The legend of the Superdome curse
Of course there was a curse. There had to be. How else to explain the putrescent on-field performance of the New Orleans Saints for most of their first three decades in existence? So when construction crews working between the Superdome and the present-day downtown Hyatt House unearthed a collection of human bones and bits of gravestones in February 1987, fans finally had the explanation they needed: The Superdome had been built on the site of the old Girod Street Cemetery — and anybody who has seen “Poltergeist” knows what happens when you build on a cemetery. For superstitious Saints fans, only one explanation made sense: Their team’s home field was cursed.
Over the years, there have been occasional efforts to lift the so-called curse. The most notable, and colorful, came in 2000, when — before a playoff game against the Rams — the Saints brought in Voodoo priestess Ava Kay Jones, complete with boa constrictor draped around her neck, to lead the crowd in a purification ritual from midfield of the Dome. That day, the team won its first-ever playoff game. And 10 years later, on Feb. 10, 2010, the team won its first-ever Super Bowl. Curse? What curse?
- The story behind of the “Superdome curse” has endured for years, despite the fact that it is really only partly true. The only part of the Superdome to sit on what was once the old cemetery are two of its parking garages. The rest of the cemetery was on land now occupied by Champions Square and the old New Orleans Centre shopping mall. (Also, never mind the fact that the Saints played like a cursed team even during their first eight years, when they were based out of Tulane Stadium.)
- The Girod Street Cemetery was founded in 1822 as a resting place for the city’s Protestants. Consequently, according to a 2014 column written for The Times-Picayune by Tulane Geographer Richard Campanella, it was widely known as “the Protestant Cemetery,” although the city’s mostly Catholic Creoles called it “Cimitère des Heretiques” — or “the Heretics’ Graveyard.”
- During the 135 years that it was in use, between 20,000 and 30,000 people were buried in the cemetery, which — like most graveyards in soggy New Orleans — featured above-ground tombs and vaults.
- The cemetery was bounded by S. Liberty, Magnolia, Cypress and Perilliat streets and was on land that frequently flooded. With maintenance sorely lacking, it fell into disrepair and would become a target for looters and vandals.
- By the 1950s, the cemetery was an overgrown — and decidedly creepy — eyesore. Under the administration of Mayor Chep Morrison, it was deconsecrated in January 1957, with the idea of redeveloping the land as part of the city’s then-growing downtown area.
- Remains of those buried in the cemetery were removed and relocated. Black corpses were sent to Providence Memorial Park on Airline Drive, Campanella wrote, while their white counterparts went to Hope Mausoleum on Canal Street.
- The unearthing of human remains in 1987 wasn’t the first time evidence of the old cemetery turned up. It also happened in 1971, when Superdome construction started and numerous bones and caskets — apparently overlooked during the 1957 relocation efforts — re-emerged as the site was prepped for work, according to a 2004 story in The Times-Picayune.
- Dave Dixon, known as the father of the Superdome, has his own theory about any curse. “The curse,” he once said, “was really (original Saints owner) John Mecom and some of the coaches he hired.”
- Legendary Saints quarterback Archie Manning’s take: “I never got into the curse,” Manning said in 2004. “Maybe I was always too busy or somebody was hitting me in the mouth or something.”
The Superdome curse has become a colorful bit of local lore that dovetails neatly with the city’s voodoo legacy, even if few really believe in it. Usually, it is mentioned in jest, or perhaps in a fit of post-game exasperation. Besides, even if there ever really was a curse, it was almost certainly exorcised in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina turned the Superdome into a shelter of last resort for the city’s residents, who consecrated it with their suffering. After those days of well-documented misery, that patch of land once more became hallowed ground — and not even a decades-old curse could possibly be strong enough to counter that.