CRPT Review

St. Augustine is one of my favorite cities, so a couple of years ago when I heard that the next Cemetery Resource Protection Training was going to be held there I knew I’d be first in line when the registration started. The first CRPT I went to was in Deland 2 years ago and we worked in the beautiful Oakdale Cemetery, which reminded me of a tiny version of Bonaventure. The class was fairly small for that one, maybe 30 of us. This time there were over 60 and not only had our numbers grown, but the curriculum did too.

After the first one I assumed that going again would just be brushing up on my skills and making sure I was still doing everything right if I was cleaning a headstone, stumbled across remains on a cemetery visit, or attempted to transcribe a marker. But this time I learned so much from so many different presenters that my head was spinning for days. Additionally, all of my cemetery visits in the last year had really paid off. I not only understood more, but I knew where most of the photographic examples of different graves came from because I’d been there to see them myself. That was a nice feeling.

The Florida Public Archaeology Network creates this workshop and many of the presenters come on their days off to take part. This is a very committed group of people, and it seems that the people taking the workshop have the same level of commitment to their cemeteries. Some were cemetery owners, some were caretakers for church cemeteries. There were genealogists there, and members of various historical societies throughout Florida. And of course there were lots of scholars and preservationists, so it was in incredible mix of people and I learned a lot just from talking to others. Our name badges had our affiliation on them so it was easy to tell who belonged to what group. I didn’t have the blog name on my badge, in fact I only mentioned it once when I exchanged cards with someone.

This year was also different because I now have an emotional investment in Page Jackson Cemetery and all of the ensuing drama taking place around that 11 acre plot of land. Everything that I learned I was mentally applying to that cemetery, and as a result my volunteer buddies and I met up afterward and came up with a workable game plan for the next 4-6 months. It thankfully doesn’t include land clearing, weed whackers, or chain saws. While those things are important, we have come to realize that there’s really only so much that can be done and it’s the people there that matter most, so that will be our focus. (We were fortunate enough to meet at The Stranded Sailor pub in Sanford- if you’ve never been it should definitely be on your list!)

The conference took place on the gorgeous Flagler College campus and our cemetery day was spent in two of the town’s precious and well-cared for cemeteries. The Huguenot Cemetery was established in 1821 for Yellow Fever victims, and the Tolomato Cemetery, which has the oldest marked grave in Florida from 1797. The highlight of the morning for me was being able to go into the cemetery chapel there, which I’ve always wanted to see. Like every mortuary chapel I’ve been in this one definitely had that same feeling of dead space that I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, and it smelled like salt water and old plaster and had gently peeling walls. Of course I absolutely loved it.

Afterward we took a trolley ride past multiple burial spaces in the city, which was fascinating. Plus we completely filled the trolley! I had imagined a trolley draped in black like Lincoln’s funeral train, but we had a shiny bright model in green and an amazingly skilled driver who could navigate the tiny streets downtown like a champ.

At the end of the conference we signed our names to an interest sheet to start a Florida chapter for the Association for Gravestone Studies or AGS. I am very excited about this, and hope to get to their conference next year.

If you’ve never been to this conference and love cemeteries please try to get to the next one or to one of their smaller workshops during the year. You can follow them on Facebook to get information about upcoming events.

Also- if you love reading about things like this- you might like this blog. A bit of death, a bit of glamour…it’s a gloomy girl’s best friend!

The Hebrew Cemetery in Richmond

First, I’m excited today to be featuring photography by Chris Beasley for this post! I ran across his work in a Facebook group about cemeteries and I ended up asking to use his photos for my post on the historic Hebrew Cemetery in Richmond.  His pictures really do the place justice and capture the feel of this historic cemetery. Enjoy!

I haven’t been to too many Jewish cemeteries, but out of all the ones that I’ve visited this one is my favorite. Part of what makes this place unique is the looming red brick building behind the cemetery that was once a hospital, then an almshouse for the poor, and now has rediscovered it’s usefulness as senior apartments. The irony is not lost on me- this apartment building has cemetery views from 2 sides and probably does not inspire a lot of motivation from it’s residents. It’s an extraordinary place for a senior community, but I’m glad that they did preserve the grand old building rather then tear it down. It’s an active area and we saw quite a few people out and about on the day that we went.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The former hospital is in the background.

Well, the people who live there do have a great place to walk with multiple cemeteries in the vicinity- at least in my opinion. We headed to the Hebrew Cemetery and took a few photos, walking around quietly and marveling at the crowded beauty of the place since we were (I thought) the only people there. Many of the stones were ornate and it was a lot to take in. Then out of nowhere a man in a Hawaiian shirt walked up and introduced himself to us, and offered to help us find anyone we were looking for. He was the caretaker.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mortuary chapel.

I’ve only had one other person approach me in a cemetery and it was a fairly drunk woman in Jacksonville who hugged me, gave me a homemade bath bomb, and told me to please thank the veterans laid to rest nearby. I did thank them, and I am not making this up. I’m a bit skittish when people approach me in these places but this gentleman was extremely knowledgeable and walked us around the cemetery, pointing out interesting features. This cemetery is clearly loved and meticulously cared for. There are also extensive burial  records that can be accessed on their website for genealogists.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had 2 favorites- one was the little chapel at the front of the property, now boarded up and used as offices for the caretaker and other staff. It was erected in 1898 and is just so pretty; most mortuary chapels seem to be a little on the grim side. This one is substantial and small, but I loved the design and the fact that it’s placed at the front of the cemetery, as though it was there to look after it. I’m hoping that one day I will get to go inside. When the cemetery was first started there was a small ritual house there instead where bodies could be prepared for burial, and the chapel replaced that. The cemetery began in 1816 and is now occupying 5 acres.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The second feature that I absolutely loved was a memorial to the Jewish soldiers in the Civil War. 30 Confederate soldiers were buried in this section during the war- that alone is unusual as (according to the website) it is the only Jewish military cemetery in the United States. The site used to have gravestones but they were removed and a plaque was placed there in honor of those men, and an incredibly ornate iron fence was erected around the site. The fence is made of iron guns, swords, funeral wreaths, and the tops of the fence posts are actually shaped like the caps that the soldiers wore. The caretaker mentioned that many of the guns have slight differences, and we stood there a long time looking at it. It really is the most fantastic, creative thing I’ve seen in a cemetery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After visiting this cemetery you might want to walk over to Shockoe. It’s surrounded by a picturesque red brick wall and is FULL of gorgeous statuary, and also has Poe’s foster parents there along with the woman who inspired the poem Annabel Lee, which was the first piece of Poe’s writing that I ever read. Sarah Shelton was also his last fiancee before his death. Her grave is covered with stones from visitors. I absolutely loved it.

These cemeteries definitely deserve to be on any taphophiles list when they’re visiting Richmond. I can’t wait to go back this fall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA