A very famous writer, upon visiting New Orleans, said: "You can tell a great deal about a community by the way they honor their dead, and without meeting any of the people of New Orleans, yet I can tell you I know I'm going to like them, for very few cities that I have visited throughout the world honor the dead as they do here."
Most deceased here are interred above ground, a situation forced on the area because of the city's high water table and below sea-level elevation.
There are 42 cemeteries in the metropolitan New Orleans area. All feature family-built tombs capable of interring as many as a dozen deceased. The largest cemetery is Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery and very definitely worth a visit to view incredibly beautiful tombs set in lovely garden areas and topped with handsome sculpture.
In the mid-1800s, this was the site of the Metairie Racetrack and Jockey Club. Legend is that an American millionaire named Charles Howard was denied admission to the clubhouse, his sin being that he was not a Creole. The miffed millionaire vowed to buy and bury the track and the club. In l872, the site became a cemetery and, in 1885, when Howard died, his eternal resting place was on the grounds of the former Jockey Club. His ornate mausoleum features a statue of a man with his finger to his lips, seeking an atmosphere of respectful silence for those in rest here.
At what was once the main entrance to Metairie Cemetery, you will find the largest of monuments at 85 feet tall. It is the Moriarity tomb. As the story goes, Daniel Moriarity, an Irish immigrant, became a very successful businessman. His beloved wife died in 1887 and Daniel set about to honor her in death like no other.
Although Daniel was successful in commerce, he and his wife could never break into New Orleans society, lacking the "proper" blood lines. Daniel had a friend design the impressive memorial to his beloved - a huge granite shaft topped with a cross of the same material. Daniel wanted his wife, in death, to look down her nose at those who had snubbed the couple for so many years. He told the sculptor he wanted four life-sized statues placed atop the monument, each facing a different direction, and representing the Graces of Faith, Hope and Charity. The fourth would honor Mrs. Moriarity.
Upon arrival from out-of-state of the monument, it was discovered that no local drayage company had equipment large enough to transport it. A railroad spur from the mainline had to be laid directly into the cemetery in order to complete the delivery. The first erecting firm went bankrupt, and a second was hired allowing for final erection of the huge structure.
A circular sidewalk was installed around the base of the monument consisting of stones from various states throughout the country, each weighing eleven tons. When the walk was completed, Mrs. Moriarity's remains were transferred from her original burial site.
The final cost was set at $l85, 000.00. Because of the couple's age differences, Mrs. Moriarity stipulated in her will that only the date of her death be shown, not wanting to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing how much older she was from her spouse. After the stonecutter inscribed the information given him by Moriarity, he realized the date he'd carved was one day off the correct one. He tactfully approached Morarity, admitting the error and offered to correct it for the small sum of $2.50. Grunting, Moriarity said, "The hell with it. I've spent enough already."
After Mrs. Moriarity's remains were interred under the monument, the widower called the contractor back to advise him that the cross was crooked and he would not pay one cent until it was corrected. The second contractor went back to work and, like the first, went into bankruptcy. Moriarity, meanwhile, moved to California for health reasons and, upon his death 36 years later, was buried alongside his wife.
The Moriarity monument is but one of many remarkable structures in Metairie Cemetery. Be certain your tour guide shows you the "Woman With the Lantern" tomb and the truly sad story of its construction.
This cemetery was the fourth in New Orleans and was laid out in two squares. A third square was set aside for the burial of African-American Catholics. Such notable African-Americans as voodoo queen Marie Laveau, members of the Sisters of the Holy Family, and former mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial are buried here.
Cemetery tours are conducted daily by a number of tour companies.
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