Spooky stories: a guide to the most famous cemeteries in New Orleans

written by Kate Gazzard September 7, 2021
Crypts at Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans.

It’s no secret that New Orleans has a troubled and tormented past, but these famous cemeteries are at the top of the tomb when it comes to the scariest places to visit.

Known for its dark and sometimes twisted history, New Orleans is not only home to tales of vampires and voodoo, but it’s also home to heaps of haunted places from slave-murdering mansions to ghost-filled hotels. However, some of the most famous cemeteries in New Orleans also happen to be some of the most haunted places to visit if you’re looking for an other-worldly encounter.

So, whether you’re thinking about what optional activity to do on our Southern Comfort USA Tour or wanting to spend a little more time in the Crescent City after your tour has ended, why not explore both the history and the beauty of these cemeteries while listening to a ghost story or two. Who knows? You might even have the fright of your life.

St. Louis #1 Cemetery, New Orleans

Some centuries-old crypts at St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans.

Originally built in 1789 to replace an existing cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery was a popular location for people to bury their dead and is now the oldest standing cemetery in New Orleans. While this cemetery is the final resting place for prominent historical figures such as the first mayor of New Orleans, and the famous ‘Voodoo Queen’, Marie Laveau, it also houses people who were both poor and wealthy at the time of their death.

Due to constant vandalism, the cemetery closed its doors to outsiders despite it still being an active gravesite. Now, the only way to see the cemetery and the 700 tombs within, is to take a tour with a licensed guide, adding to the eerie atmosphere that surrounds this historical site.

Henry Vignes

There have been reports of many ghosts lurking around the tombstones with the most sighted apparition being that of sailor, Henry Vignes who lived during the 19th century. Before one of his sea voyages, Henry asked his landlord to hold onto some important papers for him that included the family tomb, and while he was away, the landlord sold the tomb. Henry was unsuccessful in trying to reclaim the tomb and upon his death, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the poorer part of the cemetery.

Guests to the cemetery have described a tall, blue-eyed man wandering aimlessly, asking for directions to the Vignes’ tomb. Yep, you read that right. Henry’s ghost appears so real that people have had actual conversations with the centuries-deceased sailor.

As if that wasn’t enough to convince you that he’s still trapped on this earth, his figure has reportedly been caught on camera and a male voice (widely believed to be Henry himself) has been recorded on an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) saying the haunting words, “I need to rest”. After hearing those words, you might not be able to rest either.

St. Roch Cemetery, New Orleans  

The St. Roch Chapel in St. Roch Cemetery in New Orleans.

Sometimes ghosts can be the best travel companions and if you head to St. Roch Cemetery, you just might find yourself surrounded by a supernatural apparition or two. One of the biggest cemeteries in New Orleans, St. Roch Cemetery was founded in 1874 by Reverend P.L. as a thank you to the patron saint of the plague, Saint Roch, after no one from his church died during an outbreak of Yellow Fever.

Surprisingly, this burial ground is also the least visited in the whole city, adding to the speculation that this is one of the most haunted cemeteries in New Orleans as spirits can congregate largely undisturbed within its labyrinth-like walkways.

The ghost dog of St. Roch Cemetery

While being the patron saint of the plague and other infectious diseases, Saint Roch was also the patron saint of dogs, and it is for this reason that curious travelers believe a ghostly dog haunts the grounds of the cemetery. Oh, and because there have been sightings of one.

Said to roam among the tombstones, this dog is described as black in color and unnaturally large. While there are skeptics who say the dog may in fact be a real-life stray, guests to the cemetery have reported that when trying to follow the dog it simply vanishes into thin air whenever it’s cornered. You can’t get any more ghostly than that.

Lafayette #1 Cemetery, New Orleans  

The entrance to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans.

Nestled in the heart of New Orleans’ Garden District lies Lafayette #1 Cemetery, a beautiful yet haunting collection of crypts that’ll take you back in time. Containing over 26 nationalities, this cemetery was not only the first one to allow non-Catholics to be buried within its boundaries but was also non-segregated, giving it a reputation for being the most inclusive cemetery in New Orleans.

Built in 1833, Lafayette Cemetery was once lined with plants of all shapes and sizes (and still has magnolia trees lining the main path) with flowers running alongside paths and various walkways, giving the cemetery a park-like feel. Once Yellow Fever hit New Orleans, Lafayette Cemetery filled up fast and if you walk amongst the tombs today, you’ll see “died of yellow fever” more times than you would’ve thought possible.

Now, the cemetery houses more than 7,000 people including 1,100 family tombs, and features famous tombs such as ‘The Woodmen of the World’ and ‘The Miniature Graveyard’.

The ghosts of Lafayette

While the cemeteries we’ve already written about have distinct figures who haunt the grounds, Lafayette Cemetery is interesting in the way that there are no specific ghosts that can be identified. But just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Instead, there have been numerous reports of unexplained light apparitions as well as noises and other strange sounds with visitors claiming to hear sobbing despite being completely alone. Other investigators have captured words on EVPs that sound like “help me”, and “fever”, which would make sense considering the alarmingly quick and horrid way Lafayette Cemetery was filled.

Metairie Cemetery

A statue of a women laying over a tombstone at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.

We’re not saying we left the best till last, but we’re also not not saying that if you know what we mean. Out of all the cemeteries in New Orleans, Metairie Cemetery happens to be the most beautiful. This cemetery isn’t filled with just any old tombs. No, this burial spot is decked out with the finest tombs that money and status could have bought.

While this cemetery is still full of twisting and turning pathways lined with the dead, it’s also filled with pyramid-like structures, tombs that look like British castles, and grand mausoleums, taking this cemetery to the next level. You can easily spend a whole day walking through the graveyard, so it makes perfect sense that the spirits of those who lie buried within it, never want to leave either.

Josie Arlington

There are many reports of paranormal activity occurring in Metairie Cemetery from the ghost of the New Orleans police chief in the 19th century to strange noises coming from the cemetery founder, Charles Howard’s tomb. However, the tomb with the highest level of supernatural tendency is the first resting place of brothel owner, Jose Arlington.

Credited with helping run New Orleans’ red-light district, Josie was a prominent figure in underground society until her brothel burnt down in 1905, leaving her with a weird fixation for death. From that point on, she became obsessed with creating her tomb, striving to have one of the best mausoleums in the whole of New Orleans. She succeeded.

Josie’s tomb was fitted out with an elaborate womanly statue and two flaming urns positioned at either side of the entrance for dramatic effect, and upon her death in 1914, Josie’s body was buried there before being exhumed and moved elsewhere.

However, guests have reported seeing the urns glowing red with fire and have even witnessed the statue move, appearing to bang her fists on the entrance to the tomb. While Josie’s body is no longer buried there, it seems as though her spirit can’t leave her beloved and painstakingly curated tomb behind.

While spooky stories might not be your thing, all of the cemeteries outlined above are full of cobbled pathways lined with historical tombs and magnificent crypts that are well worth a look at if you have the time to spare.


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