No other place in America makes death look so appealing. The cemeteries of New Orleans are full of eerie charm, with their iconic above-ground tombs drawing visitors from around the world, especially during Halloween.
But few realize there’s a quiet battle to keep these tombs alive, led by people like Emily Ford.
“New Orleans culture kind of developed around these tombs,” she said. “You came to care for your tombs on Saints Day. It was a yearly thing, to re-limewash the tombs, to remove vegetation.”
Ford, 29, is a restoration specialist for New Orleans-based Save Our Cemeteries
. Most mornings, you can find her in one of the city’s historic cemeteries, applying new plaster to damaged tombs.
She has to do the work because many historic tombs have been abandoned. Descendants don’t know about the tombs or realized that they’re responsible for upkeep, and without regular maintenance, they decay just like the bones within them.
Sometimes, vandals add to the problem, like at the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Last year, her tomb was vandalized with a layer of pink latex paint, and a team from a company called Bayou Preservation
just restored it in time for Halloween.
“I could work on tombs all day every day for the rest of my life, I would not solve any of the problems. As soon as I stopped, it would just all revert,” Ford said. “But we can empower tomb owners to work on their own tombs.”
Credit: Bradley Blackburn, Suzette Laboy, Darwin Phillips