Monday, October 25, 2010

Cemetery Ethics? Ethics of the dead?

There is an old saying that the minute you give up looking for something desperately it will show up.  Well, they did.  I have been frantic lately trying to find the first cemetery photos I ever took.  It was maybe 14 years ago and my ex-husband and I were in New Orleans.  We took the St. Louis #1 tour and found Lafayette Cemetery on our own. We had visited over All Saint's Weekend so the work, cleaning, decorating and visiting was going on strong.  There were also a great deal of fresh graves in Lafayette. (Yeah, that's me 15 years ago at Marie Laveau's tomb). 

So that leaves me with an ethical question of my own and my justification. One our first trip to New Orleans we, as I said, took the St. Louis #1 cemetery tour (and I always put #1 in the title because there are 3 St. Louis Cemeteries in New Orleans).  These are the "Cities of the Dead;" Necropoleis. When visiting the first tomb ever in St. Louis #1 the corner had broken open.  I don't remember if it was natural or vandalism but I took a peak and saw the bones.  The tombs in New Orleans are above ground because New Orleans is below sea level.  Things have a habit of washing up after hurricanes and rain storms and as our tour guide said, it was possible to see "Uncle Fred floating down the street."  The tombs are also above ground because they act as ossuaries.  A family tomb that has three "shelves" can have dozens of corpses.  City ordinance states that a body must be entombed for two years before a new family member can be deposited.  If the decomposition isn't complete and the body can't be pushed back or dropped down onto the ground of the vault then the body is temporarily houses elsewhere until the two years is up. Decomposition is faster in hot and humid New Orleans.

So what would anyone do when they saw a tomb that was cracked open?  Hell, they'd drop their camera in on the QT and snap a picture.  Yes.  That's what I did.  Do I feel bad about it?  Then, not at all.  Now?  Maybe a little.  I don't think it was very respectful.  The tombs themselves are there for the viewing of friends, loved ones, and strangers. The bones themselves are for no one's viewing other than relatives, anthropologists, those in the funerary/cemetery business and the law.  Am I going to post the picture? Yes, I will.  But I will not sell it.  I don't suspect I'd ever do that again but then again I could be tempted...just as I sneaked a peak down into a hole in the dirt under a large flat slab style tomb (it was just a rabbit hole). Hey, I get tempted.  After all, I'm only a lowly "breather." 

“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” Thornton Wilder

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