When longtime New Orleans resident Vincent Marcello was making plans to put in a swimming pool, he suspected that he might find some buried remains on his property. See, his condo – and others in his neighborhood near Rampart and Toulouse – stand atop a cemetery that was built in 1723.
St. Peter’s Cemetery opened just five years after the founding of New Orleans, and was in use until it filled up in the late 1780s. Years later it was paved over entirely, having been mostly forgotten by the city’s modern-day inhabitants.
Not by Vincent Marcello, though, who did the right thing by calling in archaeologist Ryan Gray from the get-go. What he found just four feet under the surface was a water-logged, wooden coffin – and by the time all was said and done, they’d found fourteen more.
Legally, human remains must be handled with respect and re-buried in a cemetery regardless of whether or not they can be identified. Most of the hidden and forgotten cemeteries in New Orleans, including St. Peter’s, are so old that the chances of identifying the people buried beneath Marcello’s pool site are slim to none. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re forgotten.
Earth Search, Inc., a private archaeology firm that completed the excavations on the property, sent the remains to LSU’s Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services Laboratory, where scientists will perform DNA and other testing that will help us put together a good picture of what life was like in the earliest days of New Orleans (I’m pretty sure it was full of sweat, mosquitos, and yellow fever, but maybe there’s more to it).
St. Peter’s isn’t even close to the only graveyard in New Orleans to have been forgotten and then covered by modern developments. There has also been the Mississippi River Levee, three different schools, the Pontchartrain Expressway, Canal Boulevard, and the one that lies underneath the Superdome (blamed for many, many losing seasons by the Saints). There are probably a dozen more, and as state archaeologist Charles “Chip” McGimsey likes to say, “its always a possibility that when development moves into an area, somebody will be there before you.”
As for Vincent Marcello, he’s not worried about his property turning into an unwanted Poltergeist sequel. “It doesn’t bother me at all. But I find a few people could get squeamish about it. But you go to church in St. Louis Cathedral and you walk over the (graves of) archbishops and the priests, so it’s no big deal.”
Yeah. As long as no one starts throwing shit at your head from beyond the grave, I guess I agree.
Here are some other articles we think you might like: