Open Graves in New Orleans

I must have spent at least fifteen hours over the weekend in graveyards. I walked quietly and read as many of the family markers as I could. It’s odd. The St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is one of the most visited graveyards in America. Yet, even with all the tours and visitors, corners and pockets were filled with stifling silence.

I also visited St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 on Treme and the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. Each one had its attributes and each its faults. The primary fault of No. 1 is the failure to provide sufficient security and ‘guilt signs’ to prevent vandalism and theft. No. 2, unsecured/unsealed graves open to looters. Lafayette, not as cared-for as they’d like to think.

Look, I hadn’t walked around hoping to peek in graves or opening them. However, when presented with the opportunity to verify what I had read (most bodies decompose within a couple of years due to the climate and the gravediggers break up what’s left to make room for the next body), I felt compelled to stick my camera in.

There is shockingly little left of the people buried in those graves. This is a very different concept for me. For instance, when they built Southpark Meadows (Wal-Mart, Target, etc. shopping center) near my house, it was necessary to exhume the white pioneer owners and move them to the Live Oak Cemetery up the road. I read an article quoting the decendents as saying something along the lines of, “Not everyone gets to see their great-great-grandparents.” So, even after all that time, the skeletal remains and clothing persisted. That sounds about right.

Growing up in Humble (20 miles or so northeast of Houston), I know how intense the subtropcial environment is. I just never contemplated what happens to the dead in an even more water-logged area.

An internet search quickly educated me. The reason why so many bodies can fit in such a small grave is due to the quick dissolution of the corpses and wood coffins. The mausoleums function almost as an oven in that respect. What does not dissolve is broken up by the burial crew to make room for the newly departed family or friend. It sounds brutal in some ways, but departure is brutal.

It was commented to me (yes, the passive voice is my great friend) that it was disrespectful of me to take pictures inside the graves. I disagree. First, the skeletal remains are not capable of shame. Second, if the families gave one rip about their dearly departed, they would take more care of the graves.

This post is not meant to pass judgment on the families who cannot take care of the graves. Frankly, if my relatives pop out of the ground owing to my inability to care for their remains, you may do your anthropological and photographical study. At least you care to know something of them.

And, that was my intention when I stuck my flash camera in the mausoleums. I would never deface the resting places or purposefully disturb the grounds, but when offered the chance to see what death is like inside the tiny citadels, I was compelled to investigate.

The real family tree. Think about how long it took the roof to have a hole, the time it took for a palm tree seed to fall in. The stray line of light encouraging the palm tree to break out of its seed pod and grow. The family that feeds the tree. Yet, we think nothing of a tree’s being or soul–for it has no eyes.

Do you see the skeleton in back? The end of the coffin to the left? The rotted pillows from coffins long-gone to the right?
As soon as I saw a rusted mausoleum, I knew there'd be a way to peek in.
Inside the rusted resting place.
Coffin to the left side.
An empty grave. Probably not completely entirely empty of remains--but ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Particularly in the subtropical environment.

Empty top except for a fern.

I wonder how many people decomposed in the bottom of this above-ground grave. It's impossible to say without the family's list of the deceased.

Dave’s Pawn Shop Again

I’ve been working steadily on curing my irrational fear of this pawn shop. At the beginning of March, I worked up the nerve to speak with a salesperson there.

“Aren’t you scared to work here?”
“No, why?”
“Because there’s a mummy and skeletons all over. And, what is that blowfish thing that looks like a human face? Eek! Also, there’s a finger in a shadow box at the front of the store. This is definitely scary. ”
“No, miss. This is not scary at all to me. Look, here is the owner. He travels all over to find these things.”

He was scary, too.

This trip, I actually garnered the courage to purchase an item (a creepy knife). I have thought of a very special episode in which the knife will star alongside me. This reminds me: I need to get more fake blood.

Little Pawn Shop of Horrors

Holy frick. This place is more Mutter Museum than pawn shop. Imagine, there I am, enjoying the shopping deals on El Paso Street a couple blocks from the border.  ($6 stripper shoes? Count me in!) Then, I pass by a mummy in a glass case that’s going for $14,995. The first few trips, I resisted the urge to go in to this establishment. [A case styled as: must…see…dead body…in glass case v. must get back to Austin alive] Dead body prevailed.

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I took these babies on my camera phone. I totally got caught, and some beeatch tried to shoulder check me at the exit in a sad little attempt to prevent my escape. No damn way I was going to end up as a skull for sale in that little hell-hole.

Since I have a bad habit of pawning gifts (such as wedding rings) when I get mad, I’ve had the delicious opportunity to visit many pawn shops. I will inform you that this was my first time seeing a skull collection, full human skeleton, mummy, creepy-serial-killer-mask (what the hell is that?!!), plastic dolly, and bull whip AISLE.  Yes, but let’s not forget that great accordion. The reek of death lingers but lightly on it.

I haven’t mustered up the courage to ask them what exactly is ‘shown by appointment.’ The dried pinky finger collection from those who did not pay up on pay-day loans? [I have stared at the door pic so long that I noticed this sign in the upper left corner of the door.]

People keep saying what a waste of time facebook is. Well, when I posted these puppies, I got spectacular advice such as:

Ann, it’s not safe after dark in downtown! 

You should be careful! Yes, I am scolding you. Now, back to your hotel room, missy!

I should have listened. Here’s why: A couple drunk guys contemplated (loudly) kidnapping/raping me. Not kidding. They decided that because there were people filming in the hotel across the desolate street from me, it wasn’t worth the risk. Yikes.

Dia de los Muertos (Austin, 11/2010)

I had the best time at this event!  I couldn’t believe some of the get-ups people had on. Very imaginative! Maybe next time I will dress up…but that kind of ruins the photo-taking opportunities. It’s one of those “how awesome would I look” v. “how cool are these pics” kind of cases.

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I’m going backwards in time as I upload my pics to this site. It’ll be that way until I get all my junk off of facebook (not that I’m quitting that good time!) and on to a site that can handle high resolution photos.