Friday, April 24, 2015

...a visit to a historically significant yet infrequently visited cemetery in New Orleans...

This cemetery was originally opened by Charity hospital in 1848 and was known as Potter’s Field since it was historically used for the poor, unclaimed bodies and those suffering from various epidemics (e.g. yellow fever). These individuals were brought to Charity to be buried in unmarked graves and at times of great illness that overtook the city, the individuals were buried in mass graves. Estimates vary about how many are actually buried here. The range includes between 100,000 and 150,000 souls. This is also one of the few New Orleans cemeteries where all are buried underground, as opposed to above ground mausoleums.

Similar to how Odd Fellows Rest could have ended up part of the highway, Charity Hospital could have ended up as part of a large bus stop. Thankfully, the city planners changed their minds.

Four years after the hurricane, the Katrina Memorial was built on the site of this hospital. With this addition, Charity Hospital now includes several tombs, which hold the remains of those individuals who were not identified from the hurricane in 2005. The Memorial includes a much-too-shiny monument that I would argue wasn’t thought through very well. New Orleans is sunny. Shiny things are a bit difficult to read and capture in photos! Alas, it is lovely, and it is surrounded by a circular path that appears to resemble the movement of a hurricane.

The marker reads: "This cemetery was purchased by Charity Hospital in 1848 and was originally known as Potter's Field.  It has historically been used to bury the unclaimed from throughout the city including the victims of several Yellow Fever and influenza epidemics.  The ashes of those who have donated their remains to the Louisiana State Anatomical Board for medical education are buried here, also.  Charity Hospital Cemetery is one of the most historically significant, yet least known, among New Orleans' famous Cities of the Dead."

Aside from the monument being so shiny, another drawback is that there isn’t shade for those who would like to sit on the benches and reflect or pray. Of course I understand how both are aesthetically appropriate for such a memorial.


  1. Another opportunity to see more of New Orleans through your eyes! Thank you!!

    The part about the ashes of those who donated their bodies hit home for me. My grandmother willed her earthly body to a medical school. She was cremated afterward, we don't know when, and scattered somewhere we don't know. Makes me feel incomplete, not having a place where I know that she rests.

    1. Oh, Connie! I know that's difficult not to have a place to visit but what a beautiful gift your grandmother gave. I wonder if there was any way you could contact them and find out. Normally I would think that was impossible but your story reminds me of this story I read a few weeks ago about a mother's infant son who passed. She donated his body and then later on was able to follow up to see what a difference he made to the world. Prepare to tear up!


    2. I saw the story a week or so ago about the mother donating her son's organs, and it made me happy. It is a well-known fact in our family that any useful part of us will be donated ... no sense taking the good stuff with us and wasting it. Whatever is left will rest at Hollywood Cemetery.