The series was set and filmed in Louisiana, so when I found out I was going to be in that swamp of a state, I put a filming location on the list. It was Carcosa, the city invented by author Ambrose Bierce that was reinterpreted in the show’s climax as the hidden enclave of a cult of high-ranking mystical murderers and pedophiles. In real life, the crumbling, root-pierced tunnels of Carcosa are part of Fort Macomb, an early 19th century garrison located at the edge of New Orleans. After I found myself in the Pelican State, however, I learned that the fort’s been abandoned since 1871 and is, unfortunately, closed to the public (although not to Beyonce). That made it slightly too trespassy and dangerous for a mere dude such as I.
Fortunately, while I was in New Orleans, I met a local OTIS reader named Mari. She had a family pass to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, saving me from having to take an official tour of the place. It’s a story I’ll tell later, but just know that while Lindsey and I were spending a wonderful day with her in New Orleans, she tipped me off to Fleming Cemetery. Oddly enough, she had never seen True Detective. She just though it was a cool cemetery that I should visit.
And she was right.
Fleming Cemetery is 20 miles south of New Orleans, in Jean Lafitte, a town named after a pirate.
The cemetery was at the end of a short, unnamed street off Jean Lafitte Boulevard (the street’s also named after a pirate) that wasn’t exactly welcoming. The two squat gray pillars framing the entrance to the cemetery didn’t help. Scrawled on them in what looked like magic marker were the words, “LOVED ONES ONLY. PRIVATE. KEEP OUT.”
I could call the place a pile of graves, and be accurate. But, like a polite asteroid, I would miss the atmosphere by miles.
It was small, and the tombs were mostly white, oblong boxes set atop the ground and crowned by matching crosses. They were also, with some exceptions, clustered around the base and sides of a single tree-topped hill that rose 12 feet from the clearing like it itself marked a giant grave. The hill is actually a Native American mound, probably a midden pile of old oyster shells from ancient feasts. Spanish moss flowed from the limbs of a massive live oak on the mound, and just feet away was the Bayou Barataria (French for “dishonesty at sea”), draining from Lake Salvador. Atmosphere, man.
Beside the collection of graves was a clearing—flat, grassy and tomb-free. This was the spot being mowed by Errol Childress in Episode 7 of True Detective Season One, when the setting sun reveals to the audience the telltale facial scars that identify him as the spaghetti monster. Here’s the scene. Even features a nice crane shot of the cemetery.
Of course, I climbed to the top of the Native American mound, where I found the grave plots of the brothers Berthoud, William and James, for whom the cemetery was named before becoming Fleming Cemetery, after a local plantation. The Berthouds owned the land that became their final resting place and were buried there in 1888 and 1890, respectively. They were the nephews of bird-guy James Audubon. I’m getting all this amazing information from this page.
I say this regularly about the oddities I visit, but this was a place that was hard to leave. Really hard to leave. I would have liked to have seen sunset there, the dim orb staining the brown and green bayou and the white tombs red and orange. Listening to the night birds and insects. Pontificating on life like Rust Cohle after eight Lone Star beers.