Holt Cemetery, New Orleans

 

We skipped off to New Orleans for the week after Christmas, and came home the day before New Years Eve. Skipped may not be the right term, more like wordlessly plodded. We had to get up at 4 a.m. to catch our flight, but the good thing is that we were in the city by 8 a.m., tightly clutching hot beverages and in shock from the cold. I wore Shawn’s heaviest coat the whole time and looked crazy in many of the photos, but I was mostly warm.

Holt was number one on my list of cemeteries to visit. It’s not the most talked about cemetery, it’s not fancy, or crumbling, or full of interesting vaults and crypts. Holt is it’s own kind of iconic New Orleans burial ground.

For one thing, all burials are in ground unlike the other city cemeteries. I know people say that it can’t be done because of the water table but they are successfully burying people here and the caskets are staying in the ground, so I think a lot of those suppositions are rooted in myths and urban legends. The vaults that you find in the other cemeteries are efficient at what they do. People decompose rapidly and with little fuss, and a year later it’s safe to place another body in the vault. However, coping burials are also popular there, where the plot is framed in concrete and the burial vault covered in gravel and dirt. When we went to Lafayette Cemetery it had rained all day and one of the ledger stones was broken in one of the family plots. I leaned over the fence for a better look and saw that the entire grave was filled with water, which horrified me for some reason. I’m not sure why Holt is able to do what it does if it’s true about the water table being so high and unforgiving.

Holt Cemetery is considered a potter’s field and a burial space for the indigent who can’t afford other cemetery sites. It was established in 1879 according to the Save Our Cemeteries website, and has been in operation ever since. It is still an active site. The morning that we arrived we pulled into the cemetery gates around 10 a.m. and saw workmen at the back digging graves…by hand. In all of the visits I’ve made to cemeteries in the South, that was something I’d never seen before, but I honestly don’t believe that they could get the equipment in there in order to do it any other way. The place is packed full, and you can barely walk through without knowing that you are stepping on someone’s grave.

At the back of the cemetery is a brick retort that looks like it was from an old crematorium. It has been locked shut, but the fact that it’s there remains a mystery. I’m not sure why it’s there or if there was a building around it at one time. It has graves crowded up against it on all sides.

Most of the headstones and markers here are all handmade. We saw raw wood, painted wood, plastic, a road sign with a person’s name painted on it, PVC piping, bricks, an oven rack, concrete, all kinds of fencing, and multiple statues- everything from a bunny to the Virgin Mary. Lots of flowers were on the graves in blue, black, and purple. A lot of stuffed animals were on graves, and even framed photos. It’s a bright space, but in the morning after a recent rain in the cold weather it was bleak and sad, with standing water at the curves of the road and in the drainage ditch that runs through the space, and squelching mud everywhere you stepped.

This cemetery was in the news last year because a young woman in New Orleans was going out after heavy rain and harvesting bones that she saw on the graves, and then posting them in a not so discreet fashion online. She was eventually apprehended, but was convinced that what she was doing wasn’t grave robbing since the bones were right there on top of the soil, and she wasn’t charging people for anything but the shipping when they wanted the items. (She was doing a brisk trade, as well.) Some people collect bones just because, and some people purchase or steal them for spell work and magic. Either way, it’s a good idea not to touch bones in cemeteries unless you’re certain it’s from an animal. I’ve picked up animal bones on cemetery walks and have a deer vertebrae in my car (I didn’t know where else to put it), but human bones…no. It’s safe to say that when you visit this city you will see bones in a cemetery. Just leave them there, they do tend to wash up sometimes. On our visit we saw bones at 3 different sites, but not at Holt Cemetery. More on that later.

Please visit this one if you go to New Orleans. It’s much more humble than the others, but certainly filled with love  and sweet tributes everywhere you look.

Blue Graves In The South

I hope everyone had a beautiful Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I’ve been collecting photos for this post for some time, thinking that as the time passed I’d gather more information about this and have an awesome post to write.
But that didn’t really happen. Additionally, something is weird with my formatting for this post, so forgive me.
Blue grave sites in the south are still a bit of a mystery. I’ve heard several different reasons for painting the graves, and I will share all of them here. Special thanks to Dave Lapham for his help on this, and also to Barbara Broxterman, who offered a good deal of information as well.Barbara lives near and old (but still very active) cemetery in Levy County and was able to talk to some ladies who were there one day working, cleaning the graves. Apparently, they have a small business doing just that for other families who aren’t able to do the work themselves. I loved that.
Haint Blue, as it’s called, is a soft blue color generally found on porches in the Southern states. I never really noticed it until last summer when we were looking at houses in Sanford. Two of the homes that we visited had a gentle blue paint on the porch. I didn’t like it much though I did think it gave the porches a fresh, airy feeling. Shawn thought it was odd. Now that I know what I know, I’ll be adding blue to my porches this year.
The blue color is there because of Southern superstition. It is said to fool insects into thinking it’s an extension of the sky, so they’ll go elsewhere and not linger. It’s also said to drive away bad or evil spirits from the home. Both are positive reasons to add a little blue to your porch.
So why put blue on a grave? I know a lot of people believe that bad spirits linger in cemeteries and they would naturally want to protect their loved ones, so they’d paint the grave topper or ledger stone blue. In some cases the color can match the color of the house of the deceased or their families, and thereby continue to tie them to their home or make them feel at home in the cemetery. And then there was the more basic answer- that the paint is used to seal the cracks in the concrete. I guess that is possible too, but the paint is usually blue or white. I even noticed blue tiles in a mausoleum fountain, and even though blue is the usual color for that kind of water feature, I still felt it’s significance when you have to pass the fountain to approach the dead in the mausoleum.
This information made me pause to consider my own use of the color blue when it comes to visiting cemeteries. I have a favorite blue tee shirt that I usually wear, and my boots are blue. I wear blue shorts when I’m visiting a cemetery in hot weather, not because they’re blue, but because they fit well and I’m not worried about getting them dirty. If I was trying to protect myself in some way by doing these things it was done unconsciously.
I’ve noticed that in a lot of African American cemeteries that blue is a choice color for floral arrangements. I know this is sometimes done for men or boys, but it does seem to be very popular. What I do know is that once you start seeing blue in cemeteries, you’ll notice it everywhere.
While in New Orleans this past weekend we were fortunate enough to see the Weeping Angel in Metairie Cemetery, who is perfectly placed under 3 panes of blue stained glass, casting a moody light onto her. Aside from this mausoleum, there were many with blue glass throughout the cemetery, but to me she will always be the most beautiful with the most artfully arranged lighting.
Because I wasn’t able to find out much about this topic please share if you have more information! I’d love to hear some other ideas about why blue is so popular in cemeteries. Thanks to everyone who reads the blog, and I hope everyone has a happy and prosperous New Year!

Social Media, Blogs, and Death

Over the last few weeks my aunt has been sharing a blog on her Facebook page about a family with a newborn that was very ill. His name was Michael. He had a host of problems at birth, and each week or sometimes more often, his mom would write an update about his progress or his setbacks, what the next steps were, and the prayers that they needed for their family. I read all of the posts that my aunt shared, prayed for this child and this family, and somewhere along the way became emotionally invested in this family’s story.

I knew that Michael had a big day on Friday and that his parents were praying for a good outcome. It would be a step in the direction of having this little boy able to begin the process of healing rather than suffering. I prayed for him that morning, thought of him during the day, and went about my work. Michael had never been off of a machine to help him survive since birth. His mother couldn’t actually hold him. I hoped he would have some relief that day during the procedure and that this family would be able to see progress in their tiny son’s health.

On Saturday morning I reached for my phone and opened Facebook to find that Michael had died swiftly and painlessly the day before. I sat for a long time looking at that post by my aunt before putting my phone down and trying to start my day with some sense of normalcy, but I felt horrible. In the afternoon I went Christmas shopping by myself, and when I was about a mile from the house I started crying. The road became blurry, and I gave in to the tears.

I didn’t feel like I could cry at home about this. How do you tell the person you live with that you’re grieving for someone you didn’t know? I felt so strange. I knew that Michael was no longer hurting, and that death might have been the best way for that to happen. Based on his mom’s writing he would have had a life of surgeries and pain. No one wants that for their child, but they still want the child and the hope of well being for that child.

When David Bowie died I remember my roommate coming out of her bedroom crying the morning that it was in the news. I felt sorry for her, because I remember being very affected by Princess Diana’s death years ago. With a celebrity I could get it and not feel odd about being so sad. Their lives were always so public and they were always in the news, on TV, on magazine covers. But I still came back to the fact that I didn’t know this family except through social media.

Social media and blogs bring people together that would otherwise never know about each other. While I don’t care at all about what someone on Instagram wore on a specific day, I do care when they share something more personal. A feeling. A story. Why something matters to them. And I suppose that because of this constant sharing, grieving is now a public thing too. (Something Grace pointed out to me.) I thought back to times when people grieved as a nation over Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr., or as a city recently when the Pulse shooting took place here in Orlando. I still can’t visit the part of the local cemetery where the victims are buried, even though I’ve been several times. I can’t think about it. I didn’t know any of those people either, but I finally gave myself a break over feeling so much emotion around that incident after talking to a friend and having her tell me she couldn’t go either, and that it upset her greatly to even think about going. I know that if I went no one would say anything to me if they saw me in the cemetery crying. So why did I feel so strange and so secretive about crying for a child I didn’t know? I honestly think I just didn’t want to explain that particular kind of sadness to anyone.

My friend and I are considering going to visit the Pulse victims at the cemetery this year, together. Maybe nobody owes the world or anyone an explanation of their sadness or despair. Maybe that’s what I haven’t learned yet. I can just be sad. I don’t have to explain it or rationalize it, or act like it’s not there.

I am grateful to Michael’s mom for putting their story out there for the world to see. I think it was a brave thing to do and I know it was hard to write. I hope her writing about Michael brings her healing and peace.

The photos in this post are of my favorite infant’s graves that I’ve visited in the last 2 years. The first photo, Billy, is from Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando and is one of my all time favorites.

Tampa Cemetery Tour With Grace

My auto correct automatically changed the word Grace to Grave. That seems to say a lot about my life, but I’m going to ignore it for now.

Grace and I jumped in the Jeep a couple of weeks ago and drove to Tampa with a full tank of gas and a bag full of snacks. We had a list of several cemeteries to visit, and we wanted to hopefully be heading back to Orlando before the traffic got out of control.

The first stop was Marti Colon. We spent a lot of time at this cemetery because we both loved it, and it was interesting for me to notice which grave sites Grace gravitated toward and pointed out to me. There are some stunning portraits here, so take your time looking.

The next stop was Centro Asturiano, the immigrant cemetery within the confines of Woodlawn for members of the local Spanish Club. It was here that I got a burr stuck underneath my toes, and I had to find a sturdy headstone to brace myself against while Grace got the evil little thing off of me. This cemetery is such a treasure; I love visiting. Here is where you’ll start to see the graves made out of blue and white tiles, and some with a wreath with a pink tile bow if the grave belongs to a woman or child. Many of the ones in here are still in excellent shape, though there is a considerable amount of damage at the front of the cemetery.

After this- Woodlawn. We drove though and got out to visit the Hampton plot, and also to get a better look at a few portraits on the headstones. This cemetery is enormous and one you could easily spend the day in, with lots of mausoleums for added interest. Since we don’t see many of them around here they always draw me to them and yes, I peek in windows.

A quick stop for drinks and a snack- then Robles Cemetery and it’s 26 burials. This cemetery was one that I feel literally too intimidated to write about. It’s small, uncared for, clearly ignored, and suffering damage, but the history of this family is fascinating and the story is so good, I know I can’t do it justice. Check the link for the contributions they made to Central Florida.

Next- La Unione Italiana and Cento Espanol next to it. La Unione was the site of a break in in 2016 where several caskets (including the bodies) was stolen from one of the mausoleums. I didn’t see any evidence of damage, thankfully, but I felt terrible for the family. There was a descendant living and a reward was offered, but I never heard anything else about it. Grave robbing is still a very real event and it literally happens all the time. It saddens me and makes me angry because I just don’t get it, and I don’t understand how profitable it can actually be. Definitely something for another blog post, and if you have ever witnessed anything like this please reach out to me on here. I’d like to hear your experiences.

While we were there Grace said she wanted a picture of what she kept referring to as “Anchor Jesus”. We walked toward a huge statue and stood at it’s feet, both squinting up at it.

“I don’t think that’s Jesus,” I said.

“Who would it be?” she asked, taking photos.

I looked it up when I got home. It’s a statue of Hope, which is often depicted with a large anchor and a star. The anchor motif is popular in coastal cities, and Tampa does have a number of anchor symbols on grave markers. I especially love this beautiful statue, she’s on the right side of the main aisle (If you’re facing the gates) when you visit, but you can’t miss her.

At the Spanish Cemetery next door I stayed in the car with the A/C running while Grace ran around. I don’t like the feeling of that cemetery at all, I feel like someone is throwing a heavy, wet blanket of grief onto me when I’ve gone in before. No thanks. The funny thing is, she came over to my car door and I rolled the window down, smiling and asking her what she thought about the place.

“This one doesn’t feel right,” she said musingly, and got back in the car a few minutes later.

We planned to end our day with Orange Hill, which is the less prim and proper cousin of Myrtle Hill next door. Myrtle Hill is the fine wine of active cemeteries in Tampa. It is very grand, very large, and very beautiful. Orange Hill, however, has it’s charms. One is an empty mausoleum that you can pop your head into to look around, and another is a huge and strange building at the front with no discernible purpose. I did some digging online and can’t figure out if it’s a funeral chapel or something else, it seems way too large to be a mausoleum. Grace sent a photo to her girlfriend and got this gem in response:

On the way out of Myrtle Hill we noticed a memorial park across the street and decided to drive through for a minute, but it turned into a lengthy adventure. First, it has a huge columbarium in the middle of it that has some interesting architecture and we decided to get out and go peek. We found the doors to the chapel area open and walked inside, and then Grace covered her face with her tee shirt because the SMELL was unbelievable. I mean, BAD. I thought about either backing out of the doors or gagging, but the inside was so interesting that I swallowed hard and walked farther in. After a few minutes I had to leave, but kept looking around for a source of the smell and could only see a few spills on the floor that had dried and were crawling with small bugs. I have no idea what happened in there. Grace said it smelled like the craft supplies that had been stored for a year in a mildewed closet at at Bible Camp. I had nothing to compare it to, but I’ll say again that I hate smells in cemeteries.

I’m encouraging everyone to get to Tampa and take a cemetery tour of your own design. We really had a stellar day, and went home in horrible traffic (we didn’t avoid it after all) full of French fries and caffeine and covered in bug bites.

 

 

Moultrie Church in St. Augustine, Florida

This little church is stunning and was built in 1877, when the graveyard (called Wildwood Cemetery) was already existing. It was originally a Southern Methodist church, then non-denominational, and then finally Catholic, with the first Catholic mass held in 2014. The church has been transformed through the years as the church population declined, until now when it’s essentially opened for special services and occasions.

A couple began taking care of the church and grounds in 2004. Mr. and Mrs. Tindell started caretaking for the cemetery, recovering buried stones and maintaining the grounds before finally gaining permission to care for the building as well. The grounds are impeccable, with some of the cleanest and most pristine old headstones I’ve seen in this area. Some of the unusual features are toward the back of the cemetery, so be sure to walk all the way through and head toward the woods.

Propped against a tree you’ll find a wooden marker. Sadly, it can no longer be read, and most wooden markers tend to fall over due to the moisture at the base rotting the wood, but I still love seeing them! There is also a handmade headstone from 1960 for a C.R. Cooper that looks like molded concrete with turquoise paint layered over the scratched letters. The font for the name is lovely and has a little flourish on the C. It looks like it was written in the wet concrete with someone’s finger and I love the idea of that.

 

In the far corner is an odd section that I approached, thinking at first that it was a small area for families to sprinkle cremains, but that isn’t what’s going on there. It was actually a family plot for a husband and wife, and aside from the angels and trinkets, there were also lots and lots of oyster shells. I’ve seen so many conch shells in the African American cemeteries that I frequent, but the oyster shells were new to me. If anyone knows the significance, please reach out to me here on the blog. I’d appreciate it! I know seashells can be used as a way to mark a visit to a loved one’s grave, similar to the Jewish tradition of leaving a pebble. The conch usually signifies the trip homeward for the person buried there, a way of being carried back across the sea. I’ve even heard that the conch, if whole, can hold the soul of that person. I never touch them when I visit cemeteries, but I do take a peek to see if they were sourced (they’ll have a small hole in the shell) or collected naturally.

Definitely go to this cemetery if you get the chance, it’s lovely.

Also take a minute to look into your local chapter for the Association of Gravestone Studies. I joined the Florida chapter about a month ago and got my first newsletter the other day- it had so much information in it- I loved going through all of the articles. If you’re interested in joining you can find them on Facebook. Their annual conference is in June so mark your calendars!

Meanwhile, I’m sitting here in the dark watching Britcoms because it’s the first day of daylight savings time and Shawn is also out of town. The house seems very quiet. Grace and I are heading to Tampa this week to revisit some favorite cemeteries and I’m sure hilarity will ensue. We have a big list to get through so I’m just hoping for the best, though I was hoping for cooler weather. Florida decided to spoil us for a week with evening temps in the 50’s and then ruin it all over again the next week with our usual heat. Oh well. There’s a lot to be grateful for right now, including the fact that my cat now has her paw in my water glass.

Happy daylight savings, everyone!

 

 

American Ghost Adventures in Greenwood Cemetery

Shawn surprised me for Halloween. He booked us for a ghost tour in Greenwood Cemetery, and I was under the impression that it was the moonlight walking tour I’d been on many times before. However, this one was different. When we arrived at the cemetery just after dark we were issued K2 meters and presented to our guides for the evening, Mark and Debbie, both sporting Victorian attire.

They pretty much had me right there with just the clothes and the meters, and we weren’t even IN the cemetery yet. Debbie wore a hat with a double veil and I was really impressed with her ability to lead the tour and see so well. She looked fetching. And I really love Victorian dress on men. Something about those coats….

We began with our group of eight by the offices, where we were shown the area that used to be the African American Jonestown settlement when Orlando was all about celery and citrus. Many of the workers were former slaves and they lived here. Several people from the Ocoee race riots are buried here in the original segregated part of the cemetery, with well visited and tended graves. I remember stumbling on their funeral records in the Carey Hand books once and being startled by reading about such a violent death when many of the other records said things like, ‘senility’, or ‘heart attack’.

We then proceeded up the hill to the highest point by the Wilmott Mausoleum, which I love for it’s creepy, domed, paint peeled beauty. It’s close to the Carey Hand family plot, so I gave them a nod on the way past as I always do, still thinking that a book about that family would be so much fun to write.

It was here that Mark and Debbie brought out a flashlight and placed it on top of the Robinson grave in the off position. It was also here that it began to rain and the umbrellas came out, and thunder rolled across the sky. I was thinking that there was nowhere else I’d rather be in that moment when the flashlight began to blink and flash, and Mark and Debbie began talking with a spirit.

Do I believe I ghosts? Yes. Do I go looking for them? Normally, no. This is only my second ghost tour, and while I believe they’re around us all the time, the skeptic in me does rear it’s shaggy head at times. But strangely, this was not one of them. The little flashlight blinked on and off, once for yes and twice for no, and eventually it came out that were were in the presence of a young boy who really wanted to chat. I think we were there for at least 20 minutes, and while I would never do something like that myself, I did like witnessing the whole event. I feel safe in cemeteries. But I know that a lot of people don’t and that there are many who would have been upset by something like that.

We went to visit Fred Weeks by his mausoleum for another show with the flashlight. Fred Weeks was a man who knew how to get revenge with grace and style. When he was ripped off by 3 businessmen in the Orlando area he erected a headstone with their names on it by the front gates of Greenwood with a bible verse,  Luke 10:30. When the men bought back the swampland they had sold him in order to get him to take the headstone down, he built his mausoleum, and put their names on it instead. On the doors you can see where the names were removed. Mr. Weeks died alone; his wife left him and took the children with her so he’s in the mausoleum all by himself. It’s a good story, but just goes to show you that seeking  revenge hurts you as well as the other person. On most of my visits to Greenwood there is a flower on Fred’s door. I always wonder who leaves them.

Toward the end of the tour it was raining in earnest and we stopped briefly at Babyland 3. I took a few photos but mostly hung back. When they tried to get interaction with the flashlight again nothing happened. The babies were all resting peacefully tonight.

A few days later Shawn and I went back to Greenwood to look at some of the places we had stopped on the tour, and as we drove past Babyland there was a couple sitting together on one of the little graves. I’m pretty sure my heart just fell out of my chest because I felt so heartbroken for them.

At the end of the tour we went back to the cemetery office, where I bought a tee shirt and handed Mark my card, asking him if it would be okay if I wrote about the tour on the blog.

“Yes!” he said. ‘Will you write nice things?”

“Of course!” I replied.

“And will you tell them how good looking and single I am?” he asked me.

“Yes, I will,” I said. And I’m keeping my promise.

So lookout, ladies! If you like history and have a thing for men in bowler hats, he’s your man. You can take a tour with American Ghost Adventures here in Orlando- I’m definitely taking one of the city tours so I can learn more about some of the buildings downtown. Check them out on Facebook for upcoming dates and events!

 

 

Marti Colon Cemetery in Tampa, Florida

I took a much needed day off to be alone and just wander, and what better place to do that than in Tampa’s cemeteries. I had several on my list that I had missed on my last trip, and decided to head in that direction. I needed to just stop thinking for a day.

My favorite of the several that I visited was not the most showy or ostentatious, quite the opposite, in fact. I had passed it back in February and was unable to see the name on the sign, I just saw the large, white mausoleum with Jesus on the front of it and knew I had to go back. It took me a bit of researching to figure out which one it might potentially be, but I found it, and went there after visiting Myrtle Hill (amazing), and Orange Hill (interesting). Marti Colon is not terribly large, and has a checkered past involving the city, the parks department, dumping of raw sewage, and a LOT of bodies that were not moved during the Columbus Road expansion and then a few more bodies that were moved improperly- stacked in graves one on top of the other. That’s a no-no unless the plot was sold to the family for that kind of burial. But when you go there, you’d never know it’s had problems. It was established in 1895.

The one family mausoleum at the front is huge and I’ve never seen one like it. First, the doorway was tiled in bright colors and there were no doors. Over the door was a very large plaster figure of Jesus with the stigmata on his hands. (I absolutely loved it, of course. It was amazing and only slightly ghoulish.) The windows were some kind of blurred glass that you could still see out of, and inside the ceilings were surprisingly high. There were niches in the walls for flowers and tributes, and the marble for the name plates was an unusual pink color. The niches had been painted a robin’s egg blue and were discolored from candles being burned in them over the years. One side held flowers and the other a dead plant. An old broom was in the corner. The windows on either side of the doorway actually had crank handles so that they could be opened. It was really remarkable and didn’t exactly remind me of a mausoleum, more of a house. Like you could put in doors and a couch and be good to go. I’m thinking the family must like that. The mausoleum was almost full.

The thing about the mausoleum that really struck me though, besides all that I’ve mentioned, is that the light inside was extraordinary. It was perfect for photos; I’m not sure if it was the blurred glass or the high ceilings, or the reflective tile floor, but it was really beautiful. I stayed in there a long time, just looking. Finally, I walked out to see the larger mausoleum. It was flat and wide, dark on the inside, and I felt a need to duck going in. It had skylights throughout the central section that gave it an eerie feeling with lots of shadows. I can’t say I’d want to be in this one on a rainy day. Tributes were scattered all over the floor and at the end of the main section was a broken stained glass window that had been of some religious figure. My guess would be Mary. One hand was left in the glass, perfectly detailed and holding a flower stem, while the rest of the figure was gone. It needed a good mop, broom, and bucket of paint. It was just dirty and sad, in the way of homes that get run down because the occupants can’t afford to replace things as they get old or break. I flipped the light switch praying for the lights to come on, but the electricity had probably been turned off for years. I walked out to look at the gravestones.

Like the other cemeteries in Tampa this one was full of photos on the graves. It’s one of my favorite things about visiting this area. The Spanish, Cuban, and Italian immigrants loved their fancy graves and rituals. The photos mean that you will usually see at least one post-mortem while visiting the cemeteries, and I saw what I thought was one in the back, but Maryanne said she didn’t think so. Hard to tell on that one. They always startle me a bit, but it’s either something you love or something that makes you shiver. I usually like them.

 

I was following a path through the graves and looking down at one grave at a time as I walked when I saw a small handmade marker. Baby Sanchez June 16, 1961, Love Mom and Dad. The phrase had been scratched into the concrete with a nail or sharp tool, and I got down on the ground to take a closer look. I thought about the parents that must have made that and what they felt like at the time, and then I saw another one. And another. There was an entire row of the handmade markers, all in the same hand, and all identical otherwise aside from the dates and names. The parents had not made them. One person in the community had made them for the families that lost children for several years. And then I took a closer look around and saw that I was standing in Babyland.

I don’t willingly enter these sections anymore, and I felt something akin to fear grip my heart when I realized where I was, so I looked at one other grave that caught my eye and then went back to the pathway to view the section from there. The babies were under large, shady trees and the graves were so tiny, and some quite ornate. In the back I saw one that had small toy truck left on it, which amazed me as it looked fairly old. I made my way back to the front of the cemetery.

This is one that I’ll be going back to in the next month, and bringing a few cemetery-loving friends for an outing. I’m also interested in viewing the records on some of the families there. It’s a little run-down, but I think that’s exactly what I liked about it. I doubt it has many visitors since I saw little evidence of recent visits like fresh or new flowers and cards. Instead, like the cemetery itself, everything was worn, slightly faded, and had seen better, brighter days. But to me, that made it glorious.

 

Tree Damage From Hurricanes

(The photos in this post were taken around 5 p.m. and aren’t great, so I apologize. I picked the best examples in a cemetery that was mostly brown and flooded with slanting light. Better luck next time, eh?)

At the first Crypt conference I went to the guest speaker was a park ranger from the gorgeous Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville, Florida. Her speech was about a small African American cemetery that was found on the property with 8 people buried there, most of them children. All of them were slaves. 

The story was touching enough because of the loss of several children, as well as the always painful tie to slavery. The other part that really disturbed me was that one of the men buried there had such severe damage to his bones that he was unable to walk upright before his death. They said much of it would have been caused by the physical labor he did during his lifetime, and that he would have been in a horrible amount of pain. His teeth, the speaker noted, were filed to points. All of these people were buried under a large, patriarch oak tree. The tree itself served as the marker for those buried there with the roots holding them together as one community, even in death. I loved thinking about that. 

I personally love visiting cemeteries with large trees on the grounds, but they can also cause a lot of damage when they fall. I’ve been so thankful that during the hurricanes the cemeteries I love most did not have trees falling and breaking headstones. If they fell, they miraculously seemed to fall away from the stones for the most part.

We were recently at Sanksville Cemetery in St. Augustine and there was a lot of tree damage from Hurricane Irma. Several had dropped large limbs, but several had fallen over, exposing roots. One had pulled two headstones from the 1880’s up with it as it fell and the ground had pulled up around the base of the tree, like someone pulling on skin. I was definitely concerned about how they would be able to restore the headstones to their proper place after removing the tree and what they might find when they started working. 

This cemetery is an historic African American graveyard dating back to the 1869 and is still an active cemetery today, with newer burials in the back. It has multiple veterans, deacons, and church pastors buried there and is a fascinating place to visit. The older burials are in the front, and the stones are simple, but beautiful and in good condition. 

The problem with fallen trees is that they can sometimes move bodies with them. In a cemetery this old it’s unlikely that the people who do the cleanup will find anything, but sometimes they do. You have to look at the roots first and then In the hole created when the tree fell. It’s a scary thing to consider when you find a tree down in a graveyard and you’re the first one there to go peek. 

Trees also manage to consume headstones and markers as they age and grow, and while it’s fascinating to see, there have been many headstones that I’ve wanted to see that were almost completely covered by a growing tree. Charleston’s Unitarian Churchyard had a few examples, but that cemetery is so beautiful I was in total awe the entire time I was there. 

If you get a chance to visit Sanksville it’s a bit of a drive from the city center, but worth it. You can find it by the historical marker on the main road, and it appears to be adjacent to residential property, but no one said anything to us and it isn’t marked as private. Clean up work is in progress, and I was very happy to see that. 

If you ever find exposed remains or coffins/caskets in a cemetery notify the local sheriff’s office. Protocol is for them to go out with a coroner to determine the age of the remains, though that doesn’t always happen. But still, report it. You can always call the cemetery owner as well. 

Adamsville Cemetery…Somewhere In Florida

I’ve been really sick for the last 3 weeks so I’m behind on a lot of things including cemetery visits, writing, and phone calls since I’ve been coughing so much. Thankfully this week Shawn and I have some time off together and will be running around to find some new places to visit. I’m excited to get out of the house. The new job that I started 2 months ago has been the most miserable work experience I’ve ever had, so I’m on the hunt for other things in my life besides cemeteries. But let’s talk about pleasant things instead, like the Adamsville Cemetery.

Adamsville Cemetery is said to be in Levy County in one source, and Sumter County in another. I vote for Sumter being correct. We didn’t really start out with a plan to go see it, but I knew it was on the way to where we were going and figured we’d do a drive by. However, what caused us to stop was not the actual cemetery (though that turned out to be a treasure), it was the small mausoleum that we passed that was literally in the church parking lot. It was the strangest placement for a mausoleum I’ve ever seen, as though they weren’t sure where it would look best but hell, they really wanted one… and hey, there’s a spot right there that’s only being used to park cars on Sunday. It was the true 1960’s style that I’ve seen in several places in Florida (including another almost identical model in Sumter county), and it was pretty hideous. The other one that I’ve seen like that had an alarming smell coming from it and I left that cemetery in a hurry. It happens sometimes.

On this day, Maryanne and I stood there quietly soaking in it’s odd placement while she smoked a cigarette and I just stared blankly.  Needless to say, we both had to get a photo with it.

On one side of the street you’ll find the new memorial park, and on the other, beckoning to you from the shady gloom, is the old section of the cemetery. There are lots of great examples of funerary art here. It’s said to be the oldest cemetery in this county, dating back to what one source said was 1902, but it’s way older than that since we saw stones dating back to the 1880’s and wooden markers as well.

The wooden markers were laid flat on the ground, almost obscured by the carpet of green that cloaks this cemetery and makes it so beautiful and unusual for Florida. We would have missed them if we hadn’t gone down that row, but we saw the wood and knew at once what we were looking at. However, we were in for a surprise. Maryanne lifted one by the top to see if there was any writing or carving and while they were so faded that we couldn’t read anything, they were anthropomorphic styled markers. I was nearly beside myself with excitement. These markers are not ones that we see every day around here. In fact, I’ve only ever seen one and it was made of concrete in Melbourne (in the Shady Oaks Cemetery). The shape is supposed to represent the head and shoulders of a human. They’re quite beautiful to begin with, but to see them in wood was really wonderful. Florida’s wooden markers don’t last too long, but there are still some great examples here and there that have survived our humidity and rainfall. There are a couple of great examples left in Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando.

The cemetery’s history can be read on Find A Grave, and there’s a lot of material to cover so I won’t include a synopsis here, but the church and the cemeteries are the last pieces of what used to be the Adamsville community. I can’t really convey the dark, mysterious beauty of this cemetery, due largely to the very old Cypress trees on the property. I will say that this is a must-see for any taphophile in Florida. Find A Grave has some semblance of directions to it and the mausoleum makes a handy landmark!

 

Float Like A Butterfly…

…Sting like a bee, your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see. 

I don’t know how many people know that Muhammad Ali’s famous line was actually coined by his cornerman, Drew Bundhini Brown, who also wrote speeches for Ali. He did a lot of things that would have been notable in his day (or even today). Brown was in an interracial marriage in the 1950’s, acted in numerous films including The Color Purple, had a son who was a bomber with the Navy, and was an all around fascinating guy. 

Amazing life, right? So when Drew Brown died in 1987 after a severe fall in his home, you would think he’d be buried with more to mark his grave than a cracked ledger stone with no name topped with hand poured ‘sculpted’ concrete. The cemetery itself is in a sad state of decline, so it’s quite possible that there was a headstone at one time. He was 59 when he died and was born in Midway, Florida. 

Supposedly, he’s there. He is buried next to his father, who has a headstone and was a veteran. His name was also Drew Brown.

There are no concrete cemetery records for Page Jackson. It’s been a free for all since it started out with the first recorded burial in 1869, so right now there’s not a way to confirm that this is Mr. Brown’s grave. But it’s what everyone says when they talk about the cemetery. A funeral record could prove it, but it’s easier to get your hands on a funeral record from the 1880’s for Page Jackson that it is for the 1980’s. If you know otherwise, call me up. There is a map of the cemetery located at the Sanford Historical Museum that supposedly shows sections of the cemetery but I don’t believe it actually serves as a cemetery map with named graves on it. If so it would be a miracle.

 So for now, let’s just enjoy the mystery together. Personally, I believe that’s his grave since there are family members nearby. If you visit the cemetery he is located on the right side of the center section near the end, but if you pass the Faithful Servant headstone you’ve gone too far. Enjoy!