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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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).


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.



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.

This stone says everything.fullsizerender-17

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.




The Coffin From the 1800’s

I usually write just about cemeteries, but this was too good to skip over. So today’s post is a little different, but still related to death and funeral memorabilia.

Last weekend we went to Mt. Dora to scout out some antiques and walk around. There was also a cemetery there that I wanted to visit a second time to get a photo of an unusual headstone that I had not photographed the first time I was there. I had regretted not taking pictures of it, and it had a story to be told that I wanted to research…and then tell.

We walked through aisles and aisles of antiques on that blazing hot day, sweating like crazy and pointing things out to each other. We shared a watermelon popsicle. We visited friends that own one of the booths there and talked to them for awhile, listening to their plans for expanding their shop. I mentioned that I was starting a collection of embalming bottles and asked them to call me if they ever saw anything interesting.

They both looked at each other for a beat before Denise said, “We had a coffin once”.

“Really? What kind? ” I asked.

She whipped out her phone and showed me a picture, it was a wicker one- old- and had a person laying in it with a beer can balanced on their chest. She mentioned that they’d been at an antiques festival and someone who’d been drinking had wanted to test it out.

“But you know,” she said, pausing and obviously thinking about something, “one of the dealers inside has one, and it’s for a child.” She told us where to go inside the main building and said, “Just keep looking up- you’ll see it on one of the shelves.”

We headed inside the main building and I had gone about halfway through the first aisle when I spied it. I handed Shawn the remains of the popsicle, wiped my hands on my dress, and approached. It was up high and I could have reached up and touched it, but instead I just stood there, licking watermelon flavor off of my lips and staring up at this coffin. I’m sure that I looked crazy.


A dealer materialized and stood next to me silently looking skyward.

“Do you know what it is?” he asked me.

I turned and looked at an older gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt; his eyes looked mischievous and I immediately liked him. He was smiling.

“Yes, it’s beautiful,” I said. And it was. The dark wicker was in great shape and didn’t seem to have a single flaw. Plus it was smaller than I had expected.

“You do?!” he asked. “Two girls came in here yesterday thinking it was a basket to hold flowers. They weren’t happy when I told them it was a coffin.”

I laughed. I told him that I loved funeral history and wrote about cemeteries, and he asked me if I ‘d like to see it, because it was leather lined on the inside. I knew I wouldn’t be buying it, but I accepted his offer to take a closer look. He was so excited to show it to me, and he mentioned that it had been used for viewing and transport, but not for burial. As my friend Keila had pointed out when I sent her a picture of it, “That  doesn’t look like it would hold up very well underground.”


When Shawn caught up with me I was bent over the coffin with this man, and we were both pointing out features of the pleated leather lining. The lid was propped up next to us, and we were both engrossed in the conversation. I love it when I find one of my own.

Sometimes I feel bad for Shawn. I know it gets weird for him sometimes. I think back to the ways I’ve tried his kindness- asking him if we could make an offer for a coffin in North Carolina, telling him I’d like to hang a cooling board from the 1860’s on the hallway wall, asking for an embalming bottle for my birthday, happily pointing out a case of glass eyeballs in an antique shop one time. The list goes on, and he’s been a good sport every time. Today however, when we closed the lid back on the small coffin and the dealer got on the ladder, Shawn offered to hand it up to him. I’d been there when he handed it down to me and there had been a moment where I’d felt a parent from over a hundred years ago carrying their child in this. Maybe I imagined it, but the notion of it’s true purpose wasn’t lost on me. So, I tried to get there first but Shawn was faster and he picked it up gingerly and lifted it up to the dealer, looking at me for a moment over the top of it’s domed lid. His face was totally blank, but his eyes met mine and I had the feeling he wasn’t happy.


We ended up buying a book from that dealer and talking for awhile longer. When we left I mentioned that I was hungry. Shawn said he’d like to wash his hands.

I recalled trips together where he had eaten with his hands in places I’d never dream of eating in without a good scrub or a bottle of hand sanitizer. Airports. Airplanes. Outdoor festivals. Malls. But this time he wanted to wash his hands. We took care of that and I didn’t judge.

I’m not gonna lie- I wanted that coffin- but I didn’t tell him that. The selling price was 275 dollars and it was in wonderful condition. I had no clue where I’d put it, but I do know that if I’d been single, I’d probably have gone home with it that day.

There is an odd aspect to collecting funeral antiques- you have to keep other people in mind. I always think- if someone came over and saw this, would we stay friends or would they haul ass? The truth is, I want people to be comfortable in my house. The embalming bottles are unusual, small, and will be an unobtrusive collection. A coffin is pretty confrontational. However, I do know that the best collections are held by people who follow their own desires and don’t consider what others will think. And that’s okay too, I really admire those people.



Last weekend I went to North Carolina for the first time. I’ve been through it or flown over it on my way to someplace else, but this was my first actual visit. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

And they have a lot of dead folks there.

Seriously, everywhere we went there were little cemeteries just waiting to be walked through. And so we did.


The best one though- my favorite, was a large and very old cemetery that we passed on the way to Boone as it was getting dark. We both spied it at the same time, noted that the gates were open, and pulled in. No one else was there, presumably because they had sense enough to stay out of a cemetery when night was approaching.

“Just a couple of quick photos,” I said, and dashed out of the car door to start jogging through the headstones. After a few yards though I noticed something- this place was OLD. The headstones near me were very tall, thin, and toppling, reminding me of the ones I’d seen in Knoxville and Savannah. I stopped in front of one of the largest ones and could not believe how beautiful it was. It had been repaired many times over the years and as a result I couldn’t read the last name of the deceased in order to research her, but here it is. I was really moved by this one for some reason. I stood in front of it for quite some time as Shawn crept forward in the rental car behind me. Finally he got out to see what I was looking at.

DELIA This marks the sacred spot where rested the fair, the gentle, the lovely Delia. The perfect daughter, a perfect lady, she died 24th October —-, Aged 16 yrs. 


The ones surrounding me in the oldest section of the cemetery were just as amazing, carved with laurel wreaths, weeping willows, and wonderful examples of Victorian funerary art. I could have stayed all day, but it was getting dark quickly and I wanted to see the stone church on the property. By the time I got to the church the light was turning blue- all of these photos have been lightened for detail. This place is first on my list on a bright morning when I go back to North Carolina.


The church was small and crouched at the side of the cemetery, but it had some interesting features, including small buttressed sides and an outdoor hallway that had pretty lights hanging in the arches. It was all made of river stone and had large stained glass windows. To the side of the property was a labyrinth and a cremation garden. I wished we’d found it earlier, but we’d been going through another cemetery while the sun was up and we missed out on this one.

Here’s the thing- I never got the name of the church or the cemetery. I was so overwhelmed with the age of the place and the unique stones that I never even saw a sign. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll find it online”. NOPE. The closest town was Rutherfordton and we were off of 221. I couldn’t find it online, but maybe didn’t apply myself enough.

I would have liked to have known what Delia was like, or tried to find out more about her. Maybe on the next trip I can learn more about her and her family or speak to someone in the church about records to get the date of her death.

That’ll be another blog post.

Bay Ridge Cemetery

Bay Ridge Cemetery is near Apopka and it has been on it’s own for several years now. It appears there is no owner, operator, or cemetery association for this property. Even the map of the cemetery has no information on where the plots are located, making it extremely useful, as you can imagine.

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One side is clearly abandoned. There is a small plot on the other side of the dirt road that this cemetery lies on that is the Reid family plot. The family died in 1995 after a car accident, the husband and two children died on one day, and the wife died from her injuries the next day. Two of their children were not in the car. It was an incredibly sad moment to stand in front of their monument and look at those dates, knowing that some horrible tragedy had befallen this young family. When I got home that day I looked it up. That small plot is the only part of this cemetery that is lovingly maintained. It’s mowed, weed-whacked, and someone has been leaving flowers and gifts for the family.

The rest of the cemetery is a mystery, because it’s actually quite old, dating back to the 1880’s. The first stone we saw had a date from that decade on it. It was partially obscured by ivy, but the dates were still clear.

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When you look into the cemetery you start to see shapes emerging from the woods; the shadow of a headstone here, the glint of a metal funeral home marker there, another stone crouched beneath a large palmetto. I wanted to charge in but I was wearing shorts and a tank top, plus it was at least 98 degrees that day and this was the second cemetery we’d visited. I was sweating through my clothes and just couldn’t go much further. Shawn walked in though and took several photos, coming out to tell me that there was an entire family plot surrounded by decorative stonework to the left. I can’t wait to go back to this one in the winter when some of the foliage has died.

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I walked to the front of the 2 acre property to take a photo of the homemade sign, and when I did that I walked around it and pushed some branches out of the way. Underneath them was a large stone lion, one paw raised and resting on a shield with the letter S on it. There were no visible graves nearby. I stood staring at it for a minute, wondering why it was there, and if it was marking a family plot.

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Find a Grave has some incredible photos from this cemetery, including one of an ornate funeral from the 40’s. Thankfully, someone has added photos of many of the people buried there and of the cemetery the way it was a few years ago before the ivy, kudzu, and pine needles did their work. It’s well documented, just not well maintained. Carey Hand funeral home held some of the funerals there and there were records of those in the Central Florida Memory collection.

This fall I’m going back with gloves, bug spray, and trash bags to see if I can locate a few more of the graves.

Gethsemane Cemetery in Ormond Beach

This cemetery is situated off of a busy road in Ormond Beach, and only has a small blue sign to even mark it’s presence. We could have easily passed it. Not only because there isn’t much in the way of signage, but the cemetery almost looks like a large green field with only the occasional small marker and a couple of beautiful old oak trees. Volunteers have transformed this cemetery from a forgotten burial ground into a setting that looks almost like a park. It’s a magical space, and is also known as Greenwood Cemetery. I prefer Gethsemane.

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It’s a well spaced cemetery so be prepared to walk all over if you want to be sure not to miss any of the artistic markers.

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Most of the markers here are handmade and truly glorious, some clearly done by the same hand, which always fascinates me. Maybe there was one person in the community that knew how to make them, or could read and write, or were they just good at it and so people called on them when they needed markers. These questions always surface for me when I go to places like this.

One of my favorite aspects of this cemetery is the small, five pointed star stamp used on many of the headstones, on both sides of the cemetery. I know it must have signified something, but I have been unable to find out what. According to it symbolizes the star of heaven, but I get the feeling that it’s something else for this place. The stars are simple and beautiful.

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This cemetery was once a burying ground for African Americans, including slaves, and continued to be a primarily African American cemetery until it’s demise due to lack of funding and perpetual care (a repeating theme for this blog). In the Daytona beach Morning Journal from December 4, 1955 it has a funeral announcement for John Lee, who is buried in that cemetery, saying that the Herbert Thompson Funeral Home was performing the burial. They’ve been in business in Daytona Beach for quite awhile.

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It was closed for burials in 1974. There is not a lot to say about this cemetery- as a place of historical value there doesn’t seem to be volumes and volumes of history on the place. However, it’s worth a visit to see what a group of individuals can do when they care about a cemetery.

Speaking of caring- next week I’ll be writing about Bay Ridge Cemetery near Apopka, which is completely overgrown and absolutely amazing! I care very much about what happens to that place.

Cassadaga and the Devil’s Chair

From Find A Grave:

The cemetery is located between the two small communities on property that is county owned.
In order to buried there one must contact the city clerk of Lake Helen.

Here is how I would rewrite this after a visit to this cemetery, so listen up, Find A Grave!

In order to buried there one must be desperate for a place to be laid to rest.

Everybody in Florida has heard the urban legend that has caused the ultimate decline of this cemetery, that if you sit in the brick chair (a.k.a. The Devil’s Chair) at midnight, then the devil will come and talk to you.


The devil, however, isn’t responsible for the vandalism, as I’m sure some people would say- human beings are, and ignorant ones at that. Who started the rumor is a mystery, most likely it was someone who was trying to find a cheap way to protect the place from kids and vandals, and they started the rumor to scare people away. However, humans are curious creatures, and things like this usually only serve to cause even more traffic. It’s like Cassadaga itself, which began as a retreat for Spiritualists and had its climax in the 1920’s when the hotel was built. Some people mistakenly think Spiritualism is about Satanism, but it’s not, and that makes people curious so they come visit, whether the psychics want them there or not. In my opinion, the group of people living there just want to be left alone. You can feel it.


The chair itself is situated in the Thatcher plot, and there are two of them that are nearly identical. However, it’s the one in the back. The chair stands out because the plot doesn’t have as much foliage, and the dirt plot is covered with footprints from people sitting in the chair. The footprints were fresh.

The other Thatcher plot had a lot of plant life and curious smell that I couldn’t identify. I hate smells in cemeteries.

The cemetery has three bench structures built into the family plots, and all of them were most likely built for the use of visiting family, not the devil. The design is simple and direct, and would be attractive if it weren’t for the legend, the general feel of the place, and the fact that some douche-nozzle decided to spray paint LOVE GOD on one of the monuments facing the chair.


The day that we visited was hot and still, and when we got out of the car the heat hit us like a blast from a furnace, which my friend BB later pointed out was probably the ideal condition for the devil. We walked around anyway, sweating and not talking much. The thick woods next to the cemetery were dark, and the sound of cicadas was overwhelming. It wasn’t a good day to be there and I knew that. A vehicle that we couldn’t see due to the downward slope of the property slowed down to a crawl on the main road by the gates and idled for a minute before we heard the engine roar and take off.

Five minutes later the police came, slowly cruising and staring at us. I walked right up to the car and spoke to the officer, who said he was just driving through.

Sure he was. At noon on a Sunday. Someone had called the police because we were there, but he didn’t say so. He asked if we needed anything and when I said no, he left. I was furious.

The cemetery itself is a blighted mess, with weeds and black sand on one side and grass on the other with sparse burials. The earliest date we saw for a burial was 1904, but I’m sure there are some earlier ones. Some enterprising person had gone into the older plots and pulled up every speck of grass or greenery leaving the most depressing scene you could imagine in a cemetery. The place looks unloved, which surprises me since the locals are so protective of it, enough to act like jerks during visiting hours.

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So, Cassadaga, if you want to protect this site you might think about springing for a brick wall and not a flimsy fence, which is torn down on one side by the many people trying to get into this place. You might consider making the entire place look loved and cared for, rather then letting it look bleak and desolate. You might enlist the nosy neighbors as volunteers to get over there and work on the place instead of calling the police every time someone drives through the gates. You might install some lights.

No, I won’t be going back to this one. If you go be aware that the police may randomly show up along with the devil. In fact, just skip it. Drive to Deland and visit Oakdale, Central Florida’s version of Bonaventure.

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The Cemetery With Many Names

It’s been called Pinewood Cemetery, Peninsula Cemetery, and my personal favorite- Boot Hill Cemetery, because right across the street from the gate is the Boot Hill Bar, catering to bikers and anyone wearing leather within a fifty mile radius (or more). This cemetery is fascinating, but loud. I’ve never been to a loud cemetery before but on the Sunday afternoon when we visited the bar was in full swing, the people outside the bar were getting fairly drunk, and our visit was punctuated by shouts, revving engines, and catcalls. I was not charmed, but the bikers have been instrumental in raising funds to protect this place. News articles from 2004 mention them holding fundraisers to help raise the 90,000 dollars needed to restore the cemetery, and I have learned in the last year that any money can make a difference when you’re dealing with preservation.



When we drove in and parked on the sandy shoulder next to the drive we noticed an entire troupe of ragged men and women hanging out to the left of us; they had set up a comprehensive camp and there were clothes drying on the walls. The guys were shirtless, the women in short shorts and tank tops. Hard to tell if they were homeless or if they were bar patrons that had come over to rest in the shade. They never moved while we were there.

If I’d been alone, I would have left immediately. Not because they were threatening in any way, but it’s a really private cemetery surrounded by a wall and walking around there with a bunch of people observing me wouldn’t be my thing. There is also a single drive in and out of the cemetery that loops through, and there is no place to turn the car around. This place is packed with burials and family plots. Shawn and I gave the group space and walked through the right side of the property.


When I hopped out of the car the first thing I saw by my feet was a fish head. A big, toothy one, eaten down to the bone by the elements and whatever brought it here in the first place. The ocean is close by and birds sometimes make nests in cemeteries and fling their trash around. We’d noticed the same thing in Titusville on another visit.

The cemetery dates back to 1877 when landowner John Smith buried his daughter on the property. Eventually the rest of the land was broken up into plots, passed from owner to owner, and sold off for burials. The last burials took place in the 70’s, but to be honest with you, I never even noticed them. The cemetery is full of beautiful old funerary art and has some unique headstones, crypts, and mausoleums. The design is also unique for Central Florida which is full of flat, sandy graveyards. This one is terraced and walking through the cemetery includes climbing meandering steps and walking along crooked paths. I loved it.



One of my favorite vaults was for ‘John H. Abraham and Wife’, which is added below his name as an afterthought, probably because she outlived him by 2 years. John Hamilton Abraham was born in Pennsylvania, and his wife fortunately DID get her own name on Find A Grave- she was Eliza. He was buried in 1927, and she followed in 1929. The whole vault has been covered with thick plaster and only has the name plate for identification.

I wanted to know what was underneath that plaster.

John Abraham was listed as a landlord in 1920 and an artist in the 1880 census. He lived a long time. When I found the census where he was 7 years old I saw the he was one of 10 children in a household of 12 people. Being a landlord probably came very naturally to someone who grew up with lots of people in the house.


I love this cemetery and plan to visit again. If you’re doing research about it online there are large numbers of paranormal groups who have posted the results of their investigations. I’m pretty sure that was before the gates started being locked at night. The city is trying to protect this treasure. Go visit if you can!