Friday, May 21, 2010

On the Road to the Necropolis

This blog is a reasonable facsimile of an article I had published in the Oct. 2004 issue of Weird New Jersey magazine. In the years I’ve been roaming around cemeteries, the first four were spent shooting angels. I bagged a good number of them by the time someone told me about this great cemetery that flanked the Parkway, near East Orange, NJ. So I made the trip.

They were right. The place was thick with angels. You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting one, as Mark Twain would say. During that visit, maybe in 2001, my head was turned from the saintly to the creepy. New Jersey certainly has its share of creepy, and many of them were here in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Surrounded by innercity-ness, the large, yet quaint garden cemetery was punctuated by police cruisers and groundskeepers. Not atypical to find a cop or mailman lunching in a boneyard, but the sheer quantity of the cop cars at Holy Sepulchre was unusual.

A groundskeeper with a weedwhacker, working in the cemetery, stopped me and said “Don’t lose sight of your car.” One on a riding mower cut his engine and came over to me saying: “You know, I was held up at gunpoint here last year while on my mower …” Hence, the cop cars.

As I walked around shooting the necrotecture, the chief caretaker rolled up in his pickup and wanted to know my business. (With regard to photographing in cemeteries, I've long felt that its much easier to get forgiveness than permission!) After I explained, he was ok with my shooting, but added: “These damn film crews from New York come in here to make movies… They run around knocking over tombstones.”

The images accompanying this text were captured on that day (in 2001) and remain some of my favorites. I’ve continued to feed my morbid fascination at other cemeteries around the country, but few images match the intensity of this one that I call "The Bishop." The relief was mounted over the entrance to an ornate mausoleum. Years later, because people would ask me where I made the image, I Googled the cemetery and found it to be actually nicknamed “Bishop’s Cemetery.” Go figure. Must be more to the story, but that’s where I run out of talent.

Tomb of the Voodoo Queen

Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, died in 1881. Her remains lie in its St. Louis Cemetery No.1, close to downtown. Supernatural things aside, New Orleans has one of the most dangerous collection of cemeteries in the world. Take a look at this video of Laveau's tomb, and you'll see why. Note how the smallish tombs seem to make up a small city of buildings? These tombs are about 7 feet high, and very close together, allowing for narrow walkways for theives to hide. 

You can easily get lost in one of New Orleans' many cemeteries, get robbed, and left for dead. No wonder tours are recommended as opposed to strolling about alone--as I was doing one day. Its creepy enough in St. Louis Cemetery #1 in broad daylight (wouldn't catch me in there at night!), but when I found Laveau's tomb, I was surprised to see the burnt candles and Mardi Gras beads strewn about and hanging off the roof. Obviously the faithful come here to pray (but for what...?). I grabbed a ring of beads as a souvenir for my daughter and took some pictures.

When it comes to spooks, I've always felt that the more you believe in them, the more they'll try to get you. Therefore, I don't give them the chance. (For instance, I once had a brother-in-law who experienced sleep paralysis, more commonly believed to be caused by a nightmarish demon sitting on your chest . Me? I simply refuse to believe in such things so they won't happen to me. I choose to not make myself susceptible.

Marie Laveau's grave
Imagine my surprise, then, as I heard a rustling behind the Voodoo Queen's tomb. No other people about, as far as I knew. I walked along in front of the tomb to see if something (or someone) was between it and the next tomb. A the same moment I realized I had forgotten which direction the exit was, I saw the weeds between the tombs moving toward me! Before I had time to react, an emaciated feral cat appeared out of the weeds, bared its fangs and began hissing at me!

I thought it best at that point to discreetly drop the Mardi Gras beads and back away. It was then that I saw the litter of emaciated kittens behind the protective mother. She was simply warding off an intruder. Very effective technique.

As I made my way out of the graveyard, I came upon a hose spigot attached to a pipe coming out of the ground. Must be for maintenance workers. Since it was hotter than hell (pun intended) that day and I was totally parched, I stuck my mouth on the spigot, opened the valve, and got a mouthful of salt water!

For more information on Marie Laveau:

For more information on nightmare demons: