Gethsemane Cemetery in Ormond Beach

This cemetery is situated off of a busy road in Ormond Beach, and only has a small blue sign to even mark it’s presence. We could have easily passed it. Not only because there isn’t much in the way of signage, but the cemetery almost looks like a large green field with only the occasional small marker and a couple of beautiful old oak trees. Volunteers have transformed this cemetery from a forgotten burial ground into a setting that looks almost like a park. It’s a magical space, and is also known as Greenwood Cemetery. I prefer Gethsemane.

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It’s a well spaced cemetery so be prepared to walk all over if you want to be sure not to miss any of the artistic markers.

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Most of the markers here are handmade and truly glorious, some clearly done by the same hand, which always fascinates me. Maybe there was one person in the community that knew how to make them, or could read and write, or were they just good at it and so people called on them when they needed markers. These questions always surface for me when I go to places like this.

One of my favorite aspects of this cemetery is the small, five pointed star stamp used on many of the headstones, on both sides of the cemetery. I know it must have signified something, but I have been unable to find out what. According to it symbolizes the star of heaven, but I get the feeling that it’s something else for this place. The stars are simple and beautiful.

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This cemetery was once a burying ground for African Americans, including slaves, and continued to be a primarily African American cemetery until it’s demise due to lack of funding and perpetual care (a repeating theme for this blog). In the Daytona beach Morning Journal from December 4, 1955 it has a funeral announcement for John Lee, who is buried in that cemetery, saying that the Herbert Thompson Funeral Home was performing the burial. They’ve been in business in Daytona Beach for quite awhile.

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It was closed for burials in 1974. There is not a lot to say about this cemetery- as a place of historical value there doesn’t seem to be volumes and volumes of history on the place. However, it’s worth a visit to see what a group of individuals can do when they care about a cemetery.

Speaking of caring- next week I’ll be writing about Bay Ridge Cemetery near Apopka, which is completely overgrown and absolutely amazing! I care very much about what happens to that place.

Cassadaga and the Devil’s Chair

From Find A Grave:

The cemetery is located between the two small communities on property that is county owned.
In order to buried there one must contact the city clerk of Lake Helen.

Here is how I would rewrite this after a visit to this cemetery, so listen up, Find A Grave!

In order to buried there one must be desperate for a place to be laid to rest.

Everybody in Florida has heard the urban legend that has caused the ultimate decline of this cemetery, that if you sit in the brick chair (a.k.a. The Devil’s Chair) at midnight, then the devil will come and talk to you.


The devil, however, isn’t responsible for the vandalism, as I’m sure some people would say- human beings are, and ignorant ones at that. Who started the rumor is a mystery, most likely it was someone who was trying to find a cheap way to protect the place from kids and vandals, and they started the rumor to scare people away. However, humans are curious creatures, and things like this usually only serve to cause even more traffic. It’s like Cassadaga itself, which began as a retreat for Spiritualists and had its climax in the 1920’s when the hotel was built. Some people mistakenly think Spiritualism is about Satanism, but it’s not, and that makes people curious so they come visit, whether the psychics want them there or not. In my opinion, the group of people living there just want to be left alone. You can feel it.


The chair itself is situated in the Thatcher plot, and there are two of them that are nearly identical. However, it’s the one in the back. The chair stands out because the plot doesn’t have as much foliage, and the dirt plot is covered with footprints from people sitting in the chair. The footprints were fresh.

The other Thatcher plot had a lot of plant life and curious smell that I couldn’t identify. I hate smells in cemeteries.

The cemetery has three bench structures built into the family plots, and all of them were most likely built for the use of visiting family, not the devil. The design is simple and direct, and would be attractive if it weren’t for the legend, the general feel of the place, and the fact that some douche-nozzle decided to spray paint LOVE GOD on one of the monuments facing the chair.


The day that we visited was hot and still, and when we got out of the car the heat hit us like a blast from a furnace, which my friend BB later pointed out was probably the ideal condition for the devil. We walked around anyway, sweating and not talking much. The thick woods next to the cemetery were dark, and the sound of cicadas was overwhelming. It wasn’t a good day to be there and I knew that. A vehicle that we couldn’t see due to the downward slope of the property slowed down to a crawl on the main road by the gates and idled for a minute before we heard the engine roar and take off.

Five minutes later the police came, slowly cruising and staring at us. I walked right up to the car and spoke to the officer, who said he was just driving through.

Sure he was. At noon on a Sunday. Someone had called the police because we were there, but he didn’t say so. He asked if we needed anything and when I said no, he left. I was furious.

The cemetery itself is a blighted mess, with weeds and black sand on one side and grass on the other with sparse burials. The earliest date we saw for a burial was 1904, but I’m sure there are some earlier ones. Some enterprising person had gone into the older plots and pulled up every speck of grass or greenery leaving the most depressing scene you could imagine in a cemetery. The place looks unloved, which surprises me since the locals are so protective of it, enough to act like jerks during visiting hours.

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So, Cassadaga, if you want to protect this site you might think about springing for a brick wall and not a flimsy fence, which is torn down on one side by the many people trying to get into this place. You might consider making the entire place look loved and cared for, rather then letting it look bleak and desolate. You might enlist the nosy neighbors as volunteers to get over there and work on the place instead of calling the police every time someone drives through the gates. You might install some lights.

No, I won’t be going back to this one. If you go be aware that the police may randomly show up along with the devil. In fact, just skip it. Drive to Deland and visit Oakdale, Central Florida’s version of Bonaventure.

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The Cemetery With Many Names

It’s been called Pinewood Cemetery, Peninsula Cemetery, and my personal favorite- Boot Hill Cemetery, because right across the street from the gate is the Boot Hill Bar, catering to bikers and anyone wearing leather within a fifty mile radius (or more). This cemetery is fascinating, but loud. I’ve never been to a loud cemetery before but on the Sunday afternoon when we visited the bar was in full swing, the people outside the bar were getting fairly drunk, and our visit was punctuated by shouts, revving engines, and catcalls. I was not charmed, but the bikers have been instrumental in raising funds to protect this place. News articles from 2004 mention them holding fundraisers to help raise the 90,000 dollars needed to restore the cemetery, and I have learned in the last year that any money can make a difference when you’re dealing with preservation.



When we drove in and parked on the sandy shoulder next to the drive we noticed an entire troupe of ragged men and women hanging out to the left of us; they had set up a comprehensive camp and there were clothes drying on the walls. The guys were shirtless, the women in short shorts and tank tops. Hard to tell if they were homeless or if they were bar patrons that had come over to rest in the shade. They never moved while we were there.

If I’d been alone, I would have left immediately. Not because they were threatening in any way, but it’s a really private cemetery surrounded by a wall and walking around there with a bunch of people observing me wouldn’t be my thing. There is also a single drive in and out of the cemetery that loops through, and there is no place to turn the car around. This place is packed with burials and family plots. Shawn and I gave the group space and walked through the right side of the property.


When I hopped out of the car the first thing I saw by my feet was a fish head. A big, toothy one, eaten down to the bone by the elements and whatever brought it here in the first place. The ocean is close by and birds sometimes make nests in cemeteries and fling their trash around. We’d noticed the same thing in Titusville on another visit.

The cemetery dates back to 1877 when landowner John Smith buried his daughter on the property. Eventually the rest of the land was broken up into plots, passed from owner to owner, and sold off for burials. The last burials took place in the 70’s, but to be honest with you, I never even noticed them. The cemetery is full of beautiful old funerary art and has some unique headstones, crypts, and mausoleums. The design is also unique for Central Florida which is full of flat, sandy graveyards. This one is terraced and walking through the cemetery includes climbing meandering steps and walking along crooked paths. I loved it.



One of my favorite vaults was for ‘John H. Abraham and Wife’, which is added below his name as an afterthought, probably because she outlived him by 2 years. John Hamilton Abraham was born in Pennsylvania, and his wife fortunately DID get her own name on Find A Grave- she was Eliza. He was buried in 1927, and she followed in 1929. The whole vault has been covered with thick plaster and only has the name plate for identification.

I wanted to know what was underneath that plaster.

John Abraham was listed as a landlord in 1920 and an artist in the 1880 census. He lived a long time. When I found the census where he was 7 years old I saw the he was one of 10 children in a household of 12 people. Being a landlord probably came very naturally to someone who grew up with lots of people in the house.


I love this cemetery and plan to visit again. If you’re doing research about it online there are large numbers of paranormal groups who have posted the results of their investigations. I’m pretty sure that was before the gates started being locked at night. The city is trying to protect this treasure. Go visit if you can!


Vandalism in Mausoleums

A few of you know this is my main cemetery rant.

In the last 6 months I’ve been to 2 cemeteries with vandalized mausoleums, and it really disturbs me every time I see it. The first one was at Evergreen in Richmond, at the famous Braxton mausoleum which has been torn to shreds by vandals, mostly kids for school pranks. At a place like Evergreen you almost expect to see things like that, it’s an intensely private cemetery and completely overgrown. However, I was surprised recently when I went to Hillside Cemetery in Ormond Beach and found a mausoleum with the doors torn off.


It may not have been this crypt’s first time to see a crowbar. The door was made of wood, which I’ve never seen before. Usually the doors are metal and quite ornate and heavy, so my assumption (could always be incorrect) was that the original doors had been removed for some reason. I did see a photo from 2005 that shows the wooden door- so maybe it was original. Either way it was on the ground.

It was the middle of a beautiful Sunday morning, hot, humid, and with white sunshine beating down on us. The cemetery was mowed and in perfect condition. The irrigation was running and sulfurous water caused the air to smell metallic as we walked around. There was another visitor at the back of the property. It’s not like this place was unkempt and begging for trouble.

The mausoleum in question caught my eye because it was made of a unique stone and it was beautiful, until I saw the door on the ground and evidence of someone having been inside. There was only one burial  in the mausoleum and it was from 1984.


I think the way a lot of cemeteries and families solve these problems is to just stop replacing the doors and wall up the opening with brick. I hate seeing that, but I understand the need for it. Last Spring the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia made the news when 2 doors were stolen from a mausoleum that were estimated to be worth 25,000 dollars. The doors had been there over 100 years. It seems like an impossible feat for any thief to carry doors like that out of a cemetery when they weighed 800 pounds each, but they did.


Many times when I see news stories about vandalism in cemeteries my first thought is grave robbing, which is still happening even though it seems like something lost to time- like body snatching for medical schools in the 19th century. Apparently, New Orleans still has issues with this, and recently I’ve read several news articles about Civil War graves being disturbed for uniforms, medals, and buttons. A Google search on either topic will produce dozens of articles. However, some people go to remove doors, not to get at the graves inside (like they did in the Braxton Mausoleum), but just to take the doors because of their own value, which would apparently rival anything found in the grave.

This article says something different though- that doors stolen from a mausoleum in 2012 were actually only worth 75 dollars as scrap metal.


Regardless of the reason for the theft, it’s something I hate seeing when I go to visit cemeteries. The doors usually make the mausoleum, and I love the idea of a family member being able to enter, leave flowers, sweep, or just provide maintenance. I went recently to Palm Cemetery in Winter Park and saw a beautiful mausoleum at the back of the property that had doors with a lot of glass. When I looked inside there was a small table and a chair, and on the table were dried flowers, cards, letters, and a candle. Someone had been visiting.

It was beautiful and poignant.