Gearing up for Halloween: 19th century mourning and burial customs tours are now in full swing

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – WGNO’s weekend anchor and News With A Twist reporter Jacqueline Mazur is a self proclaimed Halloween enthusiast and headed over to the Pitot House in Bayou St. John to check out this year’s 19th Century Mourning and Burial Customs Fall 2016 Series.

The tour began outside the Pitot House, where executive director of the Louisiana Landmarks Society, Carol Gniady, joined in on the tour. Save Our Cemeteries guide Emma Gross began the afternoon discussing mourning traditions that date back hundreds of years.

Did you know people wore dark clothing to mourn the deceased so they would not come back and haunt the living?

Gross informed the crowd that women carried the brunt of mourning. Their clothing was “elaborate and cumbersome,” and a woman’s dress was suited to her specific stage of mourning:

  1. Deep mourning
  2. Second stage
  3. Half mourning

Men wore a black or brown suit, an arm band to signify they were in mourning and an ornament in their hat. Gross says the men had it much easier and were allowed to return to work rather quickly, whereas women, depending on who was ruling at the time, were known to mourn for years.

Gross also mentioned various superstitions associated with death and dying:

  1. If you were a moral and ethical person, flowers were said to grow around your grave. If you were a bad person, weeds would grow in place of the flowers.
  2. If you smelled roses and there were no roses in sight, this meant someone was going to die.
  3. If you hear three knocks at your door and no one is there, this means someone has died in your family.

After a brief walk from the Pitot House to St. Louis Cemetery #3 on Esplanade, the tour continued among the dead.

Our first stop was a memorial honoring St. Louis IX, the patron saint of all Louis kings. He’s also the patron saint of monarchs, distillers, construction workers, hair dressers, and large families.

We visited several grave sites along the tour and recommend you check it out yourself for the full rundown.

Another site to note is the Skelly Tomb. Gross says this tomb is obviously more modern in design and it’s been said the woman who owns this plot wants to be buried with her animals, not her family members.

The group also visited the grave site of two women entrepreneurs, two sisters who died two months from each other. Their home was in the French Quarter and now houses The Court of Two Sisters restaurant.

Gross says the number one reason New Orleans has above ground burials is due to cultural heritage. The second reason, as I’m sure you can guess, is because of the high water table.

The cemetery tour ended when Gross reminded the group that people die twice. First, when life leaves your body and second, when you are forgotten.

After walking back to the Pitot House, refreshments were served including a Funeral Pie. It’s a traditional pie made with raisins and sugar and often taken to the family of those grieving over a passing. Click here for the recipe.


The tour then continued with a brief overview of the history of the Pitot House with docent Jamie Barker, followed by a tour of the home. The home was ‘dressed’ as if in mourning and featured rooms with black cloth covering all mirrors, period piece mourning attire, in addition to mourning mementos.

The entire tour lasted roughly two and a half hours and costs $30/person.

Comfortable clothing, walking shoes and a hat or umbrella are recommended.

The next tour is Friday, October 14th at 1:30.

Click here to purchase tickets.