Tampa Cemetery Tour With Grace

My auto correct automatically changed the word Grace to Grave. That seems to say a lot about my life, but I’m going to ignore it for now.

Grace and I jumped in the Jeep a couple of weeks ago and drove to Tampa with a full tank of gas and a bag full of snacks. We had a list of several cemeteries to visit, and we wanted to hopefully be heading back to Orlando before the traffic got out of control.

The first stop was Marti Colon. We spent a lot of time at this cemetery because we both loved it, and it was interesting for me to notice which grave sites Grace gravitated toward and pointed out to me. There are some stunning portraits here, so take your time looking.

The next stop was Centro Asturiano, the immigrant cemetery within the confines of Woodlawn for members of the local Spanish Club. It was here that I got a burr stuck underneath my toes, and I had to find a sturdy headstone to brace myself against while Grace got the evil little thing off of me. This cemetery is such a treasure; I love visiting. Here is where you’ll start to see the graves made out of blue and white tiles, and some with a wreath with a pink tile bow if the grave belongs to a woman or child. Many of the ones in here are still in excellent shape, though there is a considerable amount of damage at the front of the cemetery.

After this- Woodlawn. We drove though and got out to visit the Hampton plot, and also to get a better look at a few portraits on the headstones. This cemetery is enormous and one you could easily spend the day in, with lots of mausoleums for added interest. Since we don’t see many of them around here they always draw me to them and yes, I peek in windows.

A quick stop for drinks and a snack- then Robles Cemetery and it’s 26 burials. This cemetery was one that I feel literally too intimidated to write about. It’s small, uncared for, clearly ignored, and suffering damage, but the history of this family is fascinating and the story is so good, I know I can’t do it justice. Check the link for the contributions they made to Central Florida.

Next- La Unione Italiana and Cento Espanol next to it. La Unione was the site of a break in in 2016 where several caskets (including the bodies) was stolen from one of the mausoleums. I didn’t see any evidence of damage, thankfully, but I felt terrible for the family. There was a descendant living and a reward was offered, but I never heard anything else about it. Grave robbing is still a very real event and it literally happens all the time. It saddens me and makes me angry because I just don’t get it, and I don’t understand how profitable it can actually be. Definitely something for another blog post, and if you have ever witnessed anything like this please reach out to me on here. I’d like to hear your experiences.

While we were there Grace said she wanted a picture of what she kept referring to as “Anchor Jesus”. We walked toward a huge statue and stood at it’s feet, both squinting up at it.

“I don’t think that’s Jesus,” I said.

“Who would it be?” she asked, taking photos.

I looked it up when I got home. It’s a statue of Hope, which is often depicted with a large anchor and a star. The anchor motif is popular in coastal cities, and Tampa does have a number of anchor symbols on grave markers. I especially love this beautiful statue, she’s on the right side of the main aisle (If you’re facing the gates) when you visit, but you can’t miss her.

At the Spanish Cemetery next door I stayed in the car with the A/C running while Grace ran around. I don’t like the feeling of that cemetery at all, I feel like someone is throwing a heavy, wet blanket of grief onto me when I’ve gone in before. No thanks. The funny thing is, she came over to my car door and I rolled the window down, smiling and asking her what she thought about the place.

“This one doesn’t feel right,” she said musingly, and got back in the car a few minutes later.

We planned to end our day with Orange Hill, which is the less prim and proper cousin of Myrtle Hill next door. Myrtle Hill is the fine wine of active cemeteries in Tampa. It is very grand, very large, and very beautiful. Orange Hill, however, has it’s charms. One is an empty mausoleum that you can pop your head into to look around, and another is a huge and strange building at the front with no discernible purpose. I did some digging online and can’t figure out if it’s a funeral chapel or something else, it seems way too large to be a mausoleum. Grace sent a photo to her girlfriend and got this gem in response:

On the way out of Myrtle Hill we noticed a memorial park across the street and decided to drive through for a minute, but it turned into a lengthy adventure. First, it has a huge columbarium in the middle of it that has some interesting architecture and we decided to get out and go peek. We found the doors to the chapel area open and walked inside, and then Grace covered her face with her tee shirt because the SMELL was unbelievable. I mean, BAD. I thought about either backing out of the doors or gagging, but the inside was so interesting that I swallowed hard and walked farther in. After a few minutes I had to leave, but kept looking around for a source of the smell and could only see a few spills on the floor that had dried and were crawling with small bugs. I have no idea what happened in there. Grace said it smelled like the craft supplies that had been stored for a year in a mildewed closet at at Bible Camp. I had nothing to compare it to, but I’ll say again that I hate smells in cemeteries.

I’m encouraging everyone to get to Tampa and take a cemetery tour of your own design. We really had a stellar day, and went home in horrible traffic (we didn’t avoid it after all) full of French fries and caffeine and covered in bug bites.

 

 

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