First Aid After Visiting Woodbridge and Maitland Cemeteries

A lot of land, not many graves.

On a recent day off I decided to get out of the house and visit two cemeteries that I’d never been to before. The first one was Woodbridge Cemetery in Seminole County, close to Maitland. I drove right past what I thought was a sandy field full of dirt and weeds before I realized that there was a cemetery there. A very big, spread out cemetery without a single shade tree in sight. The whole thing was surrounded by a high chain link fence and I drove by twice before I found the open gate for visitors since the gates for funerals were both padlocked shut.

There was one wooden sign that was brightly painted and tried to make this seem a little less depressing, but it didn’t work. I’d done some reading online and the main thing that I heard about this cemetery was that it was haunted (of course) and that the burials were numerous and extended to the Winn-Dixie parking lot nearby, causing the store to also be harassed by restless spirits. (Give me a break. ) This cemetery was also said to be predominantly African-American and quite old, which interested me. Of course it’s possible that there were more burials than markers, but I have little patience with some of the things I read online when they try to throw in the supernatural slant. Find-A-Grave lists only 115 burials for this rather large chunk of land, so it”s kind of odd, but I doubt the Winn-Dixie is cursed if it’s still there (I didn’t notice it).

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H.R. Mason’s hand-made marker.
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Pink paint.

This cemetery bites back, so if you do decide to visit be warned that you’ll need a good pair of closed toe shoes. I was in sandals and had to stop twice to pick multiple sand burrs off of my toes and once off of the arch of my foot. I had to walk a fair distance between headstones because the cemetery was so spread out, and the frequent stops and constant staring at my feet as I walked made me want to leave pretty darn fast. Also, two teenagers saw me enter the cemetery and decided to go in behind me to walk around, so I felt obvious looking at headstones, taking pictures, and cursing the burrs. I had the feeling though that they had never noticed the cemetery was even there, and they were respectfully carrying their skateboards and reading the names on the headstones slowly and looking at everything. When I left they were still there, making their way through the property.

There were a few handmade stones but many of them were illegible, which is a pity. I would have liked to walk around more but it was blazing hot and there was no shade at all, plus after five minutes of walking in sand and weeds I was filthy. I did love the stone for Mason, however, which looked like it had been made by pressing  a nail into wet cement to form the letters, and all of the N’s were backward. A heartwarming home-made tribute.

I’d like to visit again sometime to see the older stones a little better, but  I decided to leave and visit the Maitland Cemetery that was close by and reported to be small, both in land size and in the number of burials, which they list as 334 known burials on Find-A-Grave.

Maitland Cemetery is very small indeed and is beautifully designed to look more like a well established and cared-for park. It is located on on Lake Lucien, and there was a strong breeze the whole time I was there, plus it was mostly shady. I was surprised to see a new burial , raw and obvious in the park-like setting, but the flowered wreaths had died and no one had visited to throw them away. I saw the same thing at Windridge. This cemetery has beautiful old stones and several modern ones, and the cemetery is much older than I had expected, supposedly established in 1892 though some of the burials are before that date. There were two stones that I really liked, one with clasped hands that were perfectly sculpted, and one with a harp motif that I had never seen before. In the corner there was a tiny vault for two people that looked brand new and appeared to be empty since there were no names on it.

At the front of the cemetery were a few very old stones that had been handmade and were really beautiful. I missed them driving in, but when I was walking I noticed them; only one of them could be read. It belongs to Rosa Belle Bouldin, who lived here and was married to a man named Ed who was a crate maker. (Maybe oranges?) I wished I could read the other stone to see if it was her husband, but even a look on Find-A-Grave didn’t help. According to the Florida Genealogical Society there are 11 Civil War veterans interred here.

These two cemeteries could not be more different, but they are both worth a visit for any tapophile. Of the two, Maitland was my favorite, even though while I was there I grazed a stinging nettle. My feet were throbbing after visiting both of these places.

On the way home I got an ice cream cone to take my mind off the nettles and burrs, and then put my feet into cold water when I got to the house.

I need to take my own advice and wear boots or stay on the path.



John Mongin in Bonaventure Cemetery

I loved all of the cemeteries in Savannah that I was fortunate enough to visit, and I had expected Bonaventure to be my favorite.
But it wasn’t.
However, it is absolutely gorgeous and deserves every bit of touristy hype that it gets because as a cemetery, it just doesn’t get much better than Bonaventure in terms of beauty and ambiance. (My favorite was Laurel Grove for it’s spookiness and crumbling decay- which will get it’s own post.)

Awkward little cemetery photo.

Bonaventure is rambling and shady, with very little bright sunlight, so there is a melancholy feeling to this 160 acre property which used to be a plantation. My boyfriend and I had just been to Laurel Grove which was our first stop that day, and had planned to visit Bonaventure for a couple of hours before it closed at sundown.
It really does feel like time has stopped there. It was late on a wintry afternoon and we were bundled up, and as we walked the sun slanted sharply down through the trees and I had a feeling of squinting into the shadows to see words on headstones, or to try and make out a carving on the front of a mausoleum. We visited Johnny Mercer, and then walked over to see little Gracie, who is supposedly one of the more popular monuments at the cemetery.
I had heard her described as spooky and scary, but I thought she was adorable with her plump cheeks and sweet collared dress. Her story is sad, it’s always sad when a child dies, but I liked it that she was still so popular and had lots of visitors every year who paid their respects. Part of what makes Gracie stand out are the bushes planted behind her, which are very dark, and she truly is one of the cleanest and whitest statues I’ve ever seen. In the dim light under the oak trees she practically glowed. I loved seeing her.

Little Gracie.
Little Gracie.

We made our way toward the river and felt a fresh breeze blowing against our faces, which seemed to be getting steadily colder the later it got.  We passed the grave site of Corinne Lawton, with her spooky, sightless eyes. She was much smaller than I had imagined her to be, but her true glory wasn’t her face, it was the long curls hanging down her back. Like Gracie she was impeccably clean, and I wondered what the team of individuals were like who were in charge of maintaining this place. I photographed her from the back. Her blank eyes did kind of give me a little shiver so I stayed away from her face, but I did take pictures of her feet. They had the sculptor’s signature curved around her beautiful toes and they were flawless. We wandered around in the gathering dusk, holding hands and pointing things out to each other. There were a few other people walking but no one made eye contact or spoke to us, and there was a couple taking a guided tour nearby which we avoided. The tour operator sounded loud in the near twilight peace, and though she was used to projecting and it wasn’t her fault, her voice seemed like white noise in such a quiet place.

Corrine and her beautiful hair.
Corinne and her beautiful hair.
John Mongin’s Mausoleum.

We rounded a corner and came upon the weirdest mausoleum I’d ever seen anywhere. It reminded me of an upside down mushroom, the design was just so bizarre. It was wider at the bottom than the top and had a squat metal door that seemed to be up higher than it should have been. Judging by the unusual Pyramid shape and the winged ornament at the top of the vault (one newspaper article said it’s the Egyptian God of the Dead) I’m assuming it was Egyptian Revival style of architecture, but I was unable to find out who deigned or built it. The vault listed 11 names on a marble plate at the base of the door and we stood there, transfixed and wondering how in the hell they fit all of those people in there. It just didn’t seem possible unless the floor was dropped down to another level underneath, or everyone had been cremated, which wasn’t really a ‘thing’ when these people were interred. John Mongin died in 1833 at a time where if you died, you got buried. And as quickly as possible. Embalming wasn’t popular in the U.S. until around the time of the Civil War, 1861-1865.  It was also possible that the rest of the family had been left in the original burying place and the mausoleum had been moved with the name plate added to commemorate them.
I came home from the trip and did some research and found out that Mongin mausoleum has a past. Some enterprising woman named Cheryl Hackett wrote a nicely informative paper about the Mongin family and mentions that the whole vault was floated to it’s place near the river at Bonaventure in the early 1900’s. It was originally at their family plot on Daufuskie Island. The island is 14 miles from Savannah and the fact that that vault was moved at all is a miracle.
Sadly, Ms. Hackett did not mention in her paper how the bodies were arranged in the vault, which is what I wanted to know since I always ask the gruesome questions that everyone thinks but doesn’t actually ask. They fly right out of me.
On the way out we saw a beautiful red fox running swiftly through the headstones and tangled ivy, his coat glowing warmly in the last of the sunlight. It was the perfect way to end our visit.



The Sims Mausoleum at the Ocoee Cemetery

The Sims Vault, Ocoee, Cemetery.

When you pull into the gates of the Ocoee Cemetery this monument looks like a giant blue turtle resting in a very colorful landscape. I’ve never seen one like it, the entire thing is constructed of blue tiles and it’s completely solid without even an air vent to mar its rounded appearance. There was some slight damage to the back where a few tiles have fallen off, and as I took a closer look I noticed the small eyes of a brown lizard looking back at me. It was a good hiding spot.

Otis Sims was a dentist in Ocoee and Winter Garden for many years, and his young daughter died at age 19, his wife following her five years later. His wife is called Stella C. on her grave marker, but in several records she was listed as Cena, so research was a bit complicated and there didn’t seem to be much information about them. In one funeral record it lists the vault as being made of brick, so perhaps at some later date the blue tile was added. Either way, it’s fancy and impressive. Fun fact- in 1918 and 1923 the engraved plates that cover the graves cost the family 5 dollars; it cost more for the masons to install them than it did for the engraved plates themselves. The one at the top of the mausoleum was $3.50.

I had expected this cemetery to be an older place with no recent burials, but it was a vibrant, often visited and perfectly maintained place; it was quite beautiful. The graves seemed to be loaded with brightly colored flowers and mementos, and when you stood at the front and looked at the whole thing it was a landscape dotted with happy colors. According to the website there are no plots available, only places in the small, modern columbarium in the back of the property.

This is the oldest cemetery in Ocoee and has some beautiful stones and monuments, and also some tragic ones, including two mothers who are buried with their infants. Also, William Blakely, the jack-of-all-trades in this area from back in the day is buried here. His stone says that he was a pioneer, and indeed he was. In late 1800’s to early 1900’s he was the school principal, Postmaster, and Justice of the Peace for the city.  He’s under a huge oak tree in the back of the property and apparently he got one of the prettiest shady spots in the cemetery.

With that many jobs I’m sure death came as a much-needed break.

The green Virgin Mary statue.

The best source of information on this location is your own 2 feet and a good pair of tennis shoes, there’s not a whole lot online unless you’re looking for ghost stories. There are also quite a few handmade markers and inscriptions here which are always worth seeing. My favorite tribute was a Virgin Mary statue painted bright acid green, standing on a piece of astro-turf, and with a home-made metal cross behind her. Truly one of my favorite things I’ve ever seen in a cemetery.


Lake Hill Cemetery in Orlo Vista

Sometimes things just catch your attention for no specific reason, and that is how I ended up researching this couple in Lake Hill Cemetery. Even though I was interested in them both, I will admit that women’s stories really fascinate me and I spent a bit more time on Katharina Gemeinhardt’s story than I did her husband.

A handmade headstone in Lake Hill Cemetery.

But first, a little bit about the mysterious Lake Hill Cemetery in Orlando. It’s in the Orlo Vista area off of Old Winter Garden Road, and it’s small cemetery with about 1000 interments and is full of personal mementos left on the graves. On the right side of the cemetery you’ll find older stones that date back to the mid-1800’s, including a large section for the Patrick family. On the other side you find a number of interesting handmade stones and some graves with a little more creativity. (Mr. Short Legs made me stop and stare.)

Researching this cemetery has been challenging, and one surprise that I got was that the cemetery was once called the Patrick Cemetery, but I was unable to find out the year that it was renamed or why. I found the name Patrick Cemetery on three of the burial records I located for the Gemeinhardt family, some of which are laid to rest there, including Katharina. The cemetery is close to the Lake Hill Baptist Church which may be why it was renamed, either due to ownership or because the cemetery may have once served the needs of that congregation.

The Lake Hill cemetery is a deeply personal one, with a lot of mementos crowding the tops of the graves. We visited at Christmas and two of the graves even had complete, decorated Christmas trees sitting on them. Several of the graves have teacups and saucers, waiting to be filled. (An article that mentions the history of the cemetery and a clean-up in 1991 and can be found here.)

There is a discreet visitor to the cemetery that leaves magical objects such as black feathers and burned candles in different containers, or just stuck into the ground on top of the graves. It makes the visits more interesting when I’m wondering what will be there the next time I go.   

Four of the family members are buried here.

The headstones for one particular family stood out to me, they have some scroll work on them and the names are unusual, which proved to be challenging when I was looking them up on Ancestry. Katharina was listed under different variations on several different documents, including her ship’s passage from Germany. She was Kate, Katherine, and Katharina, while her husband was William and Wilhelm. Katharina’s middle name was a variation of Rachel that also caused the poor census takers in the 20’s and 30’s some confusion. I found Rachel and Rachiel. She and William were married in 1885 on August 18 in Missouri, the same year that she came to America from Germany. Think of all that change in one year- a new country and a new husband fourteen years older than she was, and children very soon after. It would be extremely challenging.

I moved to Texas from Florida in my 20’s and my hair fell out for 3 months, so I can’t imagine how my body would react to something this drastic.

William (1851-1937) immigrated to the states in 1869, and his older brother John (1843-1932) immigrated two years earlier in 1867. Census records indicate that the family spoke English and owned their own property, but while it specifies that John was a farmer and worked in orange groves, it does not specify what William did. Together, he and Katharina had eight children. Both of their parents were born in Germany, and they were the first generation in the states. John had a wife and 2 children who are buried elsewhere. 

I was unable to find a burial record for William, but there was one for his wife that strangely did not list a cause of death. She outlived her husband by 9 years and was laid to rest beside him and one of their children. 

Only one of their 8 children is buried in this small plot, and that was Thomas J. 1889-1916, who died from Tuberculosis.

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Orlando’s first settler.

This cemetery boasts that the first settler in Orlando is buried there, a Captain Aaron Jernigan 1813-1891. He is here with his family, and there is a small memorial to him at the front of the property. I feel like this space holds a lot of history and many incredible stories, and hope to do more research in the future for additional posts.

The Gemeinhardt family is to the right of the cemetery toward the middle. Look out for candles!