Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Table Tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1

The table tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.  I grow so weary of hearing our visitors be told that this was designed for a.) picnics, b.) voodoo ceremonies, c.) a slab upon which vampires lay their victims and drain them of their life blood or d.) God knows what!  Here are a few facts about the table tomb:

1.) IT IS A BELOW GROUND GRAVE!  The very people who just told their group that it is impossible to bury below ground now stand and point out this monument without telling their listeners that buried beneath it - in the soil - is a coffin.

Benjamin Latrobe's table tomb design

2.) Once upon a time there was an architect by the name of Benjamin Latrobe.  If you are an architect or a student or fan of architecture, you know him very well.  He designed the Capital Building in Washington, D.C.  He also designed grave monuments.  Among his concerns were ground caving in as wooden coffins deteriorated and collapsed, exacerbated by the weight of monuments pushing down on soft soil.  In his notebook he addresses this and sketches his design for this very table tomb. He says of it:

“But as if ingenuity had been employed to invent a monument still more caduceous [sic], there has been of late a new fashion introduced.  A thin slab is supported sometimes by 6 sometimes by only 4 balustres, or small stone or marble posts.” [1]
Middletown, CT

3.) In the early part of the 19th century table tomb was a common monument and is absolutely not unique to New Orleans.  Here is a gallery of table tombs from around the country.

(All of these pictures were found on the internet and
are not the property of Tour Creole.)

Philadelphia, PA
Richmond, VA
Raleigh, NC

Unusual coffin-shaped version from Somerset, OH

[1] Impressions Respecting New Orleans, Diary & Sketches 1818-1820, Benjamin Latrobe.  Latrobe, by the way, is buried below ground in the protestant section of St. Louis Cemetery #1.  His headstone having been lost many years ago, the exact location of his grave is unknown.