The Morales-Arlington Tomb: A Fiery Legacy

The Morales-Arlington’s tomb once held one of New Orleans most notorious madams, Josie Arlington, from the city’s equally notorious red light district, Storyville. Arlington's reputation and the tomb she created for herself have attracted visitors and locals alike, from the time of her burial until today, when some observers say they have caught a glimpse of lights dancing around her mausoleum -- Josie Arlington, trying to get back into her grave.

Sometime around 1910, Josie Arlington purchased a cemetery plot at Metairie Cemetery for $2,000. The idea that a retired proprietor of a house of ill repute would eventually be laid to rest amongst some of the city’s elite outraged many. However, Arlington wasted no time after her purchase of the plot to begin work on her memorial. On May 11, 1911, she signed a contract with sculptor Albert Weiblen to create her final resting place. Arlington wanted it to make a statement about herself, spending a whopping $5,500, and personally selecting every last detail. Once finished, the public immediately began to read meaning into the tomb’s design, seeing it as a symbol of her life in prostitution. The reddish-brown granite was said to represent the red light district of Storyville and the fire torches to represent her chosen profession. Some have seen the bronze female statue as symbolizing a virgin’s doomed attempt to enter Arlington’s brothel. Others have suggested the statue represents Josie as a young girl, sneaking back into her father's house. What Josie saw in the statue of the girl we will never know – we just know that she purchased it from Munich, Germany.

On February 14, 1914, Arlington took her last breath and was laid to rest in her tomb. She did not enjoy its amenities for long, however. Only a month after Josie's death, her family began fighting over her money and property, which amounted to over $50,000. Arlington's family was forced to sell not only her mansion on Esplanade Avenue, but her tomb as well. The tomb was sold to Jose A. Morales, a New Orleans attorney. Under cover of night, Metairie Cemetery officials removed Josie Arlington's remains to a remote, undisclosed location in the cemetery. The name at the top of the tomb was changed to J. A. Morales and was soon occupied by Morales’s wife and four children.

The fight over Arlington’s estate and the removal of her remains created heated local discussion and headlines in local newspapers. Crowds were drawn to the tomb, and once a flashing red traffic light was installed on the New Basin Shell Road that ran alongside the cemetery, the crowds grew even bigger, as the red light reflected off the reddish granite of Arlington's tomb, creating the illusion that the tomb was on fire. As Metairie Cemetery historian Henri Gandolfo wrote, “The red glare flashing on and off added a mysterious sense of drama never intended.” The red light was later removed and a cross was carved on the back of the tomb, calming the crowds. Today, Metairie Cemetery authorities still refuse to divulge the site of Josie Arlington's remains, but her abandoned tomb continues to attract her admirers.



Inside Metairie Cemetery along Ponctchartrain Blvd, Sec. 13 5100 Ponctchartrain Blvd New Orleans, LA 70124