The Portraits at Congregation Ohev Shalom

This cemetery is one of the prettiest ones in Orlando, and in a completely unexpected part of town. It lies along Old Winter Garden Road in Orlo Vista and is next to the Lake Hill Cemetery, which is my favorite little cemetery here. Lake hill has a lot of space between burials and is grassy and has only a few trees, so it’s s surprise to walk next door and see a verdant landscape of trees and shrubs and a crowded cemetery with a small mortuary chapel at the back. Congregation Ohev Shalom was founded in 1918, but the cemetery dates more from 1928. The cemetery regulations also suggest that the wife be buried on the left- something that I have never once paid attention to in any cemetery, to be completely honest. This cemetery serves at least 3 congregations, and while you must be Jewish to be laid to rest here, you do not have to be a member of  Congregation Ohev Shalom.

This cemetery is beautiful to walk through, but it also has something that makes it even more interesting to visit- tons of ceramic portraits on the gravestones. I just love these things!

Some of them are quite old and some are more modern and nicely done in brighter colors. I like both, but I especially love the old ones which tend to be more formal. This cemetery does not have a lot of historical information, but I still wanted to write about it and give a sort of tombstone tour of noticeable portraits. You will see that there are lots of small stones on top of the graves, and in the center of the cemetery there is a small box full of these stones for visitors to choose from. It is tradition to leave a stone on the grave with the left hand, not only to show that someone has visited, but also as a tribute to the deceased. There are other fascinating theories that can be read about here. I love the idea.  I will sometimes leave seashells on the grave in other cemeteries. I left an amethyst crystal on my dad’s grave when I went to see him once, it was the only thing I had in the car and for some reason it felt important that I do something, even though I sat on his grave and talked to him for awhile.

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The last two were father and son- brilliant smiles on both of them!

In the back of the cemetery you will find a grave for Talia Joy Castellano- truly a bright light in this world. Her Youtube channel is still up- she was a young make-up artist and honorary Cover Girl. Her appearance on the Ellen show brought me to tears! Her grave is bright and pretty and seems to reflect her love of color and beauty and her talent for making others look their best. I have visited this cemetery many times and didn’t see her grave until I went on Thanksgiving and my fiancee’s daughter mentioned the colorful grave toward the back of the property. Please take a minute to look her up!

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I’m off to Clay county this week for another CRPT cemetery training. There are a few graves here locally  that I’d like to work on restoring and I’m hoping to learn everything that I need to in order to make that happen in January. Details and pictures next week!

 

 

Grieving for Pets

Last week I lost my beautiful little Cricket, who I’ve shared my life with for 14 years. She made my house a home, and I am still getting used to life without her. For me, the hardest part besides watching her decline was coming home from work each day and not seeing her calico face in my bedroom window, waiting for me. She has always treated my bedroom as her personal apartment at every place I’ve lived and I always accommodated this since like me, she was shy and preferred to have her own space. I truly miss her presence in my room and the house feels emptier without her, even though we have two other cats.

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What I’ve struggled with besides just feeling the lack of her presence has been all of the empty space in my head that was previously filled with worrying about her. Did I give her her fluids Monday or Tuesday? Why isn’t she eating? Do I need to take her back to the vet again? Am I hurting her when I give her fluids? Who can I trust to watch her when we go out of town? (Thank you, Owen!) It was a lot of worry and anxiety over a period of one and a half years from when she was diagnosed with advanced kidney disease. I lost a lot of sleep and had mounting expenses for her health care, but it didn’t matter to me because I loved her.

So now I find all of this space, and I still find myself locked into routines that revolved around her care and making her happy. I open the blinds every morning, still expecting her to jump up on the couch to look out. I close them but leave space at the bottom at night, still thinking she’ll look out during the night. I leave my robe on my bed for her, still used to the fact that she LOVED sleeping on it. I still come home from work thinking it’s time to feed her.

After a week I started wondering if I should stop any of these behaviors, but my answer was no, that I shouldn’t, because for now it makes me feel better. I have sympathy cards in my room from friends and from our outstanding vet, who sat next to me in the room the day she died and put her arm around me, crying with me. I have flowers from a friend who lives in another state who went with me to learn how to give her fluids because I was terrified of fainting. I did clean my room and removed her food dishes, corralled all of her toys into a basket in the corner of the room for now, and tried to make everything look clean and peaceful. For a few days there was a lot of chaos as we took care of her and waited to see if she would take a turn for the better.

I grew a lot in the last year and a half and I realized that I’m a lot more capable than I ever thought I was. I’m pretty good with a needle now. I can manage multiple medications, and I can see warning signs that I couldn’t see before. I was financially capable too, more so than I thought I was.

I have a few suggestions for anyone who loses a pet, because whether it’s a horse or a hamster or anything in between, it’s still painful. But here is what I’ve learned that has helped me cope.

  1. Don’t give yourself a time limit for when you’re supposed to be done grieving, and ignore anyone who tells you to get over it. It takes as long as it takes, and some people have a harder time with grief than others. I remember when I lost my first cat, Sam, I was in a restaurant with my mom 3 months later and when she mentioned him I started crying. I’d had him for 16 years! If an animal spends a significant part of your life with you, you’ll probably spend a significant amount of time missing them. Be gentle with yourself and cry when you need to, you’ll feel so much better if you don’t hold it in.
  2. The flip side is also knowing when to get help. If you feel like you can’t function in your normal life, are losing sleep, or are feeling so sad that you don’t want to get up, please see a counselor. Also you might try supporting yourself with homeopathic remedies for grief or stress (these helped me, especially Rescue Remedy), using aromatherapy, and just generally taking really good care of yourself. If you’re not sleeping and having trouble eating you’re going to be more emotional, whether you realize it or not.
  3. Say thank you to the people that helped you with your pet, whether it was your vet, friends, or family members that were there for you. Writing thank you notes to those special people that made a difference for me in the last few days helped me to have closure.
  4. You can have your pet’s ashes returned to you, which is something I chose to do. No it’s not weird and no it’s not scary. She’s in a beautiful cedar box with her name on it, and it’s smaller than a box of Kleenex. I’m glad I did this, it made me feel better somehow. You can also purchase custom urns on Etsy and they also have memorial jewelry for your pet’s ashes or fur, and most are reasonably priced.
  5. You can also create a ritual for your pet or do something meaningful to create a sort of memorial. My mom had a friend that passed away and she decided to knit a scarf in her friend’s favorite colors to wear when she was missing her. I light a candle at home every night next to all of the cards that I got for Cricket, which makes me feel better. You can say a prayer for your pet or even talk to your pet, whatever helps you process. Frame your favorite picture of them, or if you feel like you need to, take their pictures down for awhile. It doesn’t have to be forever. Finally, if like me you’re still embedded in the daily rituals of having your pet, like opening blinds or leaving their favorite blanket out, keep doing it if it helps you cope. For the time being keeping those routines is helping me and I know that one day I won’t need them anymore.

 

Special thanks to the East Orlando Animal Hospital staff and Dr. Yaicha Peters, Shawn, Keila, Owen, Terri, and Robert, and Greenbrier Memory Gardens and Crematory, who specialize in afterlife care for animals.

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Children’s Burials

Some of you might wince at this and stop reading, if you even got this far, and I get it. I don’t have children but like a lot of women I still turn into a lioness when I see or hear of them being mistreated, and I feel so much sadness for anyone who loses a child. I don’t know what that’s like, but I imagine a pain that is completely soul crushing. I have a friend who told me once about losing her child before it was even 2 weeks old and I sat and cried with her, and then cried on the plane after our visit, still under the spell of pain and anguish. I do know that it’s not something you ever get over and that some people never move past it.

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It’s this particular kind of pain that makes children’s burials so poignant and also so very personal. It is usually on these graves where we see the most creativity, the sweetest pictures, and the most gifts left on the grave. A concentrated space for children in a cemetery is usually called Babyland, and it’s usually marked with a sign as if you couldn’t tell already by the style of the headstones and the feel of the place. If the family already has a plot purchased, the child will usually go with the rest of the family. If not, the plot is purchased in the section for babies instead. At Greenwood Cemetery here in Orlando there are three Babyland sections, and one of them is a newer space and is always fluttering with balloons, pinwheels, and wind chimes. It’s an active space within the cemetery, and I love that. When we went the week after Halloween to take some pictures we found that someone had gone through the entire section and left 3 pieces of candy on each grave, as though the babies had been trick-or-treating.

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Headstones for children range from the more sedate stones to ones that are in the shape of cartoon characters or small animals. A Pac-Man in South Carolina comes to mind that was designed for an eight year old boy. The traditional stone for children usually has a lamb on the top, though I have seen them with small birds that appear the be lying down. A lot of children’s stones have some type of picture on them, which can be heartbreaking to see. I particularly like the photos that aren’t studio pictures, but ones where the child is playing and happy. I have a favorite one of these that I featured in a previous post. It was during my last visit to Greenwood that I saw my first post-mortem portrait of a child on a headstone, and it startled me as the date was from the 1990’s. I had always believed this to be a much older custom (also more European) and had never seen a post-mortem on any headstone before. It startled me a bit because it was unexpected given the dates in this plot- which ranged from 1975 to present day, essentially my own lifespan.

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My favorite type of child’s markers are the ones with the child lying down, usually on some type of draped bed. They’re beautiful and peaceful but not something that I get to see that often. I saw two of them recently, one in Magnolia Cemetery and one in Bethany Cemetery, both in Charleston. There is also a good example of a child reclining on a bed at St. Roch’s Cemetery in New Orleans, right when you enter the cemetery gates. However, that’s not what makes that cemetery so spooky. If you’ve never been, it’s what’s inside the chapel that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. (Google it.) In Savannah one of the most famous child’s graves is that of Gracie Watson in Bonaventure. She had so many visitors and gifts that the cemetery erected a fence around her to keep her safe. Even with the fence, there are gifts left everywhere for her, and of course there are always rumors that she walks around the cemetery at night.

The baby section in the Geneva Cemetery here in Florida is fenced off completely with a wooden picket fence, as though they wanted people to stay out of the section. When you lean over the fence with your hands on the top to look in, you get the same sensation of looking into a crib and I wondered if that was part of the planning since the plot is so small and only holds a few children.

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I think for me one of the most interesting aspects of the Babyland sections is the type of sculpture chosen for the space. In Greenwood there is an angel looking down at her empty hands, as if she had been cradling a child and looked down to find that it was suddenly gone. I suppose it’s also a way for grieving parents to imagine their own children held in those heavenly arms and perhaps find some comfort in that.

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Rosalie Raymond White in Magnolia Cemetery

I’ve been reading recently about the prevalence of finding a likeness on a tombstone ever since I saw this grave last month. It’s quite rare to see a death mask on a tombstone, and the rumor is that the tiny face on this unusual marker is in fact a death mask, or a likeness taken after death.

Today there are various ways of including the person’s face on their tombstone- ceramic portraits are still popular, and now I’m starting to see more and more laser etching actually on the headstone, creating what is basically a black and white portrait of the person. While these are extraordinarily detailed and large, they don’t thrill me the same way that ceramics do. I think they’re beautiful in an old-fashioned sort of way, and they can be quite varied. One friend of mine actually saw one that had a couple captured while sleeping on the couch, both wearing horrible Christmas sweaters.

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However, a death mask is in a completely different class. I’ve seen pictures of headstones in Alabama created by artist/inventor Isaac Nettles. While they’re still called death masks, Mr. Nettles created these likenesses while the person was alive, and then incorporated the masks into headstones. They’re arresting, to say the least. The Mt. Nebo Cemetery is on my list of places to visit just to see these.

I’d heard about the baby grave in Magnolia Cemetery before we went to Charleston, and it was high on my list of headstones to find when we got there. But as it turns out so many times when we’re on these visits, we found it by chance. We were driving through just to get an idea of the massive cemetery layout when Shawn stopped the car and said, “Look at that!”

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We were parked right by it.

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Rosalie Raymond White’s  (d. 1882) headstone is actually a detailed bassinet, and her likeness is peering out of it with a green patina to her little face. I touched it but was unable to determine what the face was made of, but it had eyes that seemed to follow me uncannily as I walked around the plot. The bassinet was actually a planter and had flowers blooming in it that someone had kept up with, and small toys left by admirers littered the space. The plot itself was fascinating, and also sad. All of the stones were extremely detailed, including one for a child called Rosebud that was a sleeping baby ensconced in a kind of shell or shrine. Her marker does not have any dates and I assumed that she was stillborn (though I prefer the term born sleeping). The sad part was that out of all of Rosalie and Blake White’s six children, four died before they’d even survived a year. This plot backs up to the water that wanders through the cemetery, some parts back up to a pond and much of the property (including the beautiful mausoleum row) faces the marsh and unfortunately has the smell of the marsh, especially around the receiving tomb built in 1850. (Go inside it, it’s amazing and seats 4.)

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Magnolia Cemetery was opened in 1850 and is sprawling. We went three times, once to get a peek before they closed, then the same night for the Confederate Ghost Walk, and then the next day to see the mausoleums, which are outstanding and varied. Many of them were open, so you can wander inside and check out the architecture. I went in all of them that were open. Shawn did not, but to his credit he did go in the receiving vault which had cobwebs hanging like stalactites and smelled funny. The property is still an active cemetery serving the Charleston community and also has a gorgeous new mausoleum space on the premises. The Ghost Walk started from there so we got to spend some time walking around it under the full moon.

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The walk itself was really amazing, it was an hour and a half long moonlight tour with costumed reenactments of the highlights of Charleston history. It was 18 bucks and I would have done it again the next night if it was taking place again, but it’s only once a year so GO! I was having a great time until we got to the last stop. In the middle of the speech made by the uniformed actor the woman next to me took two steps back from the group and fainted, dropping to her knees as her husband tried to catch her fall.

That stirred things up a bit, as I’m sure you can imagine. Thankfully, she was okay and was sitting quietly on the steps of a family plot when we left, drinking water and surrounded by women in hoopskirts.

Unitarian Churchyard in Charleston, South Carolina

It was a Sunday when we went to see this church and cemetery, and the whole world was bright. The sun was bright, the colors were bright, and as we walked down the old streets to the church, people in bright clothes were walking along to go to services. It was a beautiful day. We passed an incredible pink house on the way with peeling paint and a crooked porch that I stopped to photograph. Shawn thought it was a fixer-upper. I thought I’d move right in if I could. I grew up in a pink house and they still appeal to me.

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The Unitarian church is a pale yellow color and construction started in 1772 and was nearly completed in 1776, just in time for the war to start. It is rumored that horses and men were stabled in the church together. (Wouldn’t surprise me.) It was repaired after the war and then had a peaceful existence until 1886 when an earthquake did massive damage to the tower and buttresses. It was repaired again and finally became a national historic landmark in the 1970’s, and rightly so.

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Because of the services we didn’t get to go inside, but we did get to go through the incredibly small and intimate cemetery on the side of the building, which feels more like a secret garden than a burial place. People were outside sitting on the benches in the sunlight, talking and drinking coffee among the tombstones. A woman dusted off a crypt in a particularly overgrown part of the cemetery and sat down on it ( I cringed) and then she lowered her head and appeared to be praying for quite some time. I passed her three times and on the fourth pass I didn’t see her and wondered if I’d imagined her being there. Eventually, everyone went into the church and Shawn and I had the place to ourselves. We were walking down the paths when the bells started ringing, loud and long in the clear morning, and afterward everything seemed to be very quiet. It was just us and the tiny yellow butterflies; everyone else was inside.

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Part of what makes this cemetery so special is that it’s not a cultivated garden space; it’s wild. But unlike some of the other cemeteries I’ve been to that are well and truly overgrown, this one has clear paths through the trees and bushes, and it’s full of color. There are flowering vines everywhere, and they’re taking over. It’s breathtaking in a rambling, riotous way, rather than being interesting in a weedy, uncared for way. There’s nothing sad about this place.

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One grave  for Ephraim Seabrook Mikell stood out to me because it was in the slow process of being engulfed by a tree trunk. The headstone read “Died after a short illness…A favorite with all who knew him”. He died in 1896, his wife Rebecca was nearby along with their child, Julia, who died the same year she was born. The Seabrook family had a long history in South Carolina, but I wasn’t able to find out much about Mr. Mikell.

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There is also a famous grave among the 600 interred here, and that is the grave of poet Caroline Howard Gilman who was the daughter of Samuel Howard, a shipwright who played a part in the Boston Tea Party. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember seeing her grave even though I was probably right next to it.

I can’t say that I had a favorite grave in this cemetery because the whole thing was my favorite…all of it. It’s one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, so please go visit if you’re in the area.

And if you see a woman sitting on a crypt praying, go poke her on the arm and let me know if she was real or not.

 

 

 

Charnel Cemetery in Deland, Florida.

The word charnel means “associated with death” and a charnel house means “a repository for bones”, and that was exactly the feeling I had in this cemetery, as if all of these people had been dropped off, were anonymous, and unable to tell their story. This cemetery is also known as the Potter’s Field, where they once buried the poor or unknown in Deland. This cemetery has 450 burials and faces the back of the hospital. It does not have a sign from the road for you to find it, you have to look for the hospital as a landmark. The road to the cemetery appears unused.

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It’s the saddest cemetery I’ve ever been to.

Jane Burr wrote an article on this cemetery for the Roots and Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County Summer 2015 newsletter. In it she mentions that the land for the hospital was at one time the Volusia County Home, or welfare home. The cemetery may have been part of it, but it’s not known for sure. Some of the graves are marked with headstones and some simply have numbers, most of which have worn off. Some have dates and others don’t. Some have names, and one heartbreaking one simply said Twin A and Twin B, with only a last name.

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The graves run in order, starting at the back from the 1960’s and culminate in the front of the property in the late 1990’s. The most recent grave I found was from 1998. There were other puzzles here though- in the far right corner I saw 2 small graves of children that were with the 1960’s row, but were dated 1995. They had been visited and had small mementos on the graves. At the front there were several graves that were right up against the chain link fence and were facing the other graves, and they were from the 90’s also. I couldn’t figure out why they were in a different direction. If you know, please leave a comment or go to the contact form.

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When I pulled up I passed the entrance and went instead to the mostly empty hospital parking lot. I parked at the end facing the cemetery and noticed that there were weeds and debris, so I got out, opened the back of the Durango, and pulled off my sandals and pulled on my high rubber boots. I locked the door and started walking down the slope to the cemetery road. Three women stood under a tree in the parking lot, smoking and watching me. They stayed the whole time I was there.

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Stepping into the knee high weeds of the cemetery was like having a heavy blanket thrown over me. It felt sad. It looked unloved. Someone had mowed the grass over the summer and had left the clippings to dry on top of the stones, stuck across the names in a thick mat. I brushed off several of them until I got a splinter and stopped, and even then I just used my other hand instead if I really wanted to see a name. A huge tree and large branch were down in one corner of the cemetery and had broken the fence, and as a result about 20 of the graves were obscured. The hurricane had just happened and no one had been out here yet, which was totally understandable since Volusia county had been smacked by Matthew. There was no number on the gate to call, but I was almost certain that someone would be here to maintain the place. The city owns it.

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I know that during construction of the hospital a skull was found and construction was stopped while they investigated. And then, as is usually the case, it resumed. Investigators found another 13 graves outside of the site that were left alone, and said that the ones on site were dated 1900-1950. There are few records for the people who lived at the county home, but the news article from 2015 indicates that the conditions were terrible.

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A depressing story, all the way around. When I walked back up the hill to the Durango the women stubbed out their cigarettes and left. I put on some loud music to try to clear the heavy feeling and drove to Starbucks, the home of all things cheerful and tasty. It worked for awhile until I got home and tried to pull the splinter out of my finger, and I thought that I’ll probably never forget what that place felt like.

I wish the city would rename the cemetery.

 

Cemeteries and Hurricanes

We survived Hurricane Matthew- it wobbled off to the side of us and we only got some wind and a lot of rain, and then a few days off from work. An hour after the curfew was lifted Shawn and I drove a couple of miles down the road to one of my favorite cemeteries to check on it. Lake Hill has an older section with some beautiful headstones and I was concerned about their proximity to the trees, one big tree in particular. When we got there a caretaker was already on the property in his golf cart, which was full of branches he’d been picking up. He was riding out another squall while parked beneath the very tree that I’d been concerned about. We pulled up and asked him how the cemetery fared, and he said that it hadn’t been too bad, and that they had pruned the tree before hurricane season started.

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Greenwood, Orlando.

Next door to Lake Hill is the Jewish cemetery, Ohev Shalom, which is a nice size and has about 1200 interments. This cemetery is designed more like a park and is very beautiful, and has a small chapel on the property toward the back where outdoor (and indoor too, I think) services can be held. Lake Hill looked like it had survived a windy day, but Ohev Shalom looked like it had survived a hurricane. We walked through and pulled branches away from graves if we were able to do it without damage. The blooms in the trees had been blown around and part of the main drive looked like it had yellow carpeting. Overall it was very messy, but no trees were down and nothing was broken.

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Ohev Shalom, Orlo Vista.

Restless after a couple of days at home we decided to drive toward the beach on Sunday- basically we forgot that the coast had taken the beating that was also meant for us in Orlando. We saw downed power lines, poles for the power lines literally snapped like a pencil, huge trees down, power company trucks everywhere. People were still doing cleanup at their homes; we live in a condo and didn’t have to do anything. I felt so bad for them. Some of the homes we saw had screened enclosures for their pools and patios and these had been ripped to shreds. Volusia county had sustained a lot of damage, and some of the roads were still covered with debris.

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Greenwood, Orlando.

We went to the Ormond Tomb, which we had discovered on a blog somewhere and wanted to see. It’s the resting place of Scottsman and plantation owner James Ormond, who died in 1829. He’s in the middle of a park- with a charming view of the swing sets and slides. It looks like a place to have a nice picnic until you realize there’s a guy buried there.  The top of his tomb has a single inscription- “An Honest Man”. The stone slab is not original, the grave was vandalized and the stone was replaced with the one there now. The tomb itself looks like it was made of coquina, though one source says it’s concrete, but it’s so old it’s hard to say. To get to it, we had to climb over a huge pine tree that had fallen over, but we did this without a problem. There are no other known graves in the park and James is all by his lonesome there, and there is no information on how he actually died.

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James Ormond, an honest man….

After that we went to find Groover Creek Cemetery (Ormond), which is in the back of a subdivision and lies on a small plot between two houses. I had already given up on finding it when Shawn pointed and said that he saw a fence. I was mad, and in a lot of pain that day from a back injury but not in the mood to sit in the house anymore, so I was saying that we should just get out of there when I looked over and shazam! There was the sign!

1894 is the earliest marked burial, but my favorite ones were handmade stones from 1901 that had script writing on them. Many of the headstones were broken, but had been propped right where they fell, which was a good thing. I hope they’re able to get them repaired at some point. It is mentioned that it was originally for Civil War soldiers, and that there should be around 30 burials there. There are not that many headstones though. This cemetery has been taken up by the Eagle Scouts and has been maintained and is nicely fenced off, however, there was a tree down and numerous large branches on the day that we visited. It did not appear that any of the stones were damaged in the hurricane though and I feel sure that this cemetery will be cleaned up soon. That neighborhood had a lot of wind damage and had signs up for a boil water alert.

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Groover Creek in Ormond.

Over the weekend we also did a drive through of Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando to see how they had fared. It’s one of my favorite local cemeteries and it had numerous huge trees down or broken. Hard to say how much damage was done, but I know that clean-up there will be a major- and probably very expensive effort.

For more information on hurricanes and how they affect cemeteries you can visit Chicora Foundation-and also see some pretty distressing pictures. They say one thing in their disaster plan for cemeteries that I absolutely love and that is work with a professional conservator. Basically, do not glue stuff back together yourself. For historic cemeteries, this can make all the difference in truly preserving the historical value of the place for future generations, genealogists… and people like me.

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Charnel Cemetery, Deland. (Featured in a future post)

This weekend we’re off to Charleston to celebrate Shawn’s birthday, and while there we plan to tackle a list of 7 cemeteries. At least that’s the plan, and we’re very excited about it. I might even get to wear a sweater!

The Little Huntley Church and Cemetery

I saw this church while we were on our way to Boone, and I looked at Shawn and said, “I’m sorry, but you have to stop.” The sun was going down and we didn’t have much time, but I really wanted to see it.

So he stopped. We walked around for almost 30 minutes, took pictures, and looked in the windows. Country churches have always had my heart. I think it’s the idea of people gathering in a place where it was most likely their only chance to interact with their community once a week, because the rest of their lives were devoted to hard work on their farms, or taken up with other businesses. But I also think that you can feel devotion in these places. Devotion to God. To gathering together. To building a place by hand for this to happen.

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In my wanderings I’ve seen many small country churches, but this one stood out because it was quite primitive, with no steeple and a simple graveyard in the back of the sandy lot. I was so excited when I got out of the car I didn’t know what to look at first- the church or the graves.

I’m sure you know which one I headed for first.

Four small graves toward the front were marked with stones and had small pebbles covering them. They were child sized, and all quite close together. Toward the back we began to see taller gravestones that had beautiful elaborate text, all with the same scroll pattern at the top. Many of the dates could not be read, sadly, but it was still wonderful to see them, especially since they were most likely created by the same hand.

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I walked back up the lot to the church and stood at the front door. The white paint had turned a creamy peach color with the setting sun hitting it and it was just beautiful. I could hear the wood popping and creaking as I stood there on the new ramp they had built to cover the old stone steps leading into the church. But then I noticed a large crack between the two doors, which were closed with a simple padlock. I leaned forward, put my eye to the crack, and looked inside. The pews looked original, and they were dark with age. The church also didn’t appear to have electricity since there were gas lanterns hanging on the walls to provide light. It wasn’t a huge space, but the simplicity of the design and the white walls made the place seem calm and peaceful. Everything stood out on its own; you could see the separate elements.

But the smell! The smell of sunshine on old wood! It was incredible- strong and aromatic. It reminded me of being a kid and climbing up the hay bales to the top of the tobacco barn that my grandfather had on his property. I would lay on top of the bales and breathe in the scent of the wood and the hay, and I would listen to the creaks and moans of the old building, and splatters of rain on the tin roof. The smell of this tiny church took me right back there. The church faced a busy road and I know anyone driving by would see a woman pressed against the front doors, her face wedged as far into the crack between the doors as possible, but I didn’t care. I stood there until Shawn came up and asked to peek.

While he looked I walked over to look into the wavy glass windows to see inside a little better. I was on my tiptoes, and I noticed that in the pulpit there was an ornate upright piano and a painting of a bearded man hanging on the wall. My guess was that he was Joseph Huntley, the builder, because it sure wasn’t the Lord.

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The church was built in 1902 and Joseph Huntley was buried out back, I had been standing next to his grave when I took some of the photos. If I have the right Huntley, he didn’t get to enjoy his church very long. He died in 1903, a year after the church was completed.

I did read that the church is no longer in use on one website, and that it has services once a year in June on another website (Find A Grave).

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Earlier this year Caroline and I were driving back from Richmond on a cloudy afternoon and I was looking out the car window, watching the scenery whiz past. There were some woods, and then suddenly a vast cornfield with a very old, weathered church at the back of it. The crops came right up against the church, which had a small steeple. Most of the windows seemed to be gone. The white paint had peeled off with years of storms, snow, and sun, but to me it was absolutely perfect. We thought about turning around to try to stop and get photos, but it would have been difficult since it was literally right off the highway.

Most people have what I call a Million Dollar Dream. Its the one that starts with- If money were no object… and it goes from there. I never wanted a huge house or a Maserati, I’m happy with my education, and I think I have enough jewelry. My splurge would be on an old building- historic, really. Research. Restoration. Maybe a chunk of land. Advertising. Then I’d turn it into a memorial center for funerals and give the proceeds to…somebody.

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Earlier this year one of my friends was hospitalized, and we had no idea what was wrong for a few days. It was terrifying. One night after visiting the hospital I knew I couldn’t make it to my car before I started crying. I knew where the hospital chapel was though, and I went for it. Even though it had lamps, there were still fluorescent lights buzzing away overhead and the chapel was full of industrial chairs turned in all different directions. I sat for awhile, thinking about how I might have felt better braving the stares of others and heading to my car anyway. Modern spaces are a fact of life, but not necessarily a comfort, and I understand that facilities do their best with their funding and their corporate regulations. But still…

I think that if you go though something traumatic, it just might help ease the pain somewhat if you sit in a place that hundreds have sat in before you, and you can feel the weight of all those years, and prayers, and ancestors surrounding you. I’ve never once felt like that in a modern church, no matter how much I love the pastor or how many people attend, but I know that some other people do.

But…not me. If being in an old space comforts me in some way, it might comfort others as well when they need it most.

 

 

Pine Forest Cemetery, Mt. Dora

This cemetery is worth a visit when you’re done antiquing in Renninger’s and are ready to walk around outside. For one thing- it’s beautiful, even though I’m not a huge fan of pine trees in cemeteries. I usually prefer the sprawling oaks instead. But this place is peaceful and well designed, and it’s a good cemetery to walk in. (No burrs. No anthills the size of Cadillacs. No slithering wildlife.)

I visited about a year ago before I started the blog and noticed a stone on the right hand side that seemed to be turned in an odd direction. I walked over to take a look, and saw a headstone that really broke my heart. It seems like there are some where you can actually feel the horror of the event that took place, and this was one of them.

The young Warburton family was from England, and they were traveling by wagon when the horse went to the pond to drink. Some reports say that Fiddler’s Pond was actually a sinkhole- the pond is still in Mt. Dora though I’ve never seen it. The horse fell in and took the family with them, and all of them drowned.

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This is a more modern cemetery, though there is an old section by the Warburton stone. However, my favorite cemetery in the area is the Mt. Carmel-Simpson Cemetery, not in Mt. Dora, but it’s on the way if you’re coming from the Zellwood area. This is one of the first African-American cemeteries I’d ever seen that was saved from abandonment, and it is really incredible to visit. For one thing, it’s in the parking lot of the St. Patrick Church off of highway 441. You pull into the parking lot, think you’re in the wrong place, and then you look out the car window and see the graves in the woods. About 60 of them.

This was a well organized clean-up back in 2010, where graves were mapped and numbered stones erected for the unmarked graves. There wasn’t much of a path, but most of the underbrush had been cleared so it was comfortable walking and you could see all of the stones easily. This was one of my first experiences seeing a vernacular headstone, there are several there that are beautifully handmade and I couldn’t get over it. They’re my favorite, they say so much more than the modern stones. The cemetery has a lot of fern and ivy and it is pleasantly sheltered by huge trees. You feel like you’re literally in the middle of the woods after just a few steps in.

That day also changed the way I plan for my weekend outings. I now keep a ‘cemetery bag’ in my car for any little thing that might be needed, because that day when I left I had 37 mosquito bites all over me (we counted). I spent the drive home scratching my legs into giant welts and feeling frantic, thinking about encephalitis and whether or not dengue fever had ever made it’s  way to Florida. My cemetery bag was handmade by my friend Vicki, and it contains deep-woods OFF, calamine lotion, antihistamine spray, band-aids, spray sunscreen, and a flashlight. I’ve needed all of those items during the last year during all of my cemetery visits.

I’m ready for anything except for a stone falling on top of me.