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.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

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.

Christmas in the Cemetery

Most people wouldn’t think to head to the cemetery as part of their holiday festivities, but apparently a lot of people do. Everywhere I visited this month there were bright decorations everywhere, everything from trees to candy canes to a little snowman headstone topper. For my own family I’m choosing poinsettias, and will be taking them out to my grandparents on my Dad’s side on Christmas Day. They’ve been long neglected- I just found out where they were buried after quite a bit of searching over the last few months. I was really happy to see their names on the plaque and know that whenever I’m in town I can take them flowers.

I also decorated the graves of a family in this cemetery this year. After writing about them and researching them I felt like I wanted to do something, not really sure why. I just loved their story and thought that their history must have been very similar to so many others here in the Central Florida area, and every one of those families is important. They’re the foundation that this area was built on. So on a bright day Shawn and I went out and brought them each a small decoration and a light to place by each grave. I’ll leave the lights after the holidays.

I never really considered the act of decorating a grave for the holidays until this year, I guess for a lot of reasons. I think that I realized that losing someone doesn’t mean that you lose the habit of caring for them, even in the most basic of ways. Reaching for them in the middle of the night, buying something that catches your eye just because you know they’d like it, or leaving their number in your phone because you’re used to calling them. Habits die hard if they die at all, and they last long after the person is gone. So this year it seemed perfectly normal for me to go out to cemeteries and see entire Christmas trees, little stockings, Christmas cards, sparkly flowers, and velvet bows.

 

My favorite was the full sized tree that I saw on one grave, each little stocking hanging on the tree had a family member’s name on it, and it had been decorated with so much care. I stopped and took photos of it and read the names on each of the stockings, wondering what the family was like.

If you’re visiting loved ones in the cemetery this holiday season I hope they’re not sad visits, but visits filled with good memories and smiles. Happy holidays, everyone!

The Portraits at Congregation Ohev Shalom

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cemeteries and Hurricanes

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

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Greenwood, Orlando.

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

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Ohev Shalom, Orlo Vista.

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

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Greenwood, Orlando.

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

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James Ormond, an honest man….

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

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

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Groover Creek in Ormond.

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

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

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

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

Pine Forest Cemetery, Mt. Dora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.