Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Visit To Lafayette Cemetary

Today, my work colleague, John and I decided to take a little side trip during a lull in the Microsoft Tech Ed conference. We walked from the convention center to the Garden District in order to find Lafayette Cemetery, which dates back to 1835 or so, making it the oldest cemetery in the city of New Orleans. Between 1841 and 1853, outbreaks of Yellow Fever caused thousands of deaths, the worst of which would ensure that bodies were often left at the gates of Lafayette. The cemetery would eventually fall hard times and would see several of the tombs neglected, vandalized or destroyed. Several preservation efforts, most notably the "Save Our Cemeteries" project have done quite a bit to bring cemeteries in the city of New Orleans back to their original splendor. The purpose of these programs is to help keep the cemeteries clean and visitable through volunteer clean-up events.

After taking a number of photographs, John and I happened to run into the Save Our Cemeteries volunteer coordinator for Lafayette Cemetery #1. Steve, in typical Southern hospitable style, invited us in to his office for a few beers and some conversation. Being from Chicago, I was sure that I was about to get hustled, if not outright killed. Steve looked a little rough and I thought that there was a decent chance that he'd either say "Bring out the gimp" or that John and I would have our kidneys harvested and our bodies discarded into some unmarked tomb.

Thankfully, Steve, while being a bit of a character, was harmless. As an employee of the Save Our Cemeteries project, Steve is allowed to live for free in a modest shack that serves as his office on the grounds, which is great considering that people have been dying to get into Lafayette Cemetery since 1833. The shack itself wasn't much to look at, but it had electricity to run his computers and air conditioning. He didn't have cable, but at least the neighbors were deathly quiet. In exchange for a six pack of Natural Light, Steve agreed to tell me his most terrifying experience as director of Lafayette Cemetery #1. You'll find his story in the video below.

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