It’s Not Always So Serious

Most of the time when I walk through a cemetery to take photos and get basic information about the place I’m quiet, just going through and looking for something interesting. The visits aren’t really exciting, but I still enjoy them. Most of the time I get usable photos and am happy with them and will end up writing about the place. Sometimes I get usable photos but don’t find out much about the cemetery when I go to do research, and I won’t write about it. On one or two occasions I didn’t like the way the place looked or felt, or saw something there that I didn’t like, and I wouldn’t write about the cemetery for that reason.

After a year and 2 months of doing this I have ended up with quite a few photos on my phone that were not great for the post at the time, but that I still want to share because they were funny or strange, or just one of those dumb luck photos that turned out to be oddly artistic after the fact. My favorite one from last year is this one (below)- not taken at a cemetery- but at a plantation in Volusia County. This was a bad day for me. Hurricane Matthew had been visiting Florida the week before and we had been stuck indoors for too long and decided to get out of the house. Because we don’t watch the news and we both tend to get our news from online sources we were not entirely aware of the amount of damage that had been done to Volusia County. We had a list of 3 cemeteries, one grave site, and one plantation ruin to visit.

The grave site was an easy find, it’s the Ormond Tomb and literally in the middle of a state park where Mister Ormond rests all by his lonesome. The cemeteries were okay, but we had a lot of trouble finding one of them and we were passing people who were cleaning up their yards, sawing trees into pieces to be carted away, and checking their roofs. The debris on the roadside was in big piles and it was not a good day for us to be doing this. I had a headache and was cranky by the time we got to the plantation ruin, and when I got out of the car the first thing I wondered was where the cemetery would have been. I started marching through debris and mud (I was in sandals, btw) and that was when the mosquitoes descended on us with a clear mission to kill. Shawn, who doesn’t really sweat much or have a smell that attracts bugs, and has consequently never been bothered by them kept going. I turned and ran as best I could back to the Jeep while slapping myself all over trying to kill the hordes that kept landing on me. Shawn took this photo right before that happened. I got home that night and sat in a tub full of Aveeno counting bug bites and worrying about encephalitis. My bites- over 30. Shawn- maybe 3.

Next is a photo of me in a receiving vault in Magnolia Cemetery. Shawn was trying to get a photo of the sign and mostly failed. My face however, showed up out of the gloom from inside the vault and I look weird and elongated for some reason. I blame the Android phone. He said he was just trying to get the sign. The picture is horrible, but weird.

This one is of my Mom, who walks with a cane. In this photo she is standing on an old picnic table in Midway, Georgia in order to see over the fence at an historic cemetery there that she had visited once. When we got there it was 8 a.m. and the gates were locked. She shook her cane at me, held out her hand, and indicated that I was to help her up onto the table, which she manged to climb onto with relative grace. I love this picture, even though I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to get her back down.

My mom has a phone that is sensitive when it comes to photos and she tends to take a lot of accidental ones, including this gem from Bonaventure Cemetery. When she saw it on her phone later she started laughing and sent it to me anyway.

The legs in this photo belong to Hannah, and this was the first day that we met in person and the first time we went to a cemetery together. This photo inexplicably showed up on my phone when I was reviewing the photos. She’s standing in Centro Asturiano in Tampa, I can tell by the tiled gave behind her.

The last one is of Shawn in Mascotte Cemetery, one that I’ve yet to write about. The visit that day was odd- it was on a Sunday and the whole time that we were in the small cemetery there were two men in a black truck watching us, and there was also the loudest Spanish voice screeching from someplace nearby. We had no clue what they were saying but it became so intense and rapid that we left- but not before I got this capture of Shawn looking down the cemetery drive, completely bewildered. We did find the voice on the way out. There was a very excited preacher outside with two huge speakers next to him giving his sermon to an empty parking lot. He was almost a block away and he was blaring his message to all of Mascotte. I thought of Jim Jones for some reason and shivered.

Next up, Lincoln Memorial Park in Miami. Happy haunting until then…

 

 

Centro Asturiano Cemetery in Tampa, Florida

There are actually several of these cemeteries, including one in Ybor City, but the one that I visited and loved was the one on North Ola Avenue, within the gates of Woodlawn Cemetery. This cemetery is historic and in delicate condition, but it is maintained by the city. Well, lets just say they’re doing the best they can after what looks like years of damage and decay. It is easily accessible and clean despite being a bit on the spooky side. When you walk in and look to the left you’ll see a few collapsed/vandalized crypts that were a little shocking the first time I saw them.

On my first visit back in February I picked up my friend Hannah at the airport, whom I had never actually met face to face. Fortunately meeting her was like picking up where we left off in our last conversation, as though we had known each other for years. So I didn’t feel too badly when I asked did she need to stop for anything… food, water, a smoothie? No? Okay, well, we had 2 hours before we were supposed to meet the other people for the convention we were attending, and we would be visiting a cemetery during that time. To my delight she said that she was up for it.

I drove to Woodlawn Cemetery looking for Showman’s Rest, which is the old circus cemetery that serves Tampa’s more entertaining residents. It was not at all what I expected and hoped for, despite a few notable burials. I wanted big headstones with clown shoes and elephants, like the ones I had seen online. But I think that particular cemetery is in Sarasota, so there’s another road trip and another cemetery added to my ever-growing list that I keep in my planner. This one was a small memorial park and a nondescript mausoleum, and I had expected something a bit more showy. We decided to jump back in the car and drive through Woodlawn instead.

At the back I saw a smaller gated cemetery in one corner that looked different from the rest of Woodlawn. I parked the car and we were opening the doors to get out when Hannah told me that she really didn’t like cemeteries where they had the pictures of the deceased on the headstones. We slammed the car doors and stood looking around to find that there were literally thousands of pairs of eyes on us. That cemetery is LOADED with portraits on the headstones. I looked at her to make sure she was okay, but she seemed to have rallied, and we walked over to the small gated cemetery called Centro Asturiano.

Tampa has a long tradition of clubs for immigrants who came over for work; they were places to make them feel more at home, have a place to safely socialize, and to provide benefits for them such as health aid, a hospital for club members, and eventually a place to be buried when they died. This cemetery was for Spanish immigrants, and it is a treasure. It is one of three that are associated with this particular club in Tampa. Sadly, the club started to decline in 1990 after the the hospital closed.

This cemetery has a lot of damage which is sad, but it’s also still standing and is obviously cared for. Many of the monuments are in perfect condition, but many have been broken or in the case of the ledger stones topping the graves, simply pushed to the side for some reason. I really think people expect to find a casket or bones right there, but that’s not how it is in most cases. While I have spied the occasional bit of casket through broken cement in a few cemeteries,  it’s a very rare occurrence. This cemetery also has a lot of beautiful tiled graves that are very ornate. I love how bright they are compared to the usual dark headstones.

There are a couple of special finds in this cemetery. One is a small headstone near the gate for a young girl who died, and on her headstone is a portrait of her in her ballerina outfit, complete with a little tutu. She has a beautiful bob haircut and is just precious. It’s a heart wrenching photo, but I love it.

At the back left along the fence is a headstone with a type of glass case built into it that holds the remains of a wreath of white flowers that appear to be made out of some type of porcelain or bisque. The frame that the flowers are attached to is made of rusted metal. This particular one has been damaged and the glass is broken and dangerous to reach into, but there is a perfect example at the Italian Club Cemetery nearby that is still behind glass and whole. It is very beautiful. On that side you will also see a grave entirely covered with conch shells.

This cemetery dates back to the late 1800’s and is closed for burials.