Drive-Thru Viewing

About once a month I troll the internet for funeral news like a weirdo. I search Youtube for news videos and also do some Google searches looking for any recent local news here in Florida. This habit has given me a few topics for blog posts (my personal favorite: ventilation in mausoleums and why it’s necessary), and it’s also given me news that I sincerely wish I could take back out of my brain, like the story about the young woman Julie Mott who was stolen from a funeral home in San Antonio after her viewing back in August of 2016. When the funeral home employees came in the next morning she was just…gone. And she still hasn’t been found. That story really haunted me and I still follow up about once a month to see if there is any more news about her.

Some of the stories I read are tragic and some are just downright bizarre, like the funeral director who decided to leave a body in a hearse parked at the back of his property for nine days because… well, he thought the body smelled bad and there was some protocol with the body being released for cremation. He didn’t want the body stored in his place and potentially scaring off customers. To his credit, he did in fact appear on camera for a news interview, because in many of these cases the person responsible won’t answer questions unless the authorities get involved.

And then there are the cases that don’t fit into the tragic category, and they don’t really fit in the bizarre category- they have a place all their own in the world of funeral news. I guess you could call them trendy. I give you the drive thru viewing. (Video compliments of YouTube.)

First, I want to say that I am not making fun of anyone here on this blog (Well, except for that one cemetery that I absolutely can’t stand. I make fun the owners sometimes.) But when I first heard about this, it did strike me as being almost comical, so I spent a day or two reflecting on it and trying to decide if I was for it or against it. I posted about it on social media and also to my coworkers at the library, because we’re an opinionated bunch if nothing else. Here are some of the collective remarks made.

Pros: 

Some people hate funeral homes and get panic attacks even thinking about going to a viewing or a funeral, so looking through a window at the person may be easier for them to handle. Some people are physically challenged and so this is a more comfortable option for them. Many people feel shy about expressing their grief publicly; I know I feel a lot more comfortable crying in my car than I do in a room full or people or in a public restroom. A lot of people are disturbed by the (real or imagined) smell of funeral homes and that can keep them from visitations. Viewing the body through the window may feel less real and confrontational than looking down at the body or even being in the same room with them, and so it may be a good option for people who really fear death.

Cons: 

One person said she could imagine a whole family heading to McDonald’s first and then eating fries and drinking shakes while looking at the body in the funeral home drive-thru. One person said if parking was more inconvenient than the fact that the person died, then maybe they shouldn’t go to the viewing at all. One friend said that they thought looking at a dead body was a weird tradition anyway and that looking at one through a window was even weirder.

What this reminded me of was the Victorian practice of photographing dead bodies, a historical quirk that I personally love. Many of the photos are beautiful and peaceful, and while I’ve seen a few that have really disturbed me, I find that many are artistic and certainly valuable for their historical detail. However, when the house was quarantined the photographer would have to stand outside and take the photo through the window of the house, and that gave me the creeps for some reason. It seemed voyeuristic and changed the whole dynamic, but I could see the need for it if the family had no other photo of that person.

Photo first seen in Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America by Stanley Burns. of the Burns Archive. Photo accessed from https://www.buzzfeed.com/leonoraepstein/haunting-post-mortem-photography?

I don’t know that this fills a specific need in the funeral industry, but I admire the creativity for sure and I certainly look forward to seeing if this catches on and and ends up in one of the Orlando funeral homes. I think that for years people have either chosen to attend a funeral or not – it’s been that simple. This seems to place some people into a gray area where they want to be there to support the family of the loved one- but don’t. They want that last look at their loved one- but not in person. I can’t say this with any judgement because everyone’s feelings toward death are different, but I’ll be really interested to see if this becomes a regular funeral practice.

Finding Mozart…Part 2

This is part 2 of Keila’s guest post from last week! Enjoy!

 

While walking through the Ehrengräber something bright pink caught my attention in the sea of grey headstones.  I walked through some hedges and came upon a much more contemporary section of grave art.  I apologize I’m not familiar with most of the people, but it appears many of them were artists, actors, and musicians.  Please enjoy:

The cemetery has between 20-25 burials daily and has plenty of room for new burials.  The newer sections are of course not as ornately decorated as the old.  Unfortunately, I did not make it to the Jewish cemetery sections which are further away from the church in the center.  I hope to make it back to explore more of the cemetery in the future. In the meantime, here are some more of my favorites from this visit.

 

Okay, so remember when I mentioned Mozart a little earlier?  He’s not actually buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery, but there is an honorary cenotaph there for him.  He was one of the most influential composers in history and made a great impact in Viennese culture during his time and into modern times.  He died young at the age of 35, leaving behind a widow and two young children.  The cause of his death has been debated and ranges from a prolonged illness, a sudden illness, or a poisoning.  The manner of his burial is also highly debated and this is where the story gets interesting.  Previous versions of Mozart’s death stories account that he died a derelict pauper unable to find work as a musician due to the ongoing Turkish War and was buried in a common, unmarked pauper’s grave in St. Marx Cemetery.  What is probably more true is that he was buried in the normal manner for his time which was to be buried in a shroud, rather than a coffin, in an unmarked or plainly marked grave.  Because of this, it quickly became difficult to identify the exact location of his resting place.  Even after extensive research, they have not been able to identify the location with any certainty.  Because of this an honorary tomb was erected for him in the field where he was most likely buried.  This tomb was moved to the Zentralfriedhof in 1891 on the 100th anniversary of his death.  Another memorial was erected in St. Marx to commemorate his burial in that cemetery.

So let me tell you a little more about St. Marx and my visit there.  The cemetery was closed for burials in 1874 and fell into disrepair.  It began restoration and was open to the public for visiting in 1937.  It is unclear how many burials there are in the cemetery due to the common graves, but it is considerably smaller than the Zentralfriedhof.  You can get to it on the same trolley line as the Zentralfriedhof, but the entrance is not located directly on the line and is about a half mile walk from the trolley stop.  The day I visited St. Marx was very different from the day I visited the central cemetery.  It was grey, freezing, and flurries of snow were falling from the sky.  It is apparently a very beautiful place to visit in the spring when hedges of lilac are in full bloom.  Unfortunately, during my very frigid winter visit everything appeared dead and quite haunting, especially since there was no one else visiting the cemetery that day.  This definitely resembled the morbid image of cemeteries which many people hold.

Upon entering the cemetery there is a map and signs that point you to the honorary marker for Mozart. It is located almost in the middle of the cemetery and it was very well kept and felt almost out of place in this cemetery as it was the only part that seemed managed at all.  Walking through the cemetery was kind of heartbreaking actually.  The city website giving details about the cemetery, which is also considered a park, states that clearing work is underway as well as a project to catalog the graves there.  But as you can see from some of the photos below it is difficult to imagine trying to identify many of the marked graves here as many of the headstones have fallen into such a state of decay and disrepair.  I still found a comforting beauty in the disarray though.  Even as many of the headstones were worn and eroding, you could tell that the markers were crafted with care and precision, much like the ones in the Zentralfriedhof.  Unfortunately, I did not get to explore the cemetery as much as I would have liked because it began to snow, and I could not stand the cold much longer (Florida girl in me). You can find some of my favorite photos below as well as some of the devastating state of the cemetery.

I think people underestimate how beautiful historical grave art can be and think of cemeteries as morbid places. There were so many amazing sculptures in these cemeteries, while many were expressions of grief, there were also many celebrating life, love, and joy.  I think it’s important to remember that grave art is erected to remember those we’ve lost.  Sometimes we express it in the unbearable grief their loss has brought upon us, and other times we remember how much their life meant to us and brought us happiness.  Although I would have liked to have spent more time in both of these places, I feel very fortunate to have been able to visit two mesmerizing cemeteries in Vienna, one built with purpose and still in use today, and the other a reminder of how we should work to remember and preserve the memories of those who came before us.

Resources:

Death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, wikipedia.org, accessed February 28, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Wolfgang_Amadeus_Mozart

St. Marx Cemetery Park with Mozart’s grave, wein.gov, accessed February 28, 2017, https://www.wien.gv.at/english/environment/parks/sankt-marx.html.

Vienna Central Cemetery, friedhofwein.at, accessed February 27, 2017, https://www.friedhoefewien.at/eportal2/ep/channelView.do/pageTypeId/75473/channelId/-53514.

 

Finding Mozart: The Vienna Central Cemetery and St. Marx Cemetery

Today I am proud to welcome guest blogger and friend Keila to the blog! Keila and I have had many adventures together and she recently went to Vienna and got to see some incredible historic cemeteries. This is a longer post- but her photos are awesome and I wanted to include as many as possible. So- enjoy!

I was lucky enough to be able to visit Vienna, Austria this Christmas.  While Austria and Germany are known for their amazing Christmas markets and famous gluhwein (holiday mulled wine) I was excited to visit for another reason, the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery).  The Vienna Central Cemetery is one of the world’s largest cemeteries and is the largest in Europe for the number interred there, over 3 million.  It is only a short trolley ride from the center of the city and has a dedicated bus line inside in order to help people get around the massive area more easily.  There are three gates (tors) at the front of the cemetery for people to enter, with Tor 2 being the main entrance.  Foot traffic is free, but there is a toll to get in with a vehicle.  This cemetery is unique to most in Europe because unlike many others it was planned.  City leaders realized that the city’s population was growing and a large cemetery would be needed to accommodate burials.  The opening of the cemetery was also quite controversial as it was one of the first mixed faith cemeteries with a large Catholic section, a Protestant section, and two Jewish sections (there are now also Muslim, Buddhist, and Russian Orthodox burials in the cemetery). There is also a church located in the center of the cemetery called Karl-Borromäus-Kirche (Charles Borromeo Church).  It is built in the Art Nouveau style and has undergone several renovations after being bombed during World War II and then later being damaged by subsidence and dampness.  There is a crypt beneath the church with the most notable burial being Karl Lueger, a former mayor of Vienna, which has led to the church also being deemed the Karl Lueger Memorial Church.

 

 

 

The day I visited was one of the warmer days of my stay in Vienna with it being in the high 40s.  It was sunny and rather pleasant, with a slight breeze.  There were many more people there than I expected.  Many who also appeared to just be visiting the cemetery in general. When I first entered the cemetery I was struck by how vast it seemed.  I was knowingly disappointed that I would not have enough time to explore the whole cemetery, but very excited to see what I could. After walking through the massive gate, I was greeted by two mausoleums on each side of the road.  Each contains 36 crypts.  These were the most beautifully decorated crypts I have ever seen and each one had me in awe at the exquisitely unique and detailed artwork.

 

 


After passing through these awe-inspiring crypts, it was difficult to decide which way to go next.  I did what most people do naturally and went to my right.  I walked past some very interesting looking headstones, some with trees (purposefully) growing through them, others which were raw stone.  Something caught my eye in the distance and I began making my way toward it.  Those who are familiar with cemeteries know they are full of statues of the Virgin Mary or veiled angels and women.  I thought I was going to come across a statue of Mary holding up Christ, especially when I noticed that the figure was holding someone.  When I finally reached it, it was so much better than I thought.  Instead of the Virgin, I was facing Death himself, holding his latest passenger.  The statue was faceless and had vines growing on it which made it even more hauntingly beautiful and it is my favorite piece of cemetery art to date. I feel like it was speaking to me in a way no other piece has.  The passenger appeared calm and relaxed in Death’s grasp, and it reminded me that death comes for us all, but it is not something to be feared.

 

 

Another interesting  fact about this cemetery is that it is the resting place for many famous composers, artists, actors, musicians, scientists, and other notable people from history.  Due to its unpopularity after opening because of its distance from the city, officials set aside an honorary grave area (Ehrengräber).  This part of the cemetery was definitely the most crowded with tourists. They moved several famous people from other cemeteries here in order to boost the reputation of the cemetery.  Interred in the Central Cemetery are notables such as Ludwig van Beethoven; Franz Schubert, who were moved to the city in 1888; Johannes Brahms; Antonio Salieri; Johann Strauss II and Arnold Schoenberg. A cenotaph honours Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who is buried in nearby St. Marx Cemetery. We’ll get to that last one in a moment, but first enjoy some photos of the resting places of these famous composers.

 

 

 

 

 

There is much more to tell and this post will be continued next week! See you then! All sources will be listed next week as well in case anyone wants to do further reading. 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

 

 

Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery in Gotha, Florida

The Carey Hand funeral records called this plot of land the Gotha Cemetery back in 1928. It’s a large chunk of land for 18 burials, and when we were sitting in the car in front of it arguing about  whether or not it was actually there, the thing was staring us right in the face. The whole plot is fenced with a handsome, high black fence, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a gate on 2 sides to enter. There is no sign indicating that this is a cemetery or that it’s owned by the church, but it is there. If you look carefully you can see spots of color standing out through the verdant green of the overgrown lot, and these are flowers that someone has brought for one of the graves. While the land is not tended, the graves are. Most of them were clean and cared for, at least minimally, and what headstones we could see were in good repair. Hats off to whoever is working to keep this cemetery respectable. The most recent burial was in 2013, so it’s possibly still in use.

The land itself is a tangle of branches, vines, and downed trees so if you do visit use caution. There are also miscellaneous pieces of rusting equipment on the property that you’ll want to look out for. The cemetery is in the middle of the property and has several fenced family plots.

You’ll find the Nehrlings buried here, the family that started the botanical gardens literally right around the corner. Their home is still there along with 6 acres of their land and it is open for tours. It’s on my list of places to visit, I love the idea that something that Dr. Nehrling started in 1885 is still left.

Nearby you will find a small grave for Ferdinand Runge who died at 2 years old and is the first marked burial at this site (death date 1898). He has a beautiful grave that is tended and completely fenced with natural wood fencing. The next marked grave wasn’t until 1900 and it made me feel sad to think of him there all alone for 2 years.

Also here is the Hartmann family, Ludwig and his younger wife Antoine. The Hartmann’s came over from Germany; Ludwig’s immigration was in 1883. All of their children were born here in Florida, and by 1900 they already had six daughters. Ludwig was an orange farmer and the census records show them surrounded by other farmers and fruit merchants. The farm that they owned was mortgage free so it seems that they were prosperous.

When Ludwig died his funeral was handled by Carey Hand funeral home, the oldest funeral home in Orange county. He died of uremia, and it seems like so many of the funeral records that I’ve come across include deaths from kidney-related diseases. I’m going to have to research that some day, it’s easy to speculate but I’d be curious to read more about that. His funeral record was apparently filled out by the laziest person (or the busiest) in that funeral home on that day in 1940 because it literally says almost nothing. The person who filled out his wife’s record included her maiden name, Krause, as well as all other pertinent information. Their records can be viewed on Central Florida Memory.

Gotha was originally a German colony started by Henry Hempel and is near Windermere. This cemetery is worth a look because it’s so unusual and it’s full of our German pioneers that made Florida their home.

Osteen Cemetery in Osteen, Florida

Osteen is a small town in Volusia county near Enterprise. Well, it feels small, but apparently has undergone a lot of growth in the last 2 years. It has a small town feel to it though, like you’d expect Andy Griffith to walk out at any moment wearing his sheriff’s uniform and saying “Howdy!”. (I would love that. It’s still one of my goals to visit his grave and I was really sad when he died.)

Don’t judge me…much.

This cemetery is really private, which is a good thing because you can wander freely without cars passing by or people walking through with you. It’s a bad thing because in terms of Florida history, this place is a treasure trove and needs all the protection it can get. Speaking of protection, the sand parking area in front of the gate (a cattle gate, by the way) was littered with condom wrappers. I seem to see more and more of that lately and it always baffles me. I bet if your grandma was buried here you’d think twice about bringing a date here for ‘romance’.

This is considered an active cemetery and it appears to have a lot of space on the right, but I didn’t really notice and new burials the day we were there. The left side was drawing so much of my attention anyway with it’s beautiful old headstones. Lots of Sauls and Osteens here, and they had good taste in funerary art because some of the headstones are just beautiful. The Saul family built a home near here and raised their family with the Osteens. They started a whole community called Saulsville, but as these things always go in Florida, this happened and that happened, and people died, and the house burned to the ground. This is the part of history that I don’t like, hearing about all of the amazing places that have burned down, usually while they were stuffed full of old papers that some genealogist or writer needs in 2017.

I read that this cemetery is near an African American burial ground, but I wasn’t able to find it, or I wasn’t able to tell if it was actually incorporated into this cemetery. We walked the perimeter which is heavily wooded and in one corner I looked down and saw a number on a round piece of concrete. The numbers were in rows, and took up a considerable part of that corner of the cemetery. I saw nothing that would indicate who was buried here, but I always feel sad when I just see numbers instead of names. There are also a lot of children buried here, and their stones were, to me, the prettiest I’d seen. The lambs were beautifully carved on many of them and retained a lot of detail.

Toward the back of the cemetery on the left you’ll see a small section that is fenced off and has the weirdest headstones inside. They’re all damaged and aren’t readable in the slightest, and the stone has turned almost black with age and is pitted. I’ve never seen any like them. It looks almost like they’ve started to melt. This section is also home to a sizable gopher tortoise, which has built a mansion near one of these headstones.

The cemetery was established in 1884 and is certainly one that I will visit again. And since we were talking about illicit cemetery visits at the beginning of this post, in 2012 a mother of 2 stabbed a man with an ice pick, strangled him to death with a cord, and then mutilated his body… in self-defense, she said. Where did she do this? In the parking area of this cemetery.

You can view the news story here.

Enterprise Cemetery in Enterprise, Florida

Enterprise Cemetery was established in 1841, and I have a picture of the sign to prove it. It was a gloomy day with a heavy sky, and all of my photos that day looked gloomy and colorless so I switched them all to black and white for this post. It adds drama. That’s what I’m telling myself.

This cemetery is pretty bleak with lots of open space and dead grass, but it had some unique things that made it an interesting one to visit. First, I was freezing to death that day because I’m a Florida native and the surprising high last Sunday was about 48 degrees. I don’t really understand how to bundle up because I never really have to, so I was not dressed warmly enough for a trek outdoors- but I got out of the car anyway and Shawn and I walked in through the side gate. One side of the cemetery is clearly active, and one side is the more historic side, though you can see a small, older plot over to the far left which is all the way in the back. We started there, and I began to realize what made this cemetery different from the others I’ve visited.

Most people place statues of angels on graves. It’s what they do. It’s nice to imagine an angel watching over your loved one in the hereafter, but I don’t think this notion really caught on with the people of Enterprise (population just over 43,000 in 2012), and that is what made me love this cemetery. These people got creative with their grave tributes- no angels for them! Here is a short list of some of the things we saw on the graves there:

-A statue of a green bullfrog wearing a top hat.

-A bigmouth bass statue.

-A larger than life statue of a blue macaw.

-2 tee shirts rolled up on graves.

-2 guitars on one grave- an acoustic one that had been beaten to death and an electric one parked against the tree alongside the grave.

While these gifts are festive and make for an interesting walk through the cemetery, this cemetery is actually the final resting place for some of the victims of the 1888 Yellow Fever outbreak in Volusia County. (Many other nearby counties were affected as well including Orange and Duval.) I found one chilling telegram dated October 26, 1888 saying that there were 2 deaths and 12 cases so far, and that armed men were surrounding infected areas to prevent further transmission of the disease, which is actually spread by mosquitoes. While digging around I also found a letter from September of the same year to the Governor of Florida from several different county health boards begging for help. There is a lot of desperation in that letter, found on floridamemory.com.

The grave of Annie Bradley is dated from the same date of the telegram, which means she was most likely one of the two deaths referenced. The older section has a large fenced area with a grand monument for W.H. Cavin, with a death date of October 27, 1888, so it seems that they could possibly be a victim as well. (I wasn’t able to find out if Cavin was male or female, but I’m thinking they were male.)

Near Annie Bradley’s headstone is the resting place of W.D. Moore, who is said to be the first marked burial in the cemetery with a death date of January 15, 1882.

In the same section of the cemetery you will also see a small plot for children of the Florida United Methodist Children’s home which began in 1908, and a few sad burials. The home was renamed in 1971, so the main stone marking the plot pre-dates that as it simply says Florida Methodist Children’s Home. This children’s home is still operating today and has a fascinating history.

There were also a lot of Osteens here- and so we decided to head to that cemetery next. See you next week!

 

 

Page Jackson Cemetery Part 2

There will be many parts because I love this cemetery so much, but more than that… I love the story of this cemetery. And so I went back to take another look, and this time I saw different things that I had not noticed before.

When Heather and I pulled up to the dirt road that winds through the cemetery we saw an older man with a rake working away by himself in the central part of the cemetery. We both smiled and waved, but he just stared at us. We parked a little ways away to give him some privacy and started to wander. It was cloudy and grey, rain was threatening- and the night before we’d had a huge rainstorm that made the ground spongy. I’d worn my old horse boots just in case there was mud. There was also a lot of wind, which was awesome to hear in the trees. We’d walked down the road to Shiloh cemetery and then turned to come back when he decided to approach us. I walked up and introduced myself and found out that his name was Tom, and he’d been coming to work at this property since the mid 80’s. He was protective of the space and rightfully so, because somebody needs to stand up for this cemetery and it just so happens that recently, somebody did.

Part of the cemetery actually has an owner now, one that cares, according to what Tom told us. I’m thrilled about it and about witnessing the changes that will take place under new ownership. At least that’s my dream, that this place will start to look loved again instead of completely abandoned. There is a pile of clothes, an empty wine bottle, and an old bag of food on top of one of the graves. People are living in here. They’re having sex here. There are condoms at the back of the cemetery; they’re all over the place. Someone actually left her ID there, half buried in the mud next to the trash pile. If there was ever a cemetery that needed a locked gate, this is it. The three of us made a few jokes about what we would do if someone we dated suggested sex in a cemetery. We were cracking ourselves up coming up with pick-up lines. All of us said we’d never had anyone ever mention that to us and we couldn’t figure out why it was such a popular thing to do. I feel like if there were gates and people couldn’t drive into the back of the cemetery then a lot of this behavior would probably stop. It’s one thing to get frisky in your car, and another thing entirely to get naked on the cold ground which is potentially loaded with ticks, burrs, and thorny vines. And frankly, Shiloh and Page Jackson both look like something from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Whoever is going in there for that purpose is crazy.

We walked around for almost 2 hours, and my favorite thing that Tom showed us was the Hurston plot, supposedly belonging to the family of Zora Neale Hurston, the Florida writer that wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Hurston is buried in Ft. Pierce.) Tom had to use his rake to pull back the vegetation to expose the graves, but there they were. I’ve been to this cemetery at least 3 times and never saw them. Who else might be there, waiting to be uncovered?

We marched back into the woods while Tom used his rake to bat vines and branches out of the way. We passed a broken crypt that looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. We passed multiple gopher tortoise homes- they like to dig under the ledger stones and kick up huge piles of sand, potentially causing problems with the grave site. We walked past one ledger stone that had a giant pile of poop on top of it from some type of large animal, God knows what it was. The woods are filled with funeral home markers and in every section you can see graves from multiple decades. There’s no logical progression when it comes to dates. I asked Tom about it.

“This was the Wild West,” he said, telling us that William Page Jackson had allowed burials by anyone at any place in the cemetery. I haven’t been able to verify too many facts about this place and the records are scant, but it seems likely that something like that happened.

I’m planning to do some research on many of the graves I photographed that day- but here’s my question…where is William Page Jackson buried? Is he here too? I can’t find him. And I’d really like to have a word with him.

Before we left I asked Heather to pose by my favorite family plot, way, WAY back in the woods. It’s completely overgrown but in the spring it’s filled with blazing pink azaleas and it’s so beautiful.

“Look like you own the place,” I told her.

She did. I think anyone that loves this place owns it. We are planning our own little clean up group soon- if you’re interested in joining us please let me know by leaving a comment or emailing me at marnie.bench@gmail.com. The main goal is just to go pick up trash. That’s it. That’s a start.

Temple Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida

Temple Cemetery was cold the first time I visited, but that’s always my favorite time to go to a a new cemetery, when the weather is chilly. It was clear that day and the sun was shining brightly so it was a good day to read tombstones. Temple is a Jewish Reform cemetery and it mingles with Old Jewish Center cemetery, which is a conservative cemetery. There is no line or obvious kind of separation, but the space is set apart from the rest of Evergreen and has it’s own gate.

Temple Cemetery attracted me because of the mausoleums, of which there are many varied types. It’s a small Jewish cemetery inside the massive Evergreen Cemetery complex, and it looks to be old and not visited very often. Both times that I went there there was no one else around. Despite this, it’s perfectly maintained except for some vandalism to one of the mausoleums. It will probably never be repaired since most of them are very old with the families probably long gone by now. This particular one has the glass window shot out with what looks like a BB gun, as some of the glass still has holes in it where it didn’t shatter all the way and fall out. Because of this, you can look right into this mausoleum and on that day when I did this I realized that it was freezing in there. My face felt like it touched ice the minute I stuck my head through the window to peek in. I felt sad about the window though, it was done in delicate shades of gold and green and were just panes of colored glass, not the usual ornate stained glass windows that I usually see in mausoleums.

My favorite one here is the Burkheim mausoleum because of it’s very solid and incredibly creepy looking ventilated iron door. Whether it was placed to keep things in or keep them out I can only imagine, but it must have been effective because nobody has messed with this structure at all. Jacob Burkheim has lived in 2 of the places I’ve lived in during my 43 years, including Tallahassee, where I grew up, and Jacksonville, where I was born and lived again briefly in my 20’s. He also lived in Savannah, which I love visiting. He worked as a merchant, a tailor, and he also fought in the Civil War (confederate). He had 7 children, but his name is the only one found outside of his mausoleum, so I wonder if the rest of his family is buried elsewhere. He was born in Germany in 1831, and he died in 1914.

If your back is to the gates and you look to the far left and start walking you will see a small headstone for Hazel, E. Waterman, who died in 1904 at a few months old. Her headstone is a type that I had heard about but had never actually seen in all of my cemetery visits. Usually a child’s stone will feature a lamb or sometimes a small bird. A few times I’ve seen deer. Hazel’s stone has two small baby shoes on the top and two small socks draped down the front of the stone. I was thrilled to see an example of something I’d only ever heard about. Hazel’s small gravestone did not have a record in Find A Grave which made me wonder more about her and her family. I couldn’t find anything on Ancestry, which happens a lot when you’re looking for a child. There is a child’s headstone in St. Augustine that has haunted me since I first saw it and I can’t find out anything about the child or the family, which has bothered me for 2 years. If you’re awesome with genealogy and like a challenge- send me a message.

Temple Cemetery is one of my favorite sites to date in Jacksonville. If you get over there please let me know what you thought! And bring snacks, you’ll need them if you go to Evergreen because you could spend the day in there and never see it all.

Camp Captain Mooney Cemetery in Duval County

Sounds like something from a storybook, right? When I was a kid I loved a book called The Magical Drawings of Mooney B. Finch, and I read it until it fell apart. That was the first thing I thought of when my mom drove me up to the gates of this historic cemetery. She loves cemeteries too and will scout out new locations for me to see when I go visit her, and she almost always goes with me. One time last year I did sneak off to see one that she told me probably wasn’t safe to go to by myself, and I told her about it afterwards.

“Well, how was it? ” she asked.

“I think it was fine. I never saw anyone.”

She just smiled and said she wanted to go with me next time.

The Camp Captain Mooney Cemetery is a surprise. It’s set way back in what’s part neighborhood, part business/warehouse area- which is how Jacksonville is designed anyway. There’s wasn’t a lot of reason applied to the layout. This is a small cemetery and the only hazard I can think to warn you about ahead of time is that the ground can be quite spongy. My mom walks with a cane and was basically doing ground testing while she was walking around because her cane kept sinking.

The cemetery was established on March 1st, 1864 after a short battle (the Battle of Cedar Creek), and the creek is nearby and is actually quite sizeable. There is also a historical marker there and you can get out and take pictures because even though it’s on a busy road, there is a place to pull over and a sidewalk. The death toll for the day included 7 Confederates, 2 Union, with others wounded and some captured. Writing about battles is not my strong suit, so I’m including the Wikipedia article. The cemetery was started on the day of the battle; the dead were buried there, and it was used for some time though it is very small, with only about 114 interments. Captain Mooney is there also- and his veteran’s headstone doesn’t have a birth date or death date on it.

There are some wonderful headstones here and quite a few handmade ones. I’ve been to this cemetery twice, and the first time I noticed four graves, looked at the stones, and must have blanked out because I didn’t notice that all four graves had the same death date. Shawn and my mom called me over to look on this visit, and I took photos to do some research. Emma, Dora, and Mary Silcox all died on June 26, 1927, along with their friend Frances Norton. Mary was 15, Dora was 12, and Emma was 9 years old. Frances was a friend of the family and was only 19. They drowned during a boating accident at Clearwater Lake in Jacksonville, which is now a place to hike and fish. I can’t imagine what that family went through losing three of their children and a close friend in one day.

Private James S. Turknett is also buried here even though the  Turknett Cemetery is right down the road- it’s connected to the Smith Cemetery. The Turknett’s are buried in the back and the gate to that part of the cemetery has a bright blue sign that reads Turknett Cemetery, while on the other side it says Smith Cemetery on a very formal plaque. There is also a third set of gates that are probably for hearse access that are large, fancy wrought iron and do not have any name on them. These two cemeteries are in the back of a neighborhood and there was yet another sign posted on a light pole warning about fees associated with disturbing graves or remains, and that the fine is up to 5,000 dollars, 5 years in jail, or both. It’s a 3rd degree felony and I wish more people would think it through before they decide to do something that stupid.

If you do find yourself in Jacksonville and want to see something a little more unusual before you head off to the Victorian glory of Evergreen or the Old City Cemetery downtown (best to keep your wits about you down there, that one is a little weird), then these three cemeteries are worth a look.

Camp Captain Mooney is now owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and it is always impeccable every time I go. Just be careful with your cane. Also, Shawn and I have a knack for finding bones in cemeteries (animals, thankfully) and this trip had a small surprise as well.

Restlawn Memorial Park in Jacksonville, Florida

This cemetery has been in the news in the last 2 years due to allegations of improper burials, and is under new ownership- which I think is a good thing. The news story is disturbing, and Jacksonville has had it’s fair share of bad press when it comes to cemeteries in the last year alone. But in this situation, it appears that the new owner is doing the right thing and is working hard to that end.

So when I found out that my grandparents were buried there recently, I breathed a sigh of relief because they weren’t in Beaches Memorial Park, part of a long and ongoing investigation for all kinds of horrible things, and I also breathed a sigh of relief because I finally knew where they were. When my grandfather died I was 17. That was the last time I went to that cemetery, and no one who was with me that day could remember where it was or the name of it once I grew up and started this…hobby. I’d looked and looked on Find A Grave to no avail, and then in January of this year the cemetery was recorded and lo and behold, the grandparents showed up as a record. I was thrilled.

Then I saw the news story. So when I drove through the gates by myself that day I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wanted them to be in a pretty place with no problems, and that was exactly what I found when I got there. While this cemetery is not beautiful in a Bonaventure sort of way, it is pretty, with large trees and a well-kept lawn. It was also much larger than my 17 year old self had remembered, and so I pulled up in front of the offices to get some help finding my family members.

I was greeted right away, and I realized right then that I may not have the tact needed to work in the funeral business, even though I would like to.

I explained what I was doing there and that I had been very young the last time I’d been there.

“And what are the names of your loved ones? ” She asked me kindly.

“Charles and Susie Sears,” I said. I gave her the date of my grandfather’s death in 1990. She asked me to wait a moment and indicated a couch where I could sit down.

If it had been me, I don’t know that I would have thought to say “What are the names of your loved ones?” which sounds very nice. I probably would have just asked for their names and been my usual direct self. I appreciated her delicacy while I marveled at it.

She came back and asked me for the date of my grandmother’s death instead, and I showed her my printout from Find A Grave. She vanished again into a back office. The offices were nice and there was a pretty chandelier hanging in the entrance way. I had noticed though that those same offices shared an inside wall with the mausoleum that had been attached to the building. Or maybe the offices had been attached to it instead. Either way, it seemed like odd energy to have behind you while you work all day.

While I waited I was greeted nicely by two other people who both asked if I needed anything. When the first lady came back she was smiling and told me if I’d just wait outside, a gentleman would drive me to see my grandparents. I said that I could walk, but she said they’d prefer to take me there. I went outside and waited.

I’d been there maybe a minute when I heard someone call out “Charles Sears?” I turned and there was a man standing next to a golf cart, gesturing for me to get in with him. I slid onto the seat beside him. I expected a sedate and solemn ride through the graves and for this to be a gentle experience. That is not what happened, but what happened makes me laugh every time I think about it.

The second I was on the seat next to him he punched it and the cart took off; one second we were on the paved road and the next second he was speeding across the grass, looking down on his side of the golf cart at the ground as we sped past graves on our bumpy ride. I was hanging on tightly, trying to look casual as I told him the last time I’d been there had been in 1990. Turns out, that was when he started working there. He was talking amiably about his work as we bounced along over grass and pine cones before coming to an abrupt halt. My hair swung forward.

“There they are,” he said. “I can wait.” He folded his hands on the steering wheel.

“No that’s okay, I’m parked right there,” I said, pointing. The offices were actually pretty close by and I could see my car.

“Okay. But just remember for your next visit, the mausoleum is right there, and they line up with that.” He smiled and bid me good day before zipping off again in his cart. I’m not sure of his job title, but when it comes to driving a golf cart through a graveyard very fast, he is a skilled professional.

I turned and looked down at the ground. And yes, there they were. If there had been a vase it had been stolen, but the plaque itself wasn’t in bad condition. I just stood there with the sun shining on my head while breathing in the chilly air, and I thought about them. Random memories. My grandfather’s ability to draw. My grandmother’s scrambled eggs.

I told them I’d be back for Christmas and that I was glad to have found them.

Restlawn was opened in 1929 and is still an active, operating cemetery.