The Fog Of History: Zombie Crawfish Edition

They weren’t really zombies but I’m trying to get your attention. There’s a lot of  competition online these days, so what’s a little sensationalism among friends? I’m trying to conjure up the spirit of Weegee to take pictures for us, but the, uh, Ouija board isn’t working very well…

My Twitter friend and fellow horrid punster James Karst survived the Picayune purge and, among other things, writes a weekly column/feature for it called Our Times. He rummages about in the newspaper’s morgue and writes about his  discoveries every Sunday. He often focuses on the odder side of New Orleans and few things are stranger than this week’s piece, Crawfish in coffins, the curse of the Locust Grove cemeteries.

An extended quote is forthcoming after the break.

In the spirit of my new calling as a fake tabloid blogger, I lied about the extended quote thing. Here’s the whole damn article:

 Lives presumably had been celebrated, and deaths presumably mourned, before deceased New Orleanians were laid to rest in a pair of Central City cemeteries in the 1870s. Then something horrifying began happening.

You might want to stop here if you’re squeamish.

It sounds like the plot of a bad horror movie, what happened in April of 1879. That’s when New Orleans officials grappled with how to keep crawfish from clawing their way into coffins, releasing a foul odor into the surrounding neighborhood.

Add it to the list of only-in-Louisiana phenomena.

The city had been haunted, so to speak, by problems at the sites for some time.

Amid public complaints that disturbing conditions at the cemeteries — six bodies reportedly were piled into a single grave that was only three feet deep, for instance — were the direct cause of a yellow fever outbreak that killed more than 4,000 people in 1878, the city began investigating, according to stories published in The Daily Picayune early in 1879.

A committee was established “to abate whatever evils existed relative to Locust

Grove Cemeteries Nos. 1 and 2,” and on March 14 members toured the sites to see exactly what the problems were.

What they found was messed up. Fresh graves were found in the older cemetery, even though it was supposed to have been closed when the second one opened. Pieces of broken coffins were strewn about the grounds, on the surface of the soil.

And the stench of death hung in the air.

A description of the problems was fleshed out in a report by Mayor Isaac Patton and Board of Health President Samuel Choppin. And this is where the crustaceans come in.

“Mayor Patton said the great trouble was in the workings of the crayfish (sic), which penetrated the coffins and left openings through which the injurious gases escaped.

The mayor asked how deep it was necessary to bury the dead in order to place them beyond the reach of the crayfish.

“Dr. Choppin said about six feet.”

Choppin believed that “the evil would remedy itself” if the cemeteries were simply closed for good, and they were — promptly. But the city also went one step further and ordered 450 pounds of sand to be dumped on top of the graves.

That problem may have been solved, but nearly 80 years later another New Orleans cemetery was the scene of concerns that sound eerily similar. Lincoln Memorial Park, a Gentilly cemetery that had been flooded since Hurricane Flossie the year before, was reportedly being used as “a crawfish grounds for teenagers” in 1957 — even as people continued to be buried there. That cemetery was deemed a menace to public health and ordered closed on Oct. 7, 1957.

I love the fact that the city’s chief medico’s name was Samuel Choppin. The only thing that would make that better is if his middle initial was B. You know, Dr. Samuel B Choppin. Sounds like an axe murderer, medical examiner, or an axe murdering medical examiner. Dr. Choppin was *not* the Axeman, those slayings occurred in 1918 and 1919, and he passed in 1880 a year after Zombie Crawfish were the talk of the town. For all I know, Doc Choppin *may* have resembled Danny Huston…

The whole thing evokes images of Sharknado. It’s story waiting to be mocked by the Riff Trax boys but NOLA Twitter beat them to the punch a few days ago. Some of us riffed on the Zombie Crawfish story like crazy monkeys. My friend Will Samuels of Pizza Nola fame assembled *most* of our demented tweets into a story thingamabob called: #ZombieCrawfish: the Making of a Twitter Movie. I think he may have missed a few but, hey, nobody’s perfect.

So, the next time you think your town is the weirdest place in America, think again: we have Zombie Crawfish. That even tops Emperor Norton.

I’ll give Zachary Richard the last word. Hmm, I wonder if Zach would be willing to adapt the lyrics to the new Zombie Crawfish “reality.” Probably not.

I decided to make things even more confusing by posting a French language version of the tune. Perhaps my true calling is as a “disruptive” blogger as opposed to a fake tabloid one. Nah, fuck that.