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There are few, if any, cities other than New Orleans that put more theatric value into death.
-- Our most famous indigenous celebration, Mardi Gras, is a prelude to Ash Wednesday with its ominous message that to dust we shall return.
-- Our cemeteries fascinate visitors not just because a Voodoo queen is buried in an x-marked location but also because many of the burial tombs are above ground. That was made necessary because of the city’s high ground water level, which would have made burials below ground soggy.
-- Our local anthem praises saints especially on Sundays during the fall.
-- One end zone in the Superdome was built over what was the Girod Street Cemetery.
-- Jazz funerals are characterized by a glass-enclosed hearse and a brass band playing a mournful dirge.
-- Second lines originated within the Jazz funerals to celebrate that moment when burial processions suddenly splash into a dance to honor the legacies of the departed.
-- More than in most places, attention is paid to All Saints Day and the custom of honoring the departed and leaving flowers at burial sites.
-- Ghost tours wind through the French Quarter.
-- A best selling novel, turned into a movie, told of a local vampire being interviewed.
Those examples, spiced with a Catholic culture and a bulging tourist base, make a proposed visitor attraction to be known as “City of the Dead” seem like a great idea.
As first revealed by ace reporter Stephanie Riegel of The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, the plan is a joint project of Kern Studios CEO Barry Kern and developer Joe Jaeger. They insist the place should not be thought of as a museum but as a fun, interactive, intense destination to enjoy and learn about the somber yet colorful elements of the New Orleans experience. To be located on Basin Street in a now shuttered three story red brick building that was once part of the Iberville Housing project, the location is appropriately right near St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, which includes the Marie Laveau burial site.
According to Riegel, the developers are planning to have the facility open by Feb. 9, 2025, the date of the Superbowl, which will be played here in the city.
There is hope for a soft opening on Nov. 2, 2024 the date of an often overlooked feast, All Souls Day. (To put it in football terms, whereas All Saints Day on Nov. 1, honors those who made heaven’s team; All Souls offers prayers for those who were faithful but might not have made the cut.)
As a personal observation, I hope the Basin Street location gives renewed significance to “Basin Street Blues” a great native song, originally recorded by Louis Armstrong, but that hasn’t offered much to sing about since the neighborhood Storyville red light district closed in 1917.
And, with that opening day of Superbowl Sunday, may the home team be in that number.
Have something to add to this story, or want to send a comment to Errol? Email him at email@example.com. Note: All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this article. Please include your name and location.
SOMETHING NEW: Listen to “Louisiana Insider,” a weekly podcast covering the people, places and culture of the state. LouisianaLife.com/LouisianaInsider, Apple Podcasts or Audible/Amazon Music.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.