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.

Hiram J. Hampton in Woodlawn Cemetery, Tampa

This monument had me out of my car in a flash, camera at the ready. It’s so striking, but unfortunately because of it’s positioning it isn’t the easiest one to photograph. There is also a tree on the plot that tends to shade this magnificent couple, and again adds to the complicated task of getting a good shot. So forgive the photos- but definitely go see it.

Woodlawn Cemetery is in Tampa and like all larger cemeteries it includes other smaller ones within its gates, like Showman’s Rest, Beth Israel, and Centro Asturiano just to name a few. Basically you could spend the day here, and just for fun look at the map of this thing.  It has over 24,000 burials and only 30% are photographed according to Find A Grave. I’ve been twice so far,but as it always happens when I start researching for blog posts I found out about the Marti/Colon Cemetery in Tampa, so I’ll be headed back over there soon to see that. Big mausoleum on the property? Yes, please.

Hiram was a doctor in Tampa (rumored to be the first one in the city) who was born in 1852 in Madison County, Georgia. His wife Emma is next to him and there is some speculation about their backs being turned to the city of Tampa, but one clever person pointed out that they are actually facing their children (of which there were many) who are buried in the plot in front of them. The couple looks like they’re talking at the end of a long day. He holds a book. She holds a fan. The large portrait on her grave is missing but his is still intact. They are remarkable and made of Italian marble.

Emma died 12 years before Hiram in 1908 and she was also from Georgia. She brought 8 children into the world, 3 of which died in infancy.

The photos of the couple on Find A Grave show them cleaner than they are now, but they’re still one of my favorite monuments to date. Restoring and cleaning marble is a costly and delicate process, and I’m sure it’s something that nobody wants to do in the Florida heat, and other than the dirt these statues are in wonderful condition.

One the way out of town I was stopped at a light and saw this, and was taken aback by all of the offerings this church managed to pack onto one sign. They definitely got their money’s worth and it looks like you can head to church on most nights during the week. That is one busy pastor.

 

CRPT Review

St. Augustine is one of my favorite cities, so a couple of years ago when I heard that the next Cemetery Resource Protection Training was going to be held there I knew I’d be first in line when the registration started. The first CRPT I went to was in Deland 2 years ago and we worked in the beautiful Oakdale Cemetery, which reminded me of a tiny version of Bonaventure. The class was fairly small for that one, maybe 30 of us. This time there were over 60 and not only had our numbers grown, but the curriculum did too.

After the first one I assumed that going again would just be brushing up on my skills and making sure I was still doing everything right if I was cleaning a headstone, stumbled across remains on a cemetery visit, or attempted to transcribe a marker. But this time I learned so much from so many different presenters that my head was spinning for days. Additionally, all of my cemetery visits in the last year had really paid off. I not only understood more, but I knew where most of the photographic examples of different graves came from because I’d been there to see them myself. That was a nice feeling.

The Florida Public Archaeology Network creates this workshop and many of the presenters come on their days off to take part. This is a very committed group of people, and it seems that the people taking the workshop have the same level of commitment to their cemeteries. Some were cemetery owners, some were caretakers for church cemeteries. There were genealogists there, and members of various historical societies throughout Florida. And of course there were lots of scholars and preservationists, so it was in incredible mix of people and I learned a lot just from talking to others. Our name badges had our affiliation on them so it was easy to tell who belonged to what group. I didn’t have the blog name on my badge, in fact I only mentioned it once when I exchanged cards with someone.

This year was also different because I now have an emotional investment in Page Jackson Cemetery and all of the ensuing drama taking place around that 11 acre plot of land. Everything that I learned I was mentally applying to that cemetery, and as a result my volunteer buddies and I met up afterward and came up with a workable game plan for the next 4-6 months. It thankfully doesn’t include land clearing, weed whackers, or chain saws. While those things are important, we have come to realize that there’s really only so much that can be done and it’s the people there that matter most, so that will be our focus. (We were fortunate enough to meet at The Stranded Sailor pub in Sanford- if you’ve never been it should definitely be on your list!)

The conference took place on the gorgeous Flagler College campus and our cemetery day was spent in two of the town’s precious and well-cared for cemeteries. The Huguenot Cemetery was established in 1821 for Yellow Fever victims, and the Tolomato Cemetery, which has the oldest marked grave in Florida from 1797. The highlight of the morning for me was being able to go into the cemetery chapel there, which I’ve always wanted to see. Like every mortuary chapel I’ve been in this one definitely had that same feeling of dead space that I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, and it smelled like salt water and old plaster and had gently peeling walls. Of course I absolutely loved it.

Afterward we took a trolley ride past multiple burial spaces in the city, which was fascinating. Plus we completely filled the trolley! I had imagined a trolley draped in black like Lincoln’s funeral train, but we had a shiny bright model in green and an amazingly skilled driver who could navigate the tiny streets downtown like a champ.

At the end of the conference we signed our names to an interest sheet to start a Florida chapter for the Association for Gravestone Studies or AGS. I am very excited about this, and hope to get to their conference next year.

If you’ve never been to this conference and love cemeteries please try to get to the next one or to one of their smaller workshops during the year. You can follow them on Facebook to get information about upcoming events.

Also- if you love reading about things like this- you might like this blog. A bit of death, a bit of glamour…it’s a gloomy girl’s best friend!

Upsala Swedish Cemetery in Sanford, Florida

I’m going to start by saying this land is for sale, which is the one thing guaranteed to make me freak out when it comes to historic cemeteries. It’s not cheap either; the listing price is $225,000 and they say it could potentially hold a 6000 square foot church facility. I’m not so sure about this though. The site is small, and used to be the location for one of the Swedish churches in the area (there is another one just down the road that you can see) but of course it burned down to the ground as these beautiful old buildings are wont to do. The Swedish came here to work on the citrus groves as part of Henry Sanford’s enterprising vision. The church on this site was called the Scandinavian Society Lutheran Church. There was also a meeting house and a small cemetery for what is considered the largest Swedish community in Florida at that time.

Churches in the late 1800’s were built for small communities and the churches were small too, not like the behemoths built for today’s modern congregations. Modern churches seem to need a gigantic place for kids, a teen center, a cafe, and a place for meetings like AA, Al Anon, and, Financial Peace University. I’ll be honest and say that I’m never comfortable going to these gigantic complexes because I feel like I’m headed to a rock concert rather than…church. With that said, this is not a property that could house that kind of facility plus parking. It has beautiful old oak trees and the property is deep but not wide. The cemetery is in the back, and it’s extremely overgrown. Find A Grave says there are 42 burials.

When I first heard about this cemetery I was told that when I got there that I should bend over and look under all of the bushes that I was able to get near. I thought this was really odd, but when I marched in that day in my boots I was determined to do it to see what my informant had been talking about. And she was right. The bushes had at one time been ornamental plantings on the graves- but now they were as tall as I am and huge. I bent over to look at the base of one, pushing a few branches out of the way, and I saw a couple of headstones. The shrubs had grown up around them and then overtaken them. After that I was creeping around bent double like I was having a hard day of cramps, trying to look into all of the shrubbery. There were more obscured headstones everywhere I looked.

This cemetery backs up to a subdivision and someone has made a well used path into the cemetery where they’ve created a sort of outdoor man-cave. There was a little trash, mostly cans and snack wrappers, and a few plastic chairs and a stone bench set up in a kind of circle. Somebody hangs out here a lot. I wonder if they might bring a rake sometime and get to work.

The cemetery also has an area that is full of thick ferns and there is lots of kudzu and vines in the trees. The property itself is magical and I sincerely wish that I could buy it and just restore the cemetery and call it a done deal. And believe me, there was a part of me that reasoned that I don’t have a mortgage payment and why not just buy it, but I know better.

So I’ve decided I’m going to ask Santa for it this year instead.

There is a lot of information about this community online and also a few nice historical markers in the area, so it’s worth a visit. You can’t miss the gigantic for sale sign at the front of the property, just park and then walk straight back. I’d advise boots though and be cautious about bees if you’re going to paw through bushes looking for headstones.

On June 1st I’ll be in St. Augustine for the CRPT conference on cemetery preservation and I am SO excited! The one I went to 2 years ago is what prompted me to start this blog so I hope after this one I’ll be motivated to start a podcast (thanks @collegeparkmom!), buy my own cemetery, write a book, or something else industrious. If you’re local and you want to go I believe there is still space left and it’s a 2 day conference for 60 bucks. You can’t beat it for everything that you’ll learn.

Regina Bailey in Page Jackson Cemetery

We were out for a morning of picking up trash and taking photos recently in Page Jackson. It was so pretty outside, and we were all chatting and enjoying the weather and the sound of the birds in the trees. The cemetery is heavily wooded and walking around can be treacherous, but we’re committed to going out there regularly and keeping up with any changes, staying on top of the dumping, and making sure there’s not any additional vandalism. I will admit that I went at night recently just to look around. It’s a busy place when the sun goes down because we saw cars coming and going and even though I was there at night I wasn’t too happy about all of the activity. The Sanford police park an empty car outside of the cemetery as a deterrent, but it’s clearly ignored.

For the time being just being present and picking up trash is enough. Plus, the more we go out and walk around the more the paths will stay clear and people can still get around. That morning there were 3 of us on garbage duty, two of us with grabbers and one just using her hands and gloves. We were carrying lawn sized trash bags and filling them up rapidly.

Gus happened upon a piece of metal in the sandy soil and when he was unable to get it with the trash grabber he bent down to unearth it. When I glanced over I thought it was another buried can. The people who frequent this cemetery at night have a taste for Natty Light, and we see tons of those cans out there. However, it was a grave marker.

It was a standard funeral home marker, aluminum, with the name Regina Bailey on it. The dates were intact and the name of the funeral home was on it, but that’s all. The date of death was 1997.

We raised it, took a brief photo for later research, and went on about our task. Soon after we gathered up the bags of trash to dispose of them and left for the day. On the way out of the cemetery we saw an elderly man driving past, and he waved a hand at us to get us to stop. I jumped out to go speak to him.

“Do you work here?” he asked me.

I told him we just came out to pick up trash.

“I’m looking for my dad,” he said simply. “I think he was buried around here somewhere but I don’t know where, and he died in 1980.”

I looked at the ruins of the cemetery behind me with a sinking feeling. Since we started our cleaning and research efforts a few months ago we’ve realized that while 1,083 burials are listed and mostly photographed, there could potentially be up to 2,900 people buried here that nobody knows about. I thought about Regina Bailey’s buried marker and wondered how many more there were waiting to be found.

I asked for his father’s name and he gave it to me, and I looked him up on the Find A Grave app. There was no one by that name listed for the cemetery.

It REALLY bothered me on so many levels. I tried again when I got home, opening up the search to nearby cemeteries and was unable to locate the man’s father. When I said goodbye to him I recommended that he call the cemetery office or the funeral home, and he said he would try that. When we drove out of the cemetery he was by the sign looking for a number.

First, I was upset that people still come there to look for loved ones and the place is trashed. Second, what if his Dad’s marker was in there and we just hadn’t found it? What if, like Ms. Bailey’s, it was buried and no one had been able to see it for the last survey in 1998 when people photographed the cemetery?

The next weekend the three of us went back and took a better photo of Regina Bailey’s marker. In the past week I’d found her obituary online and the houses she’d lived in in Sanford. I knew a little bit about her, but there really wasn’t much information. After we took the photos I added her to Find A Grave and that was a good feeling. Now someone in her family can look her up, find her, and at least try to come see her if they feel like walking in here. The only problem is that we don’t know if that’s where she was actually buried, or if her marker was taken from another part of the cemetery and buried there in some other scenario. The area of the cemetery where her marker is located is pretty packed already, and she would technically be in the roadway.

It’s one more thing here that doesn’t make sense. If you’re interested in coming out with us in the next few weeks please feel free to email me at marnie.bench@gmail.com. It’s getting hot here already so we take it easy.

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Lincoln Memorial Park in Miami, Florida

Imagine a massive amount of above ground, inaccessible burials and a feeling of complete overwhelm and you have Lincoln Memorial Park in Miami- Dade county. It was the one that I wanted to see the most, and not to be a complete drama queen, but after I got my photos I got back in the car and sat in my seat, crying. It’s a horrible place and it made me desperately sad.

Front entrance, Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery.

Shawn and I pulled up to the front gate to see if it was even open for the public and we found the gates shut and closed with a rusted padlock. The last update I’d seen online about this cemetery was from 2015 on a website someone had created in an effort to get help for the cemetery from the city. They were asking for signatures from the public protesting the sorry state that it’s in. I had no idea what to expect, so when I saw the locked gates and saw a cleared path through the center of the cemetery, I thought with relief that someone was caring for it. Maybe the city had become involved after all. There was also a dead Gofundme page with the last donation made 14 months ago. The total raised was 1,600 dollars of a 10,000 dollar goal. And here’s the thing- it’s not enough, even if they make it. An incomplete project in a cemetery is still a problem because it’s not fixed. People who start these pages with good intentions always low-ball the figure expecting the community to help out if the goal is less intimidating, but it’s not enough to complete the project in most cases and if the public doesn’t really know the value of the place, why would they help out? Like anything else you have to sell a cemetery and explain WHY the place is important and why people should want to save it.

I think I just created a job for myself. Call me if you have a defunct cemetery you want to publicize.

Most of Lincoln Memorial Park is above ground.

Here is why this cemetery is vastly important to the community in Miami and in South Florida’s history: the first black millionaire in Miami, Dana Albert Dorsey, is buried there. The first undertaker to serve the black community is there, Kelsey Pharr- in fact, he bought the place in 1937. Gwendolyn Sawyer Cherry is also buried there, the first black woman on the Florida Legislature. The founder of the Miami Times is there, H.E.S. Reeves. But there’s no way to see them or get to them because the cemetery is not even functional as a public space. And it’s disgusting.

When I got out of the car I left my door open and the smell hit me. I turned to look at Shawn through in the driver’s seat, and he was making a face.

“I’ve never smelled anything that bad at a cemetery,” I said. He agreed. It was a stench of decay and trash rotting in the sun, and it was rolling across the crypts like a wave. The farther down the fence line I walked, the worse the smell got and I started to wonder about the possibility of broken crypts. At the end of the fence at the corner I turned and the graves were almost completely obliterated by vines and garbage. People had thrown bags and raw trash right over the fence on top of the above ground vaults, and it was nauseating. I moved a few steps closer to get a photo and saw the tail of a large snake moving silently through the green growth. Much of the fence was topped with rusted barbed wire, but on the left side of the cemetery it was regular chain link, and anyone could reach over it or climb in if they were brave as hell.

The side of Lincoln Memorial Park, with trash thrown on top of the graves.

This cemetery has had a problem with vandalism tied to Santeria or some other similar practice. Several years ago seven crypts were broken into and body parts removed, including a child’s skull. Please believe me when I tell you that this is something that happens in most cemeteries that are not cared for, and some that are. In 2015 the owner Elyn Johnson was too broke to do anything about this place, and she was quite elderly. There is no money for upkeep, or at this point- damage control. The cemetery was passed down to her with no funding and she wanted to keep it, even though she can’t afford basic cemetery maintenance. And I get that, it was left to her. But I also don’t get that, because the people buried there deserve better and the families deserve a safe place to go visit. Let it go to someone who can afford to care for it because most people don’t want their legacy to be a rotting, hideous cemetery that no one can enter.

There’s a lot more to say here, but this isn’t the right time or the right cemetery for me to get all preachy. I say choose your battles, and I chose mine awhile back and it’s here in Central Florida.

I dried my tears and Shawn took me out for Cuban coffee and pastries, which helped some, but that night when I closed my eyes I saw those graying vaults in the sun covered in garbage and vines and smelled the stench all over again, and it took me awhile to get to sleep. It’s not ghosts haunting this cemetery, it’s the place itself that haunts you.

 

It’s Not Always So Serious

Most of the time when I walk through a cemetery to take photos and get basic information about the place I’m quiet, just going through and looking for something interesting. The visits aren’t really exciting, but I still enjoy them. Most of the time I get usable photos and am happy with them and will end up writing about the place. Sometimes I get usable photos but don’t find out much about the cemetery when I go to do research, and I won’t write about it. On one or two occasions I didn’t like the way the place looked or felt, or saw something there that I didn’t like, and I wouldn’t write about the cemetery for that reason.

After a year and 2 months of doing this I have ended up with quite a few photos on my phone that were not great for the post at the time, but that I still want to share because they were funny or strange, or just one of those dumb luck photos that turned out to be oddly artistic after the fact. My favorite one from last year is this one (below)- not taken at a cemetery- but at a plantation in Volusia County. This was a bad day for me. Hurricane Matthew had been visiting Florida the week before and we had been stuck indoors for too long and decided to get out of the house. Because we don’t watch the news and we both tend to get our news from online sources we were not entirely aware of the amount of damage that had been done to Volusia County. We had a list of 3 cemeteries, one grave site, and one plantation ruin to visit.

The grave site was an easy find, it’s the Ormond Tomb and literally in the middle of a state park where Mister Ormond rests all by his lonesome. The cemeteries were okay, but we had a lot of trouble finding one of them and we were passing people who were cleaning up their yards, sawing trees into pieces to be carted away, and checking their roofs. The debris on the roadside was in big piles and it was not a good day for us to be doing this. I had a headache and was cranky by the time we got to the plantation ruin, and when I got out of the car the first thing I wondered was where the cemetery would have been. I started marching through debris and mud (I was in sandals, btw) and that was when the mosquitoes descended on us with a clear mission to kill. Shawn, who doesn’t really sweat much or have a smell that attracts bugs, and has consequently never been bothered by them kept going. I turned and ran as best I could back to the Jeep while slapping myself all over trying to kill the hordes that kept landing on me. Shawn took this photo right before that happened. I got home that night and sat in a tub full of Aveeno counting bug bites and worrying about encephalitis. My bites- over 30. Shawn- maybe 3.

Next is a photo of me in a receiving vault in Magnolia Cemetery. Shawn was trying to get a photo of the sign and mostly failed. My face however, showed up out of the gloom from inside the vault and I look weird and elongated for some reason. I blame the Android phone. He said he was just trying to get the sign. The picture is horrible, but weird.

This one is of my Mom, who walks with a cane. In this photo she is standing on an old picnic table in Midway, Georgia in order to see over the fence at an historic cemetery there that she had visited once. When we got there it was 8 a.m. and the gates were locked. She shook her cane at me, held out her hand, and indicated that I was to help her up onto the table, which she manged to climb onto with relative grace. I love this picture, even though I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to get her back down.

My mom has a phone that is sensitive when it comes to photos and she tends to take a lot of accidental ones, including this gem from Bonaventure Cemetery. When she saw it on her phone later she started laughing and sent it to me anyway.

The legs in this photo belong to Hannah, and this was the first day that we met in person and the first time we went to a cemetery together. This photo inexplicably showed up on my phone when I was reviewing the photos. She’s standing in Centro Asturiano in Tampa, I can tell by the tiled gave behind her.

The last one is of Shawn in Mascotte Cemetery, one that I’ve yet to write about. The visit that day was odd- it was on a Sunday and the whole time that we were in the small cemetery there were two men in a black truck watching us, and there was also the loudest Spanish voice screeching from someplace nearby. We had no clue what they were saying but it became so intense and rapid that we left- but not before I got this capture of Shawn looking down the cemetery drive, completely bewildered. We did find the voice on the way out. There was a very excited preacher outside with two huge speakers next to him giving his sermon to an empty parking lot. He was almost a block away and he was blaring his message to all of Mascotte. I thought of Jim Jones for some reason and shivered.

Next up, Lincoln Memorial Park in Miami. Happy haunting until then…