The word charnel means “associated with death” and a charnel house means “a repository for bones”, and that was exactly the feeling I had in this cemetery, as if all of these people had been dropped off, were anonymous, and unable to tell their story. This cemetery is also known as the Potter’s Field, where they once buried the poor or unknown in Deland. This cemetery has 450 burials and faces the back of the hospital. It does not have a sign from the road for you to find it, you have to look for the hospital as a landmark. The road to the cemetery appears unused.
It’s the saddest cemetery I’ve ever been to.
Jane Burr wrote an article on this cemetery for the Roots and Branches Genealogical Society of West Volusia County Summer 2015 newsletter. In it she mentions that the land for the hospital was at one time the Volusia County Home, or welfare home. The cemetery may have been part of it, but it’s not known for sure. Some of the graves are marked with headstones and some simply have numbers, most of which have worn off. Some have dates and others don’t. Some have names, and one heartbreaking one simply said Twin A and Twin B, with only a last name.
The graves run in order, starting at the back from the 1960’s and culminate in the front of the property in the late 1990’s. The most recent grave I found was from 1998. There were other puzzles here though- in the far right corner I saw 2 small graves of children that were with the 1960’s row, but were dated 1995. They had been visited and had small mementos on the graves. At the front there were several graves that were right up against the chain link fence and were facing the other graves, and they were from the 90’s also. I couldn’t figure out why they were in a different direction. If you know, please leave a comment or go to the contact form.
When I pulled up I passed the entrance and went instead to the mostly empty hospital parking lot. I parked at the end facing the cemetery and noticed that there were weeds and debris, so I got out, opened the back of the Durango, and pulled off my sandals and pulled on my high rubber boots. I locked the door and started walking down the slope to the cemetery road. Three women stood under a tree in the parking lot, smoking and watching me. They stayed the whole time I was there.
Stepping into the knee high weeds of the cemetery was like having a heavy blanket thrown over me. It felt sad. It looked unloved. Someone had mowed the grass over the summer and had left the clippings to dry on top of the stones, stuck across the names in a thick mat. I brushed off several of them until I got a splinter and stopped, and even then I just used my other hand instead if I really wanted to see a name. A huge tree and large branch were down in one corner of the cemetery and had broken the fence, and as a result about 20 of the graves were obscured. The hurricane had just happened and no one had been out here yet, which was totally understandable since Volusia county had been smacked by Matthew. There was no number on the gate to call, but I was almost certain that someone would be here to maintain the place. The city owns it.
I know that during construction of the hospital a skull was found and construction was stopped while they investigated. And then, as is usually the case, it resumed. Investigators found another 13 graves outside of the site that were left alone, and said that the ones on site were dated 1900-1950. There are few records for the people who lived at the county home, but the news article from 2015 indicates that the conditions were terrible.
A depressing story, all the way around. When I walked back up the hill to the Durango the women stubbed out their cigarettes and left. I put on some loud music to try to clear the heavy feeling and drove to Starbucks, the home of all things cheerful and tasty. It worked for awhile until I got home and tried to pull the splinter out of my finger, and I thought that I’ll probably never forget what that place felt like.
I wish the city would rename the cemetery.