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Archdiocese Of New Orleans Restricts Access To Historic Cemetery

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is the day that many cemeteries are filled with the living. It's All Souls' Day. It's a day on the Catholic calendar when families visit ancestors' graves. And it's the first All Souls' Day since new rules took effect in the most famous cemetery in New Orleans. From member station WWNO, Eve Troeh reports.

EVE TROEH, BYLINE: At the gates of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, you often see people on the sidewalk, out of luck.

GREG MATNEY: We have friends visiting from out of state and wanted to walk them through. And we can't.

TROEH: Focus Greg Matney and his wife wanted to show their visitors from Boise the elaborate aboveground tombs. Then they saw the sign.

It says all visitors are required to enter with a licensed tour guide registered with the New Orleans Archdiocese Cemetery's Office.

So what's your plan instead?

MATNEY: To look at it from the gate, from outside, and tell them the stories of what we've learned by walking through it many times before.

TROEH: Stories like how people mark the tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau with a triple X for luck. Amanda Walker runs the nonprofit Save Our Cemeteries. She says people act like the cemetery belongs to them. One man coated Marie Laveau's tomb in bright pink latex paint.

AMANDA WALKER: We think the guy was trying to cover up all the Xs. And he thought he was doing something good.

TROEH: But people were also taking selfies inside tombs. Someone even scattered human remains from a tomb.

WALKER: So the archdiocese, they had enough.

TROEH: Family with ancestors can still get in with proof. Historians can too, with proof - and Louisiana residents for All Saints' Day, November 1 and today, All Souls' Day. I tried it.

As soon as I entered the cemetery gates, a man under a tent said that I had to be with a tour group or I needed a tour guide. And I said that I'd heard Louisiana residents could come in. And he nodded and looked at my ID and let me in.

Some tombs are pristine, whitewashed with fresh chrysanthemums left by family. Others are just piles of brick and crumbling plaster. It's easy to get lost in the maze of narrow passages. As I left, tour groups filed in and one local family. Connolly and Chris Reed brought their young daughter.

CHRIS REED: I do think that people think it's strange. Hey, let's go hang out at the cemetery on a rainy day.

TROEH: They'd never been inside St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, but they heard about the restrictions. So it felt special to go in without them. Sometimes making things less accessible makes them more appreciated. For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.