Dave & Dot's 25th Anniverary Tour

Week 2 - New Orleans, LA

Monday, October 8th - We Wake Up in the Home of the Mardi Gras

We got up today with no concrete plans to do anything special but by 10am were running to catch a trolley car for a tour of one of New Orleans' cemetery's and the famous Garden District. We missed the first trolley but caught the next one and when we arrived at the cemetery we were able to join a walking tour that had just begun.

The cemetery is all above ground due to the fact that New Orleans is built below sea level. So the entire place is filled with crypts of all shapes and sizes. Whole families would buy a plot and build what amounted to a large room with one or two shelves where the caskets would be placed. Once the crypt was full, and if they had to bury another member, they would remove the body from the casket lay it in the crypt and place another casket into the same space pushing the bones of the previous person to the back of the crypt where they would fall to the bottom. In this way they could place several family members in one small crypt. They had to wait a year and a day between burials and so sometimes several bodies had to be stored off-site to wait for burial. The parties that accompanied these funerals were lavish.

There were also burial places that appeared to be dirt plots surrounded by concrete but were really a deep bathtub style crypt where the top was missing but filled with dirt and made into a garden. They would bury the first and when it came time to add to the plot, they would dig up the last buried, remove the bones, toss them into the bottom of the hole, throw away the casket and set the next casket into the hole. Our guide showed us were, through time and storm, some of the bones had made their way to the surface and were just laying there on the top of the ground!

In all, it was a very interesting tour and even included our guide pointing out specific points where movies had been filmed there. One of my favorites, "Double Jeopardy" was filmed here but the crypt was built just for the movie and then removed.

With the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Americans swarmed into New Orleans to take advantage of the boom in Mississippi River commerce. Numerous cash crops such as cotton, the slave trade and national banks, all fueled the local economy. Friction between the arriving Americans and the mostly Creole residents of the already crowded French Quarter resulted in the snubbed Americans moving upriver to create their own residential district of opulent mansions in the city of Lafayette which was annexed to the city of New Orleans in 1852. Garden District historic homes are a favorite of visitors to New Orleans and taking a tour of these huge homes is high on the list of things to do. Our cemetery tour included a walk-through of the Garden District and it was a perfect day for a stroll through the land of the rich and famous! At the end we hopped on the trolley for the trip back to the French Quarter where we walked the streets of that famous area for a couple more hours.

We ended our afternoon with a ride on the Steamboat Natchez Riverboat. She's actually the ninth steamer to bear the name NATCHEZ. It was her predecessor, NATCHEZ VI, that raced the ROBERT E. LEE in the most famous steamboat race of all time. Even today, the NATCHEZ is proudly the undisputed champion of the Mississippi, never having been beaten in a race. In many ways, she's the best of her line. It's a line that follows the course of river history, from the placid antebellum plantation era through the turbulence of the Civil War to the Gay Nineties, and, ultimately, the new millenium.

When the New Orleans Steamboat Company launched the NATCHEZ in 1975, they revived more than a famous name. They created one of only two true steam powered sternwheelers plying the Mississippi today. The NATCHEZ resembles the old sternwheelers VIRGINIA and HUDSON in her profile and layout. Her powerful steam engines were built for U.S. Steel Corporation's sternwheeler CLAIRTON in 1925. Her genuine copper and steel steam whistle is a treasured antique. Her copper bell, smelted from 250 silver dollars to produce a purer tone, once graced the S.S. J.D. AYRES. Her 32 note steam calliope was custom crafted and modeled after the music makers of the Gilded Age.

True to tradition in every detail, boarding the NATCHEZ makes you feel as if you have entered another era. The captain barks his orders through an old-time hand-held megaphone. The calliope trills a melody into the air while the great wheel, 25 tons of white oak, churns the heavy waters of the Mississippi. You soon find yourself slipping into a sense of the old, vast and timeless river. As the NATCHEZ glides past the French Quarter and through one of the world's most active ports, you begin to understand the magic of the experience. For all its history and romance, the excitement of riding a steamboat is as real and rich and genuine now as it was a century ago.

We ended our day eating at NOLA an Emeril Lagasse owned restaurant. The food was great but very pricey!