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!

Before the Hurricane

Maryanne and I were separated at birth. I’m sure of that. We started talking in a Facebook cemetery group and when we met in person a year later (for tea in a local tearoom) we were the only women in there amid a flurry of floral dresses and hats that were mostly dressed down, and we were the only two people in the place talking about embalming techniques. Neither of us is high maintenance. Both of us think cremation is the way to go. Neither of us is afraid of dead people.

Maryanne wanted to go see a family member in a cemetery in Chiefland, Florida, two hours from Orlando, and she asked me to go. I will always go visit a cemetery with someone, so I immediately said yes and asked what kind of snacks to bring.

We jumped in the car at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday before the hurricane was supposed to hit over the weekend. Since we’ve both lived in Florida for years neither of us was panicked and both of us felt prepared. However, the rest of the Floridians had other ideas. It took us two and a half hours to get to Adamsville Cemetery, which you’ll see in another post, and a total of five hours to get to Chiefland Cemetery.

Chiefland is small and situated in Levy county, which I was unaware of until we passed the sign. The population is about 2,300, and it’s rural. Horses and agriculture everywhere. We had to take 2 dirt roads to get to the cemetery, and when we finally found it after five hours in the car it felt like a miracle. We got out gratefully, stretched, and it immediately began to rain.

Maryanne handed me a brightly striped umbrella and we started down the aisles of headstones. At the back of the cemetery was a section for the slaves of the Hardee family, which are numerous in the cemetery. The large flat stone reads, Buried Here Are Faithful Servants of Isaac  P.  Hardee. The family is about 20 steps away from this section, which is something I’ve never seen. I wish that the servants had been named, of course, but I still loved seeing the tribute. Mister Hardee himself was right there and his original stone was on the ground, barely legible, but it had been framed in concrete and a new stone in the same style and with the exact same font had been erected in its place. I loved seeing the original and also being able to read the new one, which was quite unusual in it’s simplicity. It was actually my favorite stone that I saw that day.

Maryanne had found her family member by that time, and she told me that she was named after her. Marie Theresa Hampton was less than a year old when she died on August 19, 1949. Maryanne told me that the story itself was quite tragic and that the little girl had a sad and horrible death with far reaching repercussions, but I honestly feel that the story is for her to tell, and so she may be doing a blog post about her in the future. The little grave was beautifully bright amid all of the darker headstones, and Maryanne bent down to touch the stone for a minute before placing pink flowers on the grave. We said the next time we came we’d bring D-2 solution and clean her headstone.

The cemetery itself is beautiful and has a gazebo with a tin roof and trees all around, so the rain was very loud at times, but that only added to the experience for me. An even greater surprise was seeing the cemetery map, well labeled and preserved, and….legible! I was thrilled. I love seeing the maps but they’re not easy to find. Some of the larger cemeteries will provide a map for you at their offices, and I keep them and frame them when I get one.

Near the back of the cemetery there are two graves with a very unusual feature, something I’d never seen before. The better example of the two simply reads INFANT in block letters that are painted on glass and then embedded in the concrete grave topper. They were quite old but in perfect condition.

Before we got back in the car to fight the traffic on the way home we stood there for awhile, me under the umbrella and Maryanne smoking. She talked about possibly having Marie disinterred and moved to her family cemetery in Orlando, which would mean that the little girl would get to lay next to her parents. I asked about costs, and whether there would be anything left to move at this point, but she felt there might be something. She planned to talk to her parents about it when she saw them over the weekend. She is the only Hampton in the cemetery.

There can be so much emotion in a place like this, when you bend down to touch the stone of that loved one and you’re not seeing the stone, you’re seeing their history and their connection to you. Maryanne certainly never met Marie, but she loves her. It’s obvious. It made me want to visit Kentucky and the cemetery where my family members are buried, just to see what that feels like since I didn’t know them personally. I know them through story and on paper, from the family genealogy my aunts have worked on for years. It’s days like this that make me realize how important markers are for those left behind and why I Iove cemeteries so much.

It took us three hours to get home. I had gummy bears and a protein bar for dinner. We passed gas stations with lines running out of the parking lot and down the street. We stopped at a Publix and the water aisle was empty. Central Florida was scared.

If you’re in Florida I hope you fared well during Irma- and I apologize for the photo quality in this post.

Flowers at Page Jackson Cemetery

Grace, Gus, and I go out to Page Jackson together and also tend to monitor the site on our own. During this summer we spent some time researching more about the cemetery and people, and we also made plans for what we would like to do out there this winter when the heat and humidity isn’t sapping our energy so much. There’s still one gravestone I’ve yet to find from one of the first marked burials, and it’s bugging me. On the first cool day this winter that’s where I’ll be.

I went out recently with Shawn in the evening. We’ve been looking for a house in the area and many of our weekends are spent in Sanford checking out real estate. One day we were coming home later than usual; it was already getting dark. 

“Pull into the cemetery, would you?” I said as we came near, and he obliged.

My goal was to see how many cars were parked back there. We drove down the paved road until the asphalt gave way to the dirt road that leads into Page Jackson. There thankfully wasn’t anyone else there, and we could still see pretty well so we stopped and got out. 

Page Jackson doesn’t have a single flower blooming on its 11 acres. Not. One. It’s a combination of pine woods and oak trees and it looks like hell. Two grave sites are regularly visited out of 1,090, and their people leave silk flowers on them and not fresh. It’s always been like that. There is nothing here that smells except for the dirt road when it rains. That’s it. 

When I got out of the car that night there was an overwhelming smell of flowers. The smell wasn’t familiar, but it seemed like an old fashioned smell. It was heady and sweet and it felt like we were in a cloud of it. I turned to Shawn and asked if he could smell it. He could not.

I said, “The flowers. You don’t smell them?” He didn’t. He mentioned that something must be blooming but there wasn’t anything nearby or overhead. Just the cathedral of oak branches and Spanish moss. We left shortly thereafter because a couple of cars started pulling into the cemetery. One went to the house on the property, and one drove back to Shiloh cemetery.

I think it was during the same month when Gus and I went out after 11 pm to drive through and see if there were a lot of people there. That night there was not a single car, and we rolled the windows down. The crickets and frogs were loud, and I wondered if the smell would be there again but it wasn’t. 

Another night I drove through near dusk and the smell was there again, in the front section which is the oldest and covers about an acre. No matter where I went, the smell was there. It was just as strong. 

This week Grace stayed at Gus’s to pet sit and hang out in Sanford for a week, just to relax and get out of Orlando. She told me she was thinking of driving through the cemetery at night just to see what was going on out there. I told her to message me when she got back. 

A little after ten I got a frantic message saying that when she pulled past the sign to the cemetery and hit the dirt road the whole car filled with the smell of lilacs and her dog, Sherman, cowered in the seat and started growling. She stopped the car, backed up, and left immediately. She also said the smell had been overwhelmingly strong and that before she backed up she saw lights in the trees. 

“What, like flashlights?” I asked.

She shook her head no.

“Car lights, then? Headlights, maybe from someone driving through from Shiloh?”

She shook her head again. “No. It looked more like small lights, almost as if someone were holding a candle about waist high.”

Grace and I went out the next morning to look for lights. There weren’t any- no one puts grave lights out here and when you see them in the dark they tend to have a tell-tale blueish cast, and they’re close to the ground. There are 2 tiki torches on one of the maintained graves, but we looked at them and they’d never been lit. Plus, if someone held a candle in the dark you’d see a reflection of the light on their face. And grave lights don’t move. Also, we don’t have lightning bugs in this part of Florida.

We found out that Gus had the same experience one night with the smell, but not with the lights. I think it’s interesting that all of us have had the same experience and we can’t find the cause. People say the cemetery is haunted but I’d prefer to look for something in the here and now before I believe this is some ghostly activity. The place has been investigated but I never heard anyone mention the smell. Also, the smell seems to only be in the front acre. It’s not farther back in the cemetery and not in Shiloh.

Aside from that, I believe any haunting in this cemetery comes from people being in there at night with flashlights and not from ghosts, but that’s my opinion. This cemetery has a lot of activity from the human element, and while I’m certainly curious, I don’t particularly care as long as there’s no damage or more trash for us to pick up. The cemetery has been vandalized in the past and we saw the polaroids in the local museum. It was horrifying. I think it’s also worth mentioning that every other time I’ve encountered a smell in a cemetery it’s clearly been from some kind of decay and has been gag-inducing and awful.

Has anyone had a similar incident happen to them at a cemetery? I’d like to hear about it.

Heavenly Bodies at Eau Gallie Cemetery, Melbourne, Florida

First a little bit of business. To the person who ran a search on my site for…and I quote… “pictures of 14 plus naked girls”, I believe that you are on the wrong site. We all wear our clothes around here, sir. I always read the search terms every week to see what people are looking for and I’ve gotten some good tips for cemeteries to visit, but not this time.

It was extremely hot the day that Shawn and I decided to head to Melbourne just to get out of the house and see what was over there. I wasn’t super thrilled with the area, but I’ll admit that I also didn’t really know where to go or what to see. We did go to several cemeteries, and Eau Gallie was one of my favorites. The sign in front said “Welcome! Booker T. Washington Neighborhood”. After some research I found out that it appears to be part of a neighborhood development plan, and there is actually a whole section of Melbourne that is part of this. I had read online from some ghost hunter that this was in a bad neighborhood but I never saw any evidence of that. The surrounding areas were clean and busy and the cemetery itself was in perfect condition. I would have gone in by myself and felt totally comfortable.

The cemetery is large and well designed with a roundabout in the center, a common design, with the cemetery moving out from the circle into quadrants. It had the most beautiful trees and the plushest grass I’d ever seen in a cemetery though, and for that alone it was worth getting out for a walk. Besides its beauty, there is one other thing that stood out in this cemetery. It is full of angels. The people who come back to visit their loved ones tend to leave angels on the graves, and there were so many everywhere I looked. I felt well protected while we were there! There was even a huge modern headstone with a crouching angel leaning over it, which is a style I’ve also seen in Greenwood Cemetery here in Orlando.

The cemetery was established in 1902 so it’s certainly not the oldest one I’ve been to, but it’s worth a visit. The surrounding area used to be a city called Eua Gallie, and the cemetery was operated by that city at one time until it just became part of Melbourne in 1969. It appears to still be an active cemetery and has about 1400 burials, though we didn’t see any new graves while we were there.

The grave of John P. McMillan was my favorite one that we saw and was also very poignant. It was a white marble obelisk with the Woodmen of the World symbol on it, and the dates told the story. Born 1896, died 1918. He gave his life for his country is the epitaph. I don’t see too many first World War veteran’s graves, or it could be that when I see the date 1918 I tend to first think of the beginning of the Spanish Flu pandemic. But this grave hit me hard, not only because the man was so young when he died, but to die at the end of the war when he had survived thus far seemed especially sad.

It was too hot to be walking around but we had one more cemetery to visit- the Shady Oaks African American cemetery nearby. More on that one soon. You should visit Eau Gallie if you’re in the Melbourne area. If you like taking photos in cemeteries, you can’t find a better subject. If you like the paranormal, everything I’ve read indicates that this is the place to be. However, this cemetery seemed very quiet and peaceful to me.

The Howey Mausoleum

Thanks to Jim Steele for the tip on this one.

A few months ago Shawn and I went to look at a house near Howey In The Hills, an old rambling thing built in 1935. On the way there we turned into a well-heeled neighborhood and I looked around, noting the nice houses all built in similar styles and colors, and the well groomed lawns.

“This can’t be it,” I said, gesturing to the neighborhood. The house we were headed to was all by itself on a small chunk of land and faced woods.

“No, but I thought I’d show you this house,” he said, and right about that time he stopped the Jeep and I leaned over him to look out the window. There was a huge pink mansion with old vines and ivy growing over the front of it, like hair blowing across a woman’s face. The windows were boarded up and it looked (sadly) impenetrable. It was beautiful. I later found out that it was built in 1925.

I got out of the car to take a few photos, thinking it would be a nice thing to post on Instagram. I was also looking for a way in. Since the house faced a neighborhood I was fairly certain that wasn’t going to work out even if I saw an opening. I sent a photo to Jim since I knew he lived near here somewhere.

A few hours later he asked me if I’d been to the mausoleum and told me how to get to it. I was thrilled to have the information, but wasn’t able to get back out there for a few weeks. And I was not very happy about that. I don’t know why I get in such a rush to see these things because it’s not like they’re going anywhere.

When we did get back out there I followed his directions carefully and came upon a clearing in the woods, quite close to the neighboring houses, but sheltered enough to feel very private. In the middle of the clearing was a white mausoleum, green mold creeping gently up its sides, and cobwebs sparkling in the back window. For some reason, it had been situated so that you approach it from the back and walk in a loop around it to see the front. It was quite beautiful. I climbed the steps and pressed my face against the doors to look into the jewel-colored gloom inside. I could smell dust and old pollen, and a cobweb got caught in my hair. I brushed it away. Inside was a stained glass window with a design of white lilies threaded through a gold crown, and three interments.

William Howey in 1938, his wife Lois Valerie Howey in 1941, and then their daughter Mary Grace Howey in 1981. William was a citrus pioneer, and you can read more about him and the mansion here because the news sources tell the story better than I could. This blog would be a mile long.

According to Find A Grave this is called the Taylor Memorial Cemetery but I have to call bullshit on that. There’s nothing here but woods and the cemetery is down the road with around 486 burials. The Howey Family gets to rest here all by themselves.

The mausoleum is technically not part of the mansion grounds and is public access even though it doesn’t feel like it. The property was in the news recently because it finally sold and there are rumors of it being restored, which would be wonderful. It was listed at $480,000 dollars.

And the house we went to look at? Well, I can say that it had a stunningly renovated kitchen. And then in the back of the house we found kitchen #2 from the 1970’s, which they had left there as is, complete with the tacky mustard and orange vegetable motif wallpaper. Basically, a renovation faux-pas that I had never seen the likes of anywhere. I’m usually financially minded and so my first thought was, “Could this be turned into an apartment?” But the thought immediately left me. We wanted a house that was mostly complete- not a house with one gorgeous kitchen and one secret one that we might have to answer awkward questions about. The house also had creepily slanting floors and smelled like old wood, both features that I actually liked. But overall the answer was no.

But I must say, if the house had a mausoleum or a cemetery in the back, we’d have been turning in an offer right there.

Locke Family Cemetery on Boggy Creek Road

This one was a surprise. I’m not even sure how to describe how I got there, Shawn and I were talking and I was fiddling with the music the entire time we were driving. It was hot. I needed a snack. I’d run out of iced tea from Starbucks already. You get the picture.

When we finally pulled up to the gate we found that it was indeed a small family cemetery on the side of the road, and that we had to park on the shoulder because there wasn’t designated parking. The first thing we saw was a big sign that said No Trespassing, and another that said the cemetery was monitored by video surveillance. We ignored them both and unlatched the gate to walk in since it was broad daylight and the gate wasn’t locked. I did take a quick look around though and I saw that the telephone pole next to the cemetery had a floodlight on it aimed at the cemetery, and I know that goes a long way toward preventing vandalism. If I heeded by every No Trespassing sign that I saw I’d never get any writing done because I’d be avoiding every cemetery I’ve ever been in. I usually will research them first to see if they’re privately owned. If so I’ll still visit anyway and see if the gate is locked. If it is, I don’t go in.

This cemetery is OLD, which was another surprise. Almost all of the names are Lock or Locke, but supposedly there is a Jane Green buried there who was in a specific type of trade and ‘worked’ with the cattlemen in the area. Having once dated a farmer who raised cattle for breed stock, I have to say I do not blame her one bit. Nothing makes my hormones stir like a man on a horse, but that isn’t really relevant. Whether or not the story about Jane is actually true remains a mystery, but it’s the legend, and I remember stopping in wonder at her modern headstone because she lived to be 99 years old.

There are some beautiful hand stamped headstones in the center rows that date back to 1892 and 1898. My favorite of the two features a star motif stamped into the top curve of the stone and the epitaph reads “She Died Triumph In The Lord”. Her name was also unusual, Marzila Lock.

When you walk though this cemetery is seems like it’s another sandy lot filled with burrs and old headstones, but when you stand back and view it from the front you notice that a large section is shaded by a beautiful oak tree, and I stood for a moment imagining those strong roots carefully holding the people together underground. All of my shots from the gate were beautiful.

 

Find A Grave shows 67 burials on the lot but I’m pretty sure there were more given the age of the cemetery, and there are a surprising number of children buried here. 12 out of the 67, in fact.

And finally, a particularly nice tribute on Find A Grave is this one for Cennie Tison Lock, and it shows how large this family really was. Enjoy.

The Former Beaches Memorial Park in Atlantic Beach, Florida

I generally attempt to keep my temper out of these posts but I probably won’t be able to do that today. I’m talking about the Rayan’s, the previous owners of Beaches Memorial Park and the focal point in Florida funeral industry news for a year now. To put it quite simply, these people are turds. And yes, I understand the whole innocent until proven guilty thing, but in my mind that only applies to people who don’t leave bodies in broken refrigerators on their cemetery property.

Amanda Rayan owned this funeral home and cemetery and she and her husband decided to run it by taking the money from customers… and then pretty much not doing anything else. They racked up over 70 complaints from families before getting well and truly busted by a surprise inspection from the Florida Division of Cemetery, Funeral, and Consumer Services. During the inspection they found a man’s body decomposing in a broken refrigerator inside the facility, who turned out to be Burton Acker. He was supposed to have been cremated already and returned to his family, who had been asking to come and pick up his remains. Why he was left inside a broken fridge is a mystery. They also found that John Rayan had been selling the memorial plaques on the property for scrap metal, and also accepting payment for services he never rendered to families. The list of their accusations is too lengthy to mention here.

It was almost a year ago that things started to get really heated at the cemetery. A family showed up to bury their loved one, and there was no one there when they arrived. The plot was not marked, the grave not dug, no one answered the phone when they placed frantic calls. The family had to return the body to the funeral home for storage until they could figure out what to do. They called the police though, and they came out to document the situation. Soon after the Rayan’s funeral license was suspended by the state.

There is a video of Amanda Rayan at a funeral on her property, shot through some bushes, but showing her smirking face clearly as she stands under the funeral tent in a tight tee shirt and short shorts. I saw that video and felt so bad for the family who were all dressed respectfully. I know that if I were attending my grandparent’s funeral, and the cemetery owner (that I had just handed a stack of money) came out to assist with the coffin dressed like that, she’d find herself suddenly on the ground and I’d be cheerfully dealing with an assault charge.

News 4 Jax hounded this couple incessantly until John Rayan’s arrest at the cemetery, and they made sure to be there to film that as well. On the video John Rayan is in handcuffs and wearing what looks like pajamas, being guided by the elbow toward the police car, and the news anchor puts a microphone in his face and starts asking him questions. One minute he is sweating profusely and saying in a weird, breathy voice that he doesn’t have any cemetery experience, as though that’s an excuse for his deplorable behavior. The next minute he’s on the ground in a dead faint and the officers are staring at him like, “Well damn, what do we do with this jerk now?” And what they did was haul him up and literally drag his ass to jail. He is facing 16 charges and his wife, who they went after as well, is facing 45 charges, but for some reason he has been the focal point of this investigation.

So, how does the story end? That depends on how you look at it. Johns Rayan’s trial was set to begin on April 17th of this year and he skipped town, and the rumor is that he is ‘vacationing’ in Maryland. The judge issued another warrant for his arrest and to date, he has not been seen. Amanda Rayan is still awaiting trial. And yes, I still look them up on a weekly basis to see if they’ve been arrested yet (again).

The good news is that when they are brought to trial I’m sure it will be epic. The other good news is that Todd Ferreira bought the cemetery and not only is his name on the sign, but the place is actually quite beautiful. When my mom and I drove out there several weeks ago I wasn’t expecting much; I had this grim image in my mind of what the place looked like when the Rayan’s owned it and everything was brown and weedy. The mausoleums were painted brown along with the offices, and it looked awful. Weeds that were waist high were surrounding the fountain at the front of the property. I would never have gone to that place for assistance. Another point to be made is that the Jacksonville Beaches are beautiful and Atlantic Beach manages to have a small town feel with the fresh air, and  the sandy beach close by. I loved it. It seems hard to imagine that this couple would get away with having such a delapidated looking cemetery for long, and it appears that the residents of this pretty and peaceful area decided that enough was enough when they starting calling in complaints.

Mom and I pulled into an impeccably groomed property with graceful oak trees, mowed green grass, and buildings painted a fresh pale yellow with white trim. It looked like there was another fountain or some other kind of decorative ornament getting ready to go up, and everything felt peaceful and calm. I say good for Mr. Ferreira, because the place looks beautiful and I can’t imagine anything that would make it look better. At the back of the property you’ll find a larger mausoleum and a memorial chapel, which was locked the day that were were there.

I’m hoping that the families that were taken advantage of by this couple will find peace once some kind of justice is served, not only for them but for their loved ones resting in that cemetery.

As for me, I’ll be glued to my computer reading the news and eating Teddy Grahams when they finally get this couple into a courtroom.

After receiving a couple of comments on this post I’d like to add that all of this was based on the information that was available at the time. I’m still following the story and may post updates as they come available.

Other People’s Grief

I’m always fine in the presence of other people’s grieving processes or struggles as they pertain to mortality, but I am always caught off guard when I experience those feelings for myself. And to be honest, it sometimes makes me feel like a fraud. The first example of this hit me after the Pulse tragedy and I had to drive by the memorials every day on the way to work. I tried taking different routes but it seemed like every time I tried another road there was another group of memorial signs on the corner, and I would sit at the stoplights purposely looking away from them in order to keep my emotions stable before work. But I was reminded again this week of how fragile I can be when dealing with my own feelings toward death. 

I’m in a transitional place right now and Shawn and I are not sure how much longer we’ll be in the Orlando area. I am also attempting to leave my job of 14 plus years for one that actually aligns with my values. So there’s a lot going on and I feel a need to tie up loose ends in my life in order to move forward with as little regret or fear as possible.  

I had a doctor’s appointment this week and arrived to that side of town early, because if you’re driving to Altamonte in the middle of the day you have to leave at least an hour early because of the obscene traffic on I-4. So when I arrived with time to spare I decided to go scout out a cemetery nearby, if there was one. 

4 miles away I found Highland Memory Gardens and realized that it was where my former father in law had been buried years ago, so long ago that it made me feel like another girl in another world when I thought of it. I had never gone back to see his grave site after the funeral, even though I lived 3 miles from it for 8 years. For the last 3 years I’d been driving over to Altamonte for appointments with my allergist and had still avoided going.  For some reason- maybe it was the gloom of the rain or the need for completion somewhere in my life, I decided to go visit him. Because 11 years is a long time to avoid something or someone. 

I didn’t like being a part of that family, which may have been the reason for the avoidance issues. I still wake up every day and am so incredibly grateful to have been set free from that marriage that I sometimes don’t know what to do with that overwhelming feeling. I still cry because I’m so happy and relieved. There were a lot of reasons for me not to visit and running into the rest of the family was a big one. Dealing with whatever I might feel if I went to visit was the other, stronger reason. 

I had liked my father in law a great deal despite how I felt about everyone else. Wendell was a good man and he was kind-hearted toward man and beast. He was tall and rangy, tanned from spending years of his life outdoors, and had silver hair. He loved his wife, his grandchild, gardening, and beer. I was never really sure about anything else, but on those points I was very clear. 

I went through the rain to the cemetery office without my umbrella and asked where I might find his grave. The family counselor was right there when I walked in, standing with a pleasant look on his face and his hands clasped before him. He was happy to help me and pulled out a complicated map of the cemetery, then drew on the map as he gave me even more complicated directions. He then notified me that the four plots behind Wendell were for sale, in case that was important to me. I said nothing, but took the map and thanked him before stepping back out into the gloom.

I parked in what I thought was the right area, got out of the Durango and started walking. I literally walked right to his grave. I stopped short when I saw his name and then I just stood there staring down at it. Thunder rumbled overhead in a melodious way, not threatening, and I looked around me before saying, “This is a beautiful place.” I said it out loud.

Then I said. “I was so angry at you for dying.”

Tears came.

I wiped them away with my fingertips and tried to act like it wasn’t happening but my nose started to run, and I sniffed as I told him in choppy sentences that everything fell apart when he died, and that at that point in time he was the one that held everyone together. And then I just stood there and felt tears run down my face and thought about a time when he had rescued a snake from our back porch, and how it had been injured. He placed it on the ground and then I saw him reach down and pet it gently.

And after that I remembered that he had always said that he did not want to be embalmed, and that he wanted a green burial- as green as we could get it, and instead he’d been embalmed and made up and stuffed into a suit and put into a bronze deluxe casket. Here. Under my feet. I still remembered looking into that casket for the last time. But I think his family had been through so much and they really didn’t know what else to do and I certainly can’t find fault with that.

I thought about Payne’s Prairie near Gainesville and how much he would have loved being buried in a place like that. People would hike past him and he would literally be at one with the environment. I felt like we had done him a disservice when he died and I regretted not speaking up.

But I had been different, and it was way before I started writing or caring so much about all of these things. I finally told him that I would have brought him flowers but he didn’t have a vase to put them in, and that I thought that really sucked. I thought it was pretty much the rule that you got a vase in Memory Garden type cemeteries.

A big hawk flew low across the graves and landed in the oak tree across the road from where I stood. I looked at it for a moment and felt better. Then I walked to my car, reached in for a box of tissues, and blew my nose. Loudly.