In heavily Catholic New Orleans, All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2) have been observed for centuries through rituals celebrating life over death.
During the Yellow Fever epidemics in eighteenth century New Orleans, death always loomed close. Its presence left the lasting impression on this city and its inhabitants that life is a gift, perhaps fleeting, and should be enjoyed to its fullest each day. And so, on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, New Orleanians honor the lives of their dead loved ones by painting tombs with brilliant whitewashes, placing yellow chrysanthemums and red coxcombs on graves and ringing statuary with immortelles (wreaths of black glass beads). On these days, cemeteries throughout the city are alive with the flickering glow from fields of candles, as death is forgotten and lives lived are celebrated.
It is one of the many rich New Orleans' traditions we observe annually at International House, for we can imagine no other city which has turned such tragedy into such a joyous celebration of life.
This year, we honor America’s first architect, Benjamin Latrobe, who died of yellow fever in New Orleans. Currently in our lobby through November 3, our tribute includes a mixed media painting of Latrobe commissioned by the hotel and created by American pop artist Byron Buchanan. Weathered-looking tombs crafted by local artist Luke Minter were inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s grave in Switzerland and a lovely cemetery in Lacombe, Louisiana, that clings to the ancient tradition of candlelight.