityscape.” ~Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
“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