In a city that can often feel like one giant necropolis, New Orleans’ Holt Cemetery sets itself apart in that 99 percent of its dead are buried below ground. Some erroneously state that burials are above ground because of a high water table. The above ground burials are from New Orleans French and Spanish cultural influences.
For years the land had been informally designated as a site for potter’s graves before Dr. Joseph Holt officially established the cemetery in 1879. Primarily belonging to African-Americans, the plots are free minus the cost of digging and are kept by the family as they are well maintained.
Grave markers are handmade. ranging from everyday items like PVC pipes and garden fences, to painted fence posts and astro turf, to plastic headstones adorned with adhesive lettering. Mouldering teddy bears and plastic flowers are common. At the cemetery’s center grows a massive oak tree, where cowrie shells, beads, beer, and other less traditional spiritual offerings can be found among the tree’s roots and branches.
Located within spitting distance of the sprawling and ostentatious Metairie Cemetery, the difference between the two is evident at first glance. In the vastly contrasting gulf between these two cities of the dead lies Holt’s unique and powerful ability to showcase that part of New Orleans so often omitted by the its famous cemetery tours. One of the oft looked for graves is Buddy Bolden (1877-1931), a musician who was critical of the development of jazz music. He was buried in an unmarked grave, but a headstone was erected in 1988 in his honor.
Know Before You Go
This is an active cemetery. Please be respectful of funerals. Also, make sure to follow all rules for the Delgado parking lot if you are parking there. It is for students only during some time periods.