Why Are New Orleans Burials Above Ground?

The search for burial places of Kokernot kin in New Orleans a few years ago brought me to Dispersed of Judah Cemetery on Canal Street, about three miles from the French Quarter. David Kokernot’s brother, Louis, has a tombstone there. Louis’s wife, Nancy; their children George Washington and Miriam Virginia; and Nancy’s brother Benjamin all share the single tombstone shown in the photo. New Orleans is a wonderful place to explore old cemeteries because the residents seemed to be very extravagant in their tombstones, or rather their crypts, which are almost all above ground.

But look at this photo. Jews believe in “dust to dust” and insist on burying their dead. Look at the Christian cemetery in the background, with its tombs above ground. I’ve been told the reason is the high water table in New Orleans, which would cause a buried coffin to float to the surface and even be carried away in a flood. Really? I observed no floating bodies in the Jewish cemetery, even shortly after Katrina. In fact, I don’t see why a coffin should float if it isn’t water tight.

Could it be that people don’t like the idea of their bodies immersed in water? Dirt’s ok, but water’s not? Or could it be that an above-ground vault allows more opportunity for creative extravagance?


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