This obviously wouldn't do, and so began the tradition of overground burial. I went to look round the oldest remaining cemetery in the city, the St Louis Cemetery Number 1 on Rampart Street, which dates back to 1789.
The row upon row of mini-houses are fascinating to explore. Most graves will have a number of family members interred there, as a year and a day after burial the tomb can be opened and the remains bagged up and stored within the grave, leaving room for another coffin.
Our guide, Anna Ross of Historic New Orleans Tours, is a member of a group dedicated to saving these sites and knows the graves like the back of her hand. She's even campaigned to have an unused grave left for the use of musicians in New Orleans.
The cemetery has a few claims to fame. Anyone who has seen Easy Rider may recognise this statue of the Madonna, which you see Peter Fonda weeping over:
It's also home to Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo queen. Born in the 1790s Marie's reputation as a powerful voodoo priestess grew as she told fortunes, dispensed gris-gris (charms and spells) and healed the sick. Her tomb is covered in markings, as people still flock there and place three crosses on it in the hope she will grant them a wish. There are heaps of offerings, from photographs and flowers to small tokens like coins, lipstick, cigarettes and jewellery.