Beulah Cemetery in Winter Garden, Florida

On this particular day I remembered to wear my Converse for the first time. When I was spending a lot of time with horses I had boots for all occasions- boots to run in, ride in, muck stables in, and two pairs for winter since I hate having cold feet. Now that I spend a lot of time in cemeteries, I frequently forget to put on appropriate footwear. I keep rubber boots in my car, but I forgot about them on the day that I grazed a plant in St. Augustine that caused the top of my foot to form welts and blisters over a period of three painful days. I keep converse in Shawn’s Jeep but I also forgot to put them on the day that I got stung by ground bees in New Smyrna. So on this day I was very proud of myself for stopping outside of the cemetery gates to put on closed-toe shoes. Most Florida cemeteries seem to have a lot of burrs and this cemetery is near water so there’s also the possibility of snakes.

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The sign states that Beulah Cemetery was started in 1866, and the earliest burial that I could find was from that year, Andrew Jackson Dunaway. He was an orange farmer, as many of the families in this area were. Mr. Dunaway appears to have been the start of the cemetery, but much of his family is also there. Not only was he enlisted in 1861 as a private in the Civil War, he was twice married and had a huge family. If you walk from the cemetery entrance toward the lake you will notice a humble handmade marker facing the water that says Mrs. America Keen. The rest of his children had pretty standard names, so she stood out to me. In 1860 she was one year old, and I was unable to find much information on her. His children were basically farm labor if they were men or housekeepers if they were women. That’s just the way it was.

 

The census records from the 1860’s that show this family have their neighbors listed as farmers, one that was both a farmer and the local sheriff, one doctor, and one man from Ireland whose occupation was listed as “ditches”. It was fascinating reading. Apparently, this cemetery served the Beulah settlement which was also called the Reaves settlement- Reaves is a name that you see many times in the cemetery. The Beulah Baptist Church is down the road and they maintain this cemetery.

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This cemetery has several death dates on tombstones that correspond with the Spanish Flu epidemic (1918-1919). Additionally, many of the headstones to the left are artfully rendered and quite detailed. Some of the motifs include a harp, a star, the gates of heaven (always!), and one white stone with carved flowers at the top which is one of my favorites.

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The cemetery has 2 above ground crypts belonging to James and Matilda O’Berry, who died 20 years apart, with Matilda dying first. Shawn and I stood there for a moment staring at them, wondering aloud what it would be like to die 20 years after your spouse. She was from Georgia, he was born in Florida, and they had 12 children in their 25 years of marriage. He was also an orange farmer. Matilda’s funeral was done  by the Carey-Hand funeral home and cost 130 dollars and was paid for in 2 payments (1921). Her death notice was printed in 2 papers but I was unable to locate them. When James passed away in 1941 the doctor that attended him was also the Justice of the Peace. It appears that the crypt was added when James died in 1941, since his funeral record includes a charge for masonry and labor and was considerably more expensive than Matilda’s funeral.

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It’s a beautiful cemetery to walk through, not only because of the majestic trees and the breeze from the lake, but also because every time I visit I see birds that live near the water, and the last time I visited there was a baby turtle shell on top of a grave.  It was no bigger than the palm of my hand and still a deep, mossy green color.

I left it there.

 

John Mongin in Bonaventure Cemetery

I loved all of the cemeteries in Savannah that I was fortunate enough to visit, and I had expected Bonaventure to be my favorite.
But it wasn’t.
However, it is absolutely gorgeous and deserves every bit of touristy hype that it gets because as a cemetery, it just doesn’t get much better than Bonaventure in terms of beauty and ambiance. (My favorite was Laurel Grove for it’s spookiness and crumbling decay- which will get it’s own post.)

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Awkward little cemetery photo.

Bonaventure is rambling and shady, with very little bright sunlight, so there is a melancholy feeling to this 160 acre property which used to be a plantation. My boyfriend and I had just been to Laurel Grove which was our first stop that day, and had planned to visit Bonaventure for a couple of hours before it closed at sundown.
It really does feel like time has stopped there. It was late on a wintry afternoon and we were bundled up, and as we walked the sun slanted sharply down through the trees and I had a feeling of squinting into the shadows to see words on headstones, or to try and make out a carving on the front of a mausoleum. We visited Johnny Mercer, and then walked over to see little Gracie, who is supposedly one of the more popular monuments at the cemetery.
I had heard her described as spooky and scary, but I thought she was adorable with her plump cheeks and sweet collared dress. Her story is sad, it’s always sad when a child dies, but I liked it that she was still so popular and had lots of visitors every year who paid their respects. Part of what makes Gracie stand out are the bushes planted behind her, which are very dark, and she truly is one of the cleanest and whitest statues I’ve ever seen. In the dim light under the oak trees she practically glowed. I loved seeing her.

Little Gracie.
Little Gracie.

We made our way toward the river and felt a fresh breeze blowing against our faces, which seemed to be getting steadily colder the later it got.  We passed the grave site of Corinne Lawton, with her spooky, sightless eyes. She was much smaller than I had imagined her to be, but her true glory wasn’t her face, it was the long curls hanging down her back. Like Gracie she was impeccably clean, and I wondered what the team of individuals were like who were in charge of maintaining this place. I photographed her from the back. Her blank eyes did kind of give me a little shiver so I stayed away from her face, but I did take pictures of her feet. They had the sculptor’s signature curved around her beautiful toes and they were flawless. We wandered around in the gathering dusk, holding hands and pointing things out to each other. There were a few other people walking but no one made eye contact or spoke to us, and there was a couple taking a guided tour nearby which we avoided. The tour operator sounded loud in the near twilight peace, and though she was used to projecting and it wasn’t her fault, her voice seemed like white noise in such a quiet place.

Corrine and her beautiful hair.
Corinne and her beautiful hair.
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John Mongin’s Mausoleum.

We rounded a corner and came upon the weirdest mausoleum I’d ever seen anywhere. It reminded me of an upside down mushroom, the design was just so bizarre. It was wider at the bottom than the top and had a squat metal door that seemed to be up higher than it should have been. Judging by the unusual Pyramid shape and the winged ornament at the top of the vault (one newspaper article said it’s the Egyptian God of the Dead) I’m assuming it was Egyptian Revival style of architecture, but I was unable to find out who deigned or built it. The vault listed 11 names on a marble plate at the base of the door and we stood there, transfixed and wondering how in the hell they fit all of those people in there. It just didn’t seem possible unless the floor was dropped down to another level underneath, or everyone had been cremated, which wasn’t really a ‘thing’ when these people were interred. John Mongin died in 1833 at a time where if you died, you got buried. And as quickly as possible. Embalming wasn’t popular in the U.S. until around the time of the Civil War, 1861-1865.  It was also possible that the rest of the family had been left in the original burying place and the mausoleum had been moved with the name plate added to commemorate them.
I came home from the trip and did some research and found out that Mongin mausoleum has a past. Some enterprising woman named Cheryl Hackett wrote a nicely informative paper about the Mongin family and mentions that the whole vault was floated to it’s place near the river at Bonaventure in the early 1900’s. It was originally at their family plot on Daufuskie Island. The island is 14 miles from Savannah and the fact that that vault was moved at all is a miracle.
Sadly, Ms. Hackett did not mention in her paper how the bodies were arranged in the vault, which is what I wanted to know since I always ask the gruesome questions that everyone thinks but doesn’t actually ask. They fly right out of me.
On the way out we saw a beautiful red fox running swiftly through the headstones and tangled ivy, his coat glowing warmly in the last of the sunlight. It was the perfect way to end our visit.