Due to this post from Roni Loren (thank you for the warning, Roni) I’ve decided to remove most photos from Thriller Thursday. I hope you’re still able to enjoy them!
We’re going to do something different today. Instead of profiling a heartbreaking true crime case, I’m going to talk about a place most of us likely fear: the cemetery.
I won’t lie–I’m equally terrified and fascinated by death, yet cemeteries are strangely beautiful to me, especially the ones so steeped in history. There’s one near our house with a large section dating back to the very early 1800s and possibly earlier. Walking among these headstones, however morbid it might seem, helps me to truly envision a past beyond my own. Cemeteries are an important reminder of how short and precious life is. Look beyond the immediate sadness that envelopes you when you first pass through the cemetery gates, and you can not only appreciate the beauty but understand the importance of those who’ve gone before us.
St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans
Saint Louis Cemetery is the name of three Roman Catholic cemeteries in New Orleans, Louisiana. Graves are above ground vaults, and most were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
All three cemeteries boast famous names in jazz, Civil War history, French history, Louisiana politics, and more. One of the more interesting–and sinister–inhabitants of Cemetery No. 1 is Marie Delphine LaLaurie, known as Madame LaLaurie. She was a Louisiana-born socialite known for her cruel torture of black slaves.
In 1834, rescuers responding to a fire at her Royal Street mansion found slaves bound and displaying long evidence of torture. Outrage New Orleanians attacked her home, and LaLaurie fled to Paris where she was reported to have died. Circumstances surrounding her death are vague, however, and in the late 1930s, an old, copper plate was discovered in Alley 4 of Cemetery #1 with the inscription: ”Madame LaLaurie, née Marie Delphine Macarty, décédée à Paris, le 7 Décembre, 1842, à l’âge de 6.”
I love the complex mix of legend and history of the Saint Louis Cemeteries, and they are at the top of my list of places to visit in New Orleans.
The Salem Witch Trials have always blown my mind. They’re one of the earliest accounts of mass hysteria and cult following, and it’s hard to fathom how different things were over 300 years ago. What seems foolish now was absolutely terrifying to the people of Salem.
The catalyst to the trials occurred in what is now Danvers, known then as Salem Village. Two girls related to minister Samuel Parris began exhibiting bizarre behavior. They screamed, threw things, made odd sounds, twisted into contorted positions, and crawled under furniture in flat-out freakish ways. They also complained of being pinched and pricked with pins. No medical cause was found, and when other young women in the village began to have similar symptoms, panic ensued. In a time where Satan was most feared, the jump to witchcraft was immediate.
From June through September of 1762, nineteen men and women were convicted of witchcraft and hanged on Gallows Hill. Hundreds more faced accusations. Eventually, the hysteria subsided and those not hanged were released. The town was never the same, and the cause of the symptoms by those claiming affliction was never explained. Various theories, including hysteria, convulions from eating rye bread infected with a fungus containing LSD, to an epidemic of encephalitis to flat out egotism and jealousy have been banded about. Many modern historians believe the girls were simply acting out for attention and the idea caught on.
The story of George Burroughs is just one of dozens from the Trials. He was the only minister executed. While standing on the ladder waiting to be hanged, he recited the Lord’s Prayer, a feat the Court believed impossible for witches to do. This is an excerpt of the original account from his hanging compiled and published by Robert Calef in 1700.
Mr. Burroughs was carried in a Cart with others … When he was upon the Ladder, he made a speech for the clearing of his Innocency, with such Solemn and Serious Expressions as were to the Admiration of all present; his Prayer (which he concluded by repeating the Lord’s Prayer) was so well worded, and uttered with such composedness as such fervency of spirit, as was very Affecting, and drew Tears from many, so that if seemed to some that the spectators would hinder the execution. The accusers said the black Man [Devil] stood and dictated to him … when he [Mr. Burroughs] was cut down, he was dragged by a Halter to a Hole, or Grave, between the Rocks, about two feet deep; his Shirt and Breeches being pulled off, and an old pair of Trousers of one Executed put on his lower parts: he was so put in, together with Willard and Carrier, that one of his Hands, and his Chin, and a Foot of one of them, was left uncovered.—Robert Calef
I’ve been to Salem, and it’s a haunting place. The headstones in the historic cemeteries are graying and cracked, and poignant quotes from the victims make the terrible truth of the place come to life. There has always been unimaginable cruelty in this world, and cemeteries are a way of reminding us all to respect the past.
Have you visited any famous cemeteries? Is there one near you that has special meaning?