St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 rules preach respect
New regulations for access to the historic St. Louis Cemetery No.1 Catholic cemetery and its restoration have been announced to curb vandalism, disrespect for the dead and misinformation about Catholic cemeteries.
Sherri Peppo, director of the Cemeteries Office of the Archdiocese of New Orleans that owns St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – the oldest operating cemetery in New Orleans dating to the late 1700s – discussed the new plan Jan. 27 with tour guides attending a Tour Professionals of Greater New Orleans meeting at St. Alphonsus Church in the Irish Channel.
Peppo told the guides that archdiocesan policy requiring insurance of anyone that works at the cemetery would now apply to them. In addition, the guides or tour companies would file their insurance and provide copies of guide licenses from the city of New Orleans to the cemetery office.
Entry into St. Louis No. 1 – with or without a group – would then be authorized with an official badge obtainable, by fee, from the Cemeteries Office and checked at the Basin Street cemetery entrance. Bike tours and all motorized vehicles would be prohibited.
Fees range from $40 for a one-time use to $4,500 annually (which can be broken down to $450 monthly or $1,200 quarterly) for unlimited use.
“We tried to be as fair as possible,” Peppo said about the fee, explaining how tour averages were used to determine the amount. “We’re hoping it will eliminate a lot of what’s going on in the cemeteries. Some of the things I’ve seen (over the 25 years in the cemeteries office) is atrocious.”
Peppo mentioned guides breaking bricks on tombs and letting tourists stick cameras inside to take pictures; stolen security cameras; red beans and rice and trash being thrown throughout the cemetery. Guides caught telling tourists to mar tombs would be banned automatically from the cemeteries, she said.
“We are constantly having to clean up what I consider litter and vandalism,” Peppo said.
The new policy will take effect March 1, allowing time for tour guides and companies to make an appointment and register with the Cemeteries Office. Currently, only checks are being accepted, but the office is working on adding credit cards and a link on its website. The registration process will take about a week but should be quicker once the majority of guides are in the system.
The money collected “will go toward staffing the cemetery during the day, beefing up security at night and helping us with overall restoration of this historic cemetery,” Peppo said, adding that a $500,000 restoration to stabilize the exterior walls of St. Louis No. 1 is underway.
Reaction mostly positive
Many of those in attendance, while not particularly keen on paying a fee to conduct tours at archdiocesan cemeteries, understood the need to restrict unauthorized people meandering in and damaging the cemetery.
“My friends and colleagues and everyone I know was for it,” said Robert Florence, president of the Tour Professionals of Greater New Orleans. “I think it’s great because every time I work in that cemetery, it is distressing to see the condition of the tombs. ... That cemetery (St. Louis No. 1) and all the Catholic cemeteries are international historically significant sites” and in need of work.
“If they take the money to repair the tombs, that would be fine,” said tour guide Estelle DeVerges, who mentioned how the 1969 movie “Easy Rider” encouraged unaccompanied individuals not with a licensed tour guide to disrespect burial sites. That movie caused the Archdiocese of New Orleans to restrict filming in the cemetery only by approval from the Communications Department, she said.
Independent tour guide Dave Roberts thinks an authorized entrance is a good thing since he’s witnessed people not on tour often blocking access to areas of the cemetery, eavesdropping on his paid tours and often leaving trash.
“More and more people are going to the cemetery not on a tour, and they are causing vandalism and damage,” he said. “It’s gotten very crowded. ... I think it’s going to be an improvement. ... with the money going toward improving the cemetery. “
A small, independent tour operator worried that if he paid the one-time $40 fee every time he gave a tour to one or two people, he would essentially be giving the tour for free. Fellow guides are considering forming a new, Limited Liability Company (LLC) just for tour guides to lessen overall cost.
Another part of the policy would extend open hours at St. Louis No. 1 from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (with the last tour beginning at 3 p.m.).
“What we’re hoping is this going to encourage more business for your companies,” Peppo told the guides.
The new policy currently only affects St. Louis No. 1, but other measures to address tour buses at St. Louis No. 3 and buses and security at St. Roch Cemeteries Nos. 1 and 2 are being discussed.