Josie Arlington's Tomb in Lakelawn Metairie is said to be the most haunted in the Cemetery. Even though the name engraved in the marble is now Morales, people still come to see the 100 year old notorious flaming tomb.
Made entirely of rare imported pink marble, in 1914 the color alone was considered scandalous. Once you factored in who was buried inside...well, what happened next could hardly be surprising, could it?
Josie's Legendary Life
Josie Arlington was called the "Queen of the Demi-Monde"- a bit of a backhanded compliment, meaning that she might appear to be high society, but was really only queen of the seamy side of the city. Once a humble prostitute herself, Josie had built the most elegant pleasure-house in all of Storyville, New Orleans. She was known for her opulent furnishings and her "girls" were well bred European ladies of the highest caliber - and her arrogance, which is how she got her nickname.
The more success she had, the higher she thought of herself, which shouldn't be a surprise, but it was considered distasteful in a girl who'd started out as a teenage prostitute.
She kept only the best company and was partners and close friends with Tom Anderson, the unofficial mayor of "the District-" although he was also a state legislator, and together, the "queen" and the "mayor" ruled Storyville for years. Her long term lover, JT Brady, worked for the city and although they never married- if Josie married, he would have been in charge of her fortunes- they were together for nearly two decades.
Josie bought land on ritzy Esplanade Avenue and built herself a mansion. She made more than a million dollars in her lifetime, gave much money to charity, and refused to have underage girls in her establishments or auction off their virginity. She had standards. She had style. She had respect within Storyville, but what she wanted was the one thing she'd never be able to earn- acceptance in wider society.
A Bit of Storyville's History
There's So Much More to Her Life...
- The Life and Times of the Notorious Josie Arlington
Josie Arlington was the Queen of New Orleans' Storyville district, but people these days are more likely to know her more for her famous tomb than her life.
The Queen in Repose
Josie went into a deep depression when her brothel burned in 1905- an electrical fire, her "pleasure palace" one of the few buildings in the city wired for lighting. She rebuilt, but her drive was gone and retired in 1909 at 45 years old.
In the aftermath of the fire, she became obsessed with her own mortality and talked about it constantly.
It led her to pre-plan her own burial, buying the plot for $2,000 and commissioning the tomb for $8,000 in Lakelawn Metairie cemetery, where the city's elite (or at least rich) were buried.
Aside from the pink marble, the most striking elements are the huge sculpted flames atop the columns and the life-sized bronze statue of a young woman seeking admittance to the grave. Some said the girl represented the virgins Josie had turned away. Others speculated it represented Josie herself, turning her back on this world and entering into the next.
Josie died a week after her 51st birthday. The official cause was dementia, but there were whispers (and a court case) that she'd had a mental breakdown and was being abused by her niece and heir, leading to her death.
Plans for the Arlington Tomb
The Infamous Tomb
Once the tomb was revealed, people could not believe the nerve! That the harlot had bought a massive plot in the fanciest cemetery in the town was bad enough without flaunting the shiny pink stone and life sized statue. For weeks, visitors came to see the monstrosity. And then one night some boys stayed a little later than usual.
The children saw the tomb light up with a red glow that danced across its surface that made them race back into town, terrified.
The tales they brought back to town brought a couple dozen people out the following night... and a hundred the night afterward. Before long, preachers were sermonizing about the tomb and the story was carried in newspapers across the country.
The curious flocked to town, much to the cemetery's dismay. Some people even swore that the statue moved, swaying in the light of the flames. A few even said she became fully animated, walking the cemetery by night.
Some said the red glow were the fires of hell, waxing and waning, warning all passersby of the wages of a life of sin.
Others laughed and said "Josie's back in business- the red light's back on!"
It all seemed a little anti-climatic when someone noticed the cause of glow- one of the first new fangled stop lights had been installed down the block and when the light hit the tomb just right, it lit up too.
Josie Walks Again
Even when the cause was known, tourists still flocked to the tomb, and both the cemetery and Josie's family decided it was best to make some changes.
The tomb she so lovingly designed was sold to the Morales family, and Josie's remains were moved somewhere else in the cemetery, in an anonymous plot that's still a secret to this day.
There are those who say that Josie can't stay away from her original burial plot, however, and that she wanders the cemetery in the guise of the tomb's statue. Caretakers have claimed to see the red glow on the tomb, even now that there are no nearby lights.
And even now, tourists pause as they drive by, curious about the flaming tomb of Lakelawn.
More About Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery
- Lakelawn Metairie Cemetery- Graveyard to New Orleans' Rich and Powerful
Lakelawn Cemetery began as a racetrack where the rich & powerful went to play, but once it transformed into one of the world's elite cemeteries, it became the place they were just dying to get into...