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.

Page-Jackson Cemetery and Deep Woods OFF

This is a cemetery that I would like to draw your attention to for several reasons.

  1. It’s historic. Many Sanford pioneers are here and the plot for Zora Neale- Hurston’s family may possibly be here, though Zora herself is buried in Ft. Pierce.
  2. It needs help from the community in order to be restored and preserved; it’s in danger of being lost to the woods and the clean-up for this site is overwhelming.
  3. It is chock-full of burials and monuments…but you can’t see them unless you have a good can of bug-spray and sturdy shoes.
  4. Because of it’s delicate condition and value as a historical resource, this cemetery has really stolen my heart.
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Shiloh Cemetery entrance.

I found this cemetery when researching the Evergreen Municipal Cemetery, which is made up of five different cemeteries that have bled together throughout the years, forming an enormous arterial network of graves and monuments. Four of the cemeteries include Shiloh (maintained by a church), Restlawn and Lakeview (maintained by the city of Sanford), and the odd child… Page Jackson (not maintained by any one except volunteers). I haven’t been to the fifth one yet but it’s in there somewhere.

The ground there is spongy from burials and sunken graves are everywhere, some of them up to a couple of feet deep. Some of the ground has been cleared by a group of volunteers, revealing old headstones, some handmade, and a ground littered with funeral home markers. Most are rusted but in good condition to read since they were filled out by hand in the days before the typed paper ones. These are on thin sheets of metal from Eichelberger Funeral Home in Sanford, most from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Here is what I love about the markers- most are written in the same handwriting. One person had a very long career in funeral service. The funeral home is still servicing the community under the name Wilson-Eichelberger Mortuary.

Past the cleared area you start to notice headstones in the woods and you charge in out of curiosity (if you’re like me) or sit on the dirt road and squint into the woods in fear (if you happen to be cemetery phobic). Thankfully both of the people I went with aren’t scared of anything.

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In a family plot.

The woods are separated by the dirt road, and in another section of woods I started finding entire family plots, some with concrete barriers to mark the space, some with rusting chain still looped between poles. I’ve never seen another cemetery like it. I stayed on that side for awhile noticing that there seemed to be quite a few veterans graves, and there were also crime line notices posted all over the place. People were being encouraged to call if they noticed any suspicious activity – besides me and my friends walking through the woods in astonished silence. At one point the woods thinned and then ended abruptly in front of a huge trash pile and a large, flat field full of other graves, mostly with ledger stones rather than headstones. This was Shiloh Cemetery.

After being in the shady woods coming out into the bright field seemed surreal. The original cemetery gates were gone if they ever even existed, but the brick entrance was there and you could just make out the word ‘cemetery’ in faded white paint. The graves were painted bright colors or just left in plain concrete, and one had a man’s name spray painted onto the surface to serve as his marker. There were no dates, and on my second visit there were new burials sporting flowers with bright blue ribbons resting on top of the sandy soil.

Page Jackson is an African-American cemetery and is Sanford’s first black cemetery. Many of the graves are unmarked and in my reading I read that William Page-Jackson was a gravedigger at the cemetery and allowed people to bury their dead for free for many years. Eventually the place was called after him, because he was the resident authority over the space. He did what he wanted. In another account, I read that he was a farmer that had land that adjoined the cemetery, and it was named after him for that reason. I don’t know which account is true but I suspect it’s the second one.

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Handmade stones for Sarah King.

Meanwhile, this cemetery feels like it’s waiting to be found, like it has more stories to tell. People are looking for their family members and I know that one day when the space is finally cleared, there will likely be many more surprises awaiting volunteers and families. One surprise that I got while visiting was to find a team of paranormal investigators on the property with all of their equipment. The group leader described the cemetery as “friendly”. I loved that.

Currently 6 acres of the cemetery are not owned by the city, but the rest of Evergreen is. That means no maintenance from the city. It seems impossible in this day and age that these places can come to this kind of end, but it is surprisingly easy when you’re not really sure who owns the land or who has the right to work on it.

This cemetery has a history of vandalism and because of that police patrol the area on a regular basis, including at night. There is also a house on the property that is inhabited. (“My dream house!” I gleefully told Shawn. He laughed, but I could smell the fear.) If you visit this cemetery please walk carefully, don’t go in tick season, and put back anything you touch. Also, report any vandalism to the police, though it’s doubtful you will see anything with all of the activity in the area.

I picked a funeral home marker up off the ground that was handwritten and 58 years old, still perfectly legible. I put it back knowing that that was the only thing left to tell where Mr. Frank June was, and in a few years, no one will know anyway unless something is done for this place. The next time I visit I’m planning to just bring trash bags and fill them up. Every little bit helps and I don’t own a weed whacker or a chainsaw. And did you know that if you buy the dry version of Deep Woods OFF it will actually roll off of your skin in a powdery mess if you happen to accidentally touch any part of yourself after it’s applied? I didn’t either.

For more information about the cemetery and previous efforts at clean-up and restoration, you can visit this article from 2008.

Thanks to Keila and Shawn for the great photos!