Cities of the Dead

21st Century Digital #31

Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. Cities of the Dead Cemetery tombs, New Orleans, Louisiana. 2007.

Cities of the Dead Cemetery tombs, New Orleans, Louisiana. 2007.

The above-ground tombs in New Orleans cemeteries are often referred to as “cities of the dead.” Enter the cemetery gates, and you will be greeted by rusty decorative ironwork and blinded by sun-bleached tombs. Crosses and statues jutting from tomb surfaces cast contrasting shadows, adding to the sense of mystery. Votive candles line tombs on holidays, reminding you that the dead have living relatives who still care.

New Orleans has always respected its dead, but this isn’t the reason that our departed loved ones are interred above ground. Early settlers in the area struggled with different methods to bury the dead. Burial plots are shallow in New Orleans because the water table is very high. Dig a few feet down, and the grave becomes soggy, filling with water. The casket will literally float. You just can’t keep a good person down! The early settlers tried placing stones in and on top of coffins to weigh them down and keep them underground. Unfortunately, after a rainstorm, the rising water table would literally pop the airtight coffins out of the ground. To this day, unpredictable flooding still lifts the occasional coffin out of the ground in areas above the water table, generally considered safe from flooding. (Experience New Orleans)

Photograph retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2010630059/. (Accessed March 06, 2017.)

Photograph: Carol M. Highsmith

Credit line: Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Medium: 1 photograph : digital, TIFF file, color.

Highsmith, a distinguished and richly published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.

Note – This image has been digitally adjusted for one or more of the following:
– fade correction,
– color, contrast, and/or saturation enhancement
– selected spot and/or scratch removal
– cropped for composition and/or to accentuate subject matter
– straighten image

21st century digital, landscape, louisiana, parks, photography

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