What do a Voodoo Queen, the first governor of Louisiana, and an infamous slave torturer all have in common? They’re all buried in the same cemetery–where their spirits roam free and reportedly frighten unsuspecting visitors.
Established by Spanish royal decree on August 14th, 1789, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 remains New Orleans' oldest existing burial ground. This site is considered one of the United States’ most haunted cemeteries and remains active with funeral processions still occurring today. In one square block, these hallowed grounds house over 700 tombs and over 100,000 dearly departed souls within its disorienting and cluttered alleyways.
Of these countless corpses lying in the ground, the spirits of seven deceased figures are reportedly having anything but a peaceful rest. Take a look at the cemetery’s most famous eternal residents: souls who, according to some present-day visitors, continue to provoke the living from the afterlife.
1. Marie Laveau
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1's most infamous ghost–and grave–is that of the esteemed Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. During her lifetime, Marie Laveau dominated in fortune telling, the occult, and herbal remedies. In addition to sightings in the cemetery, Marie Laveau’s spirit is also said to still haunt her home on St. Ann Street in the French Quarter of the city.
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Her brightly colored clothing and red and white turban are hard to miss as she suddenly appears and then vanishes from plain sight. Reports of scratching, pinching, shoving, touching, sudden illness, and voices have all contributed to her not-so-friendly reputation. The practice of marking her tomb with three x’s led to severe vandalism over the years. The Archdiocese of New Orleans has since refurbished her final resting place and restricted cemetery visitors to those on registered tours or those with family residing within.
2. Henry Vignes
The horribly distressing tale of Henry Vignes will leave a hole in anyone’s heart. Henry was a nomad and sailor from the early 19th century who had no true home to speak of, but created one for himself in grand ol’ New Orleans at a local boarding house. Henry always worried about his important paperwork, including his cemetery plot title at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
He asked the proprietor of the boarding house to keep his precious papers safe while he was at sea in case of sickness or death. The proprietor promised to look after Henry’s belongings properly. Unfortunately for poor Henry, the sole person he trusted betrayed him and sold his tomb at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to the highest bidder.
Henry was never able to remedy the issue either privately or legally and soon fell ill and perished. With no money left to build another eternal home, his unmarked grave goes unnoticed in the paupers section of the cemetery—but his spirit still lingers. While visiting the graveyard, guests have experienced encounters with a lost blue-eyed man wandering the site asking where the Vignes tomb is located. Poor Henry.
The lost ghost of Alphonse roams the pathways of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in search of a final resting place. He’s been known to take guests’ hands and pull them to a stop, smile widely, and ask to bring him home. He also has a knack for gathering flowers off of freshly spruced up graves and placing them on his own forgotten tomb.
Thought to have been murdered, every time someone gets near the Pinead family tomb, they are told to stay away. Does this eerie activity reveal something about Alphonse's mysterious life story? Or perhaps Alphonse is just one of the hundreds, if not, thousands of ghostly Civil War soldiers or yellow fever victims wandering the cemetery.
4. William Claiborne
A native of Virginia and a great success as Louisiana’s first American Governor, Claiborne was a well-known politician in the South. While he was governor, William dealt with the nefarious actions of the infamous French pirate, Jean Lafitte, and his band of grunts.
William was well-known for his utter disgust for the dirty privateer, even going so far as to offer a $500 reward for Lafitte’s capture. In a hilarious response to the listing, Lafitte posted a $5,000 bounty for the Governor’s capture. That probably didn’t go over too well.
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During his lifetime, the Governor was known to be a hit with the ladies. More often than not, William could always be seen walking down the street with a fancy cane, tall hat, devilish grin, and confident swagger. He continued to serve his term until 1816 when he was elected to the US Senate. Less than a year later he passed from a liver infection, and was later interred in the Protestant Section of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
5. Homer Plessy
Homer Plessy of the 1896 “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson U.S. Supreme court case was a New Orleans native. Born of two white passing parents, his great-grandmother had been brought to the south from Africa, making him 1/8th African.
At the time, he would have been called a gen de couleur libre or a “free person of color”. He was involved in many social activist groups as a courageous leader, and his court case played a primary role in the formation of the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement.
6. Paul Morphy
Recognized by many as the unofficial world champion of chess, Paul Morphy had a natural talent that was unheard of in the 19th century. His aptitude for the game swept the country, especially after he completed and won a ten hour match facing away from his opponent while attendants moved the pieces for him.
Although he continued to play chess after this iconic match, his heart wasn’t in it any more. In an attempt to change careers, he decided to open a law office, but his potential clients were only interested in a game of chess. Frustrated, he eventually closed up his practice.
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Later in life, Morphy experienced a break with reality, fearing being poisoned and watched. He exhibited strange behaviors like following women for hours just to be a voyeur, and only eating food prepared by his mother or sister.
In the late 1870s, he allegedly ran through the streets of the French Quarter stark naked and wielding an axe, threatening to kill the first person who crossed him. He succumbed to madness and had a stroke in the bathtub in 1884.
7. Madame LaLaurie
On April 10th, 1834, a fire broke out in the kitchen of Madame LaLaurie’s grand mansion. In its aftermath, rescuers found several slaves who had been starved, tortured, and chained in the attic. News of the abuse quickly spread through the town, and a crowd ransacked and nearly destroyed the mansion. Newspapers nationwide reported on the details of this dreadful occurrence. In the midst of this chaos, Madame LaLaurie and her family escaped, reportedly fleeing to France.
In the late 1930s, a cracked copper plate was exposed in Alley 4 of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 with the inscription "Madame LaLaurie, née Marie Delphine Macarty, décédée à Paris, le 7 Décembre, 1842, à l'âge de 6--.” The English translation reads: “Madame LaLaurie, born Marie Delphine Mccarthy, died in Paris, December 7, 1842, at the age of 6.” Although records indicate she died in France on December 7th, 1849, according to some, she is actually buried in the Blanque tomb at St. Louis No. 1.
Featured photo courtesy of Kristen Wheeler