Josie Arlington (1864-1914) became a prostitute as a teenager, and her great beauty made her wealthy enough to open a bordello in the notorious red light district of Storyville in New Orleans, Louisiana.
As her health deteriorated sometime around 1910, Josie Arlington purchased a cemetery plot at Metairie Cemetery which was an impressive and fashionable graveyard containing giant mausoleums and monuments. This news enraged the city’s elite of which many were regular customers of the bordello. On May 11, 1911, Josie, who had accumulated a lot of money, signed a contract with sculptor Albert Weiblen to create a magnificent final resting place. The tomb features a red granite stone with two flaming stone urns. On the threshold stands a bronze female figure carrying flowers with arm outstretched to open the door.
Josie died on 14 February 1914 and was buried at Metairie Cemetery and her family soon began fighting over her money and property. The tomb was eventually sold to Jose Antonio Morales, a New Orleans attorney. Cemetery officials had Josie Arlington’s remains removed to a remote, undisclosed location in the cemetery, and the name at the top of the tomb was changed to J. A. Morales. The name of his wife and four children are also engraved on the tomb.
The site has become a curiosity and a tourist attraction. With reports of the stone urns bursting into flames, dancing lights and an eerie red glow, it soon became known as the Flaming Tomb. Rumours continue to flourish with claims that the statue bangs on the door to be let in and leaves its post at the door to walk amongst the other graves. It is thought to symbolize a virginal girl being turned away from the Arlington door, following Arlington’s claim in life that no woman’s innocence was taken on the grounds of her establishment.