Moultrie Church in St. Augustine, Florida

This little church is stunning and was built in 1877, when the graveyard (called Wildwood Cemetery) was already existing. It was originally a Southern Methodist church, then non-denominational, and then finally Catholic, with the first Catholic mass held in 2014. The church has been transformed through the years as the church population declined, until now when it’s essentially opened for special services and occasions.

A couple began taking care of the church and grounds in 2004. Mr. and Mrs. Tindell started caretaking for the cemetery, recovering buried stones and maintaining the grounds before finally gaining permission to care for the building as well. The grounds are impeccable, with some of the cleanest and most pristine old headstones I’ve seen in this area. Some of the unusual features are toward the back of the cemetery, so be sure to walk all the way through and head toward the woods.

Propped against a tree you’ll find a wooden marker. Sadly, it can no longer be read, and most wooden markers tend to fall over due to the moisture at the base rotting the wood, but I still love seeing them! There is also a handmade headstone from 1960 for a C.R. Cooper that looks like molded concrete with turquoise paint layered over the scratched letters. The font for the name is lovely and has a little flourish on the C. It looks like it was written in the wet concrete with someone’s finger and I love the idea of that.

 

In the far corner is an odd section that I approached, thinking at first that it was a small area for families to sprinkle cremains, but that isn’t what’s going on there. It was actually a family plot for a husband and wife, and aside from the angels and trinkets, there were also lots and lots of oyster shells. I’ve seen so many conch shells in the African American cemeteries that I frequent, but the oyster shells were new to me. If anyone knows the significance, please reach out to me here on the blog. I’d appreciate it! I know seashells can be used as a way to mark a visit to a loved one’s grave, similar to the Jewish tradition of leaving a pebble. The conch usually signifies the trip homeward for the person buried there, a way of being carried back across the sea. I’ve even heard that the conch, if whole, can hold the soul of that person. I never touch them when I visit cemeteries, but I do take a peek to see if they were sourced (they’ll have a small hole in the shell) or collected naturally.

Definitely go to this cemetery if you get the chance, it’s lovely.

Also take a minute to look into your local chapter for the Association of Gravestone Studies. I joined the Florida chapter about a month ago and got my first newsletter the other day- it had so much information in it- I loved going through all of the articles. If you’re interested in joining you can find them on Facebook. Their annual conference is in June so mark your calendars!

Meanwhile, I’m sitting here in the dark watching Britcoms because it’s the first day of daylight savings time and Shawn is also out of town. The house seems very quiet. Grace and I are heading to Tampa this week to revisit some favorite cemeteries and I’m sure hilarity will ensue. We have a big list to get through so I’m just hoping for the best, though I was hoping for cooler weather. Florida decided to spoil us for a week with evening temps in the 50’s and then ruin it all over again the next week with our usual heat. Oh well. There’s a lot to be grateful for right now, including the fact that my cat now has her paw in my water glass.

Happy daylight savings, everyone!

 

 

Marti Colon Cemetery in Tampa, Florida

I took a much needed day off to be alone and just wander, and what better place to do that than in Tampa’s cemeteries. I had several on my list that I had missed on my last trip, and decided to head in that direction. I needed to just stop thinking for a day.

My favorite of the several that I visited was not the most showy or ostentatious, quite the opposite, in fact. I had passed it back in February and was unable to see the name on the sign, I just saw the large, white mausoleum with Jesus on the front of it and knew I had to go back. It took me a bit of researching to figure out which one it might potentially be, but I found it, and went there after visiting Myrtle Hill (amazing), and Orange Hill (interesting). Marti Colon is not terribly large, and has a checkered past involving the city, the parks department, dumping of raw sewage, and a LOT of bodies that were not moved during the Columbus Road expansion and then a few more bodies that were moved improperly- stacked in graves one on top of the other. That’s a no-no unless the plot was sold to the family for that kind of burial. But when you go there, you’d never know it’s had problems. It was established in 1895.

The one family mausoleum at the front is huge and I’ve never seen one like it. First, the doorway was tiled in bright colors and there were no doors. Over the door was a very large plaster figure of Jesus with the stigmata on his hands. (I absolutely loved it, of course. It was amazing and only slightly ghoulish.) The windows were some kind of blurred glass that you could still see out of, and inside the ceilings were surprisingly high. There were niches in the walls for flowers and tributes, and the marble for the name plates was an unusual pink color. The niches had been painted a robin’s egg blue and were discolored from candles being burned in them over the years. One side held flowers and the other a dead plant. An old broom was in the corner. The windows on either side of the doorway actually had crank handles so that they could be opened. It was really remarkable and didn’t exactly remind me of a mausoleum, more of a house. Like you could put in doors and a couch and be good to go. I’m thinking the family must like that. The mausoleum was almost full.

The thing about the mausoleum that really struck me though, besides all that I’ve mentioned, is that the light inside was extraordinary. It was perfect for photos; I’m not sure if it was the blurred glass or the high ceilings, or the reflective tile floor, but it was really beautiful. I stayed in there a long time, just looking. Finally, I walked out to see the larger mausoleum. It was flat and wide, dark on the inside, and I felt a need to duck going in. It had skylights throughout the central section that gave it an eerie feeling with lots of shadows. I can’t say I’d want to be in this one on a rainy day. Tributes were scattered all over the floor and at the end of the main section was a broken stained glass window that had been of some religious figure. My guess would be Mary. One hand was left in the glass, perfectly detailed and holding a flower stem, while the rest of the figure was gone. It needed a good mop, broom, and bucket of paint. It was just dirty and sad, in the way of homes that get run down because the occupants can’t afford to replace things as they get old or break. I flipped the light switch praying for the lights to come on, but the electricity had probably been turned off for years. I walked out to look at the gravestones.

Like the other cemeteries in Tampa this one was full of photos on the graves. It’s one of my favorite things about visiting this area. The Spanish, Cuban, and Italian immigrants loved their fancy graves and rituals. The photos mean that you will usually see at least one post-mortem while visiting the cemeteries, and I saw what I thought was one in the back, but Maryanne said she didn’t think so. Hard to tell on that one. They always startle me a bit, but it’s either something you love or something that makes you shiver. I usually like them.

 

I was following a path through the graves and looking down at one grave at a time as I walked when I saw a small handmade marker. Baby Sanchez June 16, 1961, Love Mom and Dad. The phrase had been scratched into the concrete with a nail or sharp tool, and I got down on the ground to take a closer look. I thought about the parents that must have made that and what they felt like at the time, and then I saw another one. And another. There was an entire row of the handmade markers, all in the same hand, and all identical otherwise aside from the dates and names. The parents had not made them. One person in the community had made them for the families that lost children for several years. And then I took a closer look around and saw that I was standing in Babyland.

I don’t willingly enter these sections anymore, and I felt something akin to fear grip my heart when I realized where I was, so I looked at one other grave that caught my eye and then went back to the pathway to view the section from there. The babies were under large, shady trees and the graves were so tiny, and some quite ornate. In the back I saw one that had small toy truck left on it, which amazed me as it looked fairly old. I made my way back to the front of the cemetery.

This is one that I’ll be going back to in the next month, and bringing a few cemetery-loving friends for an outing. I’m also interested in viewing the records on some of the families there. It’s a little run-down, but I think that’s exactly what I liked about it. I doubt it has many visitors since I saw little evidence of recent visits like fresh or new flowers and cards. Instead, like the cemetery itself, everything was worn, slightly faded, and had seen better, brighter days. But to me, that made it glorious.

 

Hiram J. Hampton in Woodlawn Cemetery, Tampa

This monument had me out of my car in a flash, camera at the ready. It’s so striking, but unfortunately because of it’s positioning it isn’t the easiest one to photograph. There is also a tree on the plot that tends to shade this magnificent couple, and again adds to the complicated task of getting a good shot. So forgive the photos- but definitely go see it.

Woodlawn Cemetery is in Tampa and like all larger cemeteries it includes other smaller ones within its gates, like Showman’s Rest, Beth Israel, and Centro Asturiano just to name a few. Basically you could spend the day here, and just for fun look at the map of this thing.  It has over 24,000 burials and only 30% are photographed according to Find A Grave. I’ve been twice so far,but as it always happens when I start researching for blog posts I found out about the Marti/Colon Cemetery in Tampa, so I’ll be headed back over there soon to see that. Big mausoleum on the property? Yes, please.

Hiram was a doctor in Tampa (rumored to be the first one in the city) who was born in 1852 in Madison County, Georgia. His wife Emma is next to him and there is some speculation about their backs being turned to the city of Tampa, but one clever person pointed out that they are actually facing their children (of which there were many) who are buried in the plot in front of them. The couple looks like they’re talking at the end of a long day. He holds a book. She holds a fan. The large portrait on her grave is missing but his is still intact. They are remarkable and made of Italian marble.

Emma died 12 years before Hiram in 1908 and she was also from Georgia. She brought 8 children into the world, 3 of which died in infancy.

The photos of the couple on Find A Grave show them cleaner than they are now, but they’re still one of my favorite monuments to date. Restoring and cleaning marble is a costly and delicate process, and I’m sure it’s something that nobody wants to do in the Florida heat, and other than the dirt these statues are in wonderful condition.

One the way out of town I was stopped at a light and saw this, and was taken aback by all of the offerings this church managed to pack onto one sign. They definitely got their money’s worth and it looks like you can head to church on most nights during the week. That is one busy pastor.

 

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.