Pine Forest Cemetery, Mt. Dora

This cemetery is worth a visit when you’re done antiquing in Renninger’s and are ready to walk around outside. For one thing- it’s beautiful, even though I’m not a huge fan of pine trees in cemeteries. I usually prefer the sprawling oaks instead. But this place is peaceful and well designed, and it’s a good cemetery to walk in. (No burrs. No anthills the size of Cadillacs. No slithering wildlife.)

I visited about a year ago before I started the blog and noticed a stone on the right hand side that seemed to be turned in an odd direction. I walked over to take a look, and saw a headstone that really broke my heart. It seems like there are some where you can actually feel the horror of the event that took place, and this was one of them.

The young Warburton family was from England, and they were traveling by wagon when the horse went to the pond to drink. Some reports say that Fiddler’s Pond was actually a sinkhole- the pond is still in Mt. Dora though I’ve never seen it. The horse fell in and took the family with them, and all of them drowned.

This stone says everything.fullsizerender-17

This is a more modern cemetery, though there is an old section by the Warburton stone. However, my favorite cemetery in the area is the Mt. Carmel-Simpson Cemetery, not in Mt. Dora, but it’s on the way if you’re coming from the Zellwood area. This is one of the first African-American cemeteries I’d ever seen that was saved from abandonment, and it is really incredible to visit. For one thing, it’s in the parking lot of the St. Patrick Church off of highway 441. You pull into the parking lot, think you’re in the wrong place, and then you look out the car window and see the graves in the woods. About 60 of them.

This was a well organized clean-up back in 2010, where graves were mapped and numbered stones erected for the unmarked graves. There wasn’t much of a path, but most of the underbrush had been cleared so it was comfortable walking and you could see all of the stones easily. This was one of my first experiences seeing a vernacular headstone, there are several there that are beautifully handmade and I couldn’t get over it. They’re my favorite, they say so much more than the modern stones. The cemetery has a lot of fern and ivy and it is pleasantly sheltered by huge trees. You feel like you’re literally in the middle of the woods after just a few steps in.

That day also changed the way I plan for my weekend outings. I now keep a ‘cemetery bag’ in my car for any little thing that might be needed, because that day when I left I had 37 mosquito bites all over me (we counted). I spent the drive home scratching my legs into giant welts and feeling frantic, thinking about encephalitis and whether or not dengue fever had ever made it’s  way to Florida. My cemetery bag was handmade by my friend Vicki, and it contains deep-woods OFF, calamine lotion, antihistamine spray, band-aids, spray sunscreen, and a flashlight. I’ve needed all of those items during the last year during all of my cemetery visits.

I’m ready for anything except for a stone falling on top of me.




The Coffin From the 1800’s

I usually write just about cemeteries, but this was too good to skip over. So today’s post is a little different, but still related to death and funeral memorabilia.

Last weekend we went to Mt. Dora to scout out some antiques and walk around. There was also a cemetery there that I wanted to visit a second time to get a photo of an unusual headstone that I had not photographed the first time I was there. I had regretted not taking pictures of it, and it had a story to be told that I wanted to research…and then tell.

We walked through aisles and aisles of antiques on that blazing hot day, sweating like crazy and pointing things out to each other. We shared a watermelon popsicle. We visited friends that own one of the booths there and talked to them for awhile, listening to their plans for expanding their shop. I mentioned that I was starting a collection of embalming bottles and asked them to call me if they ever saw anything interesting.

They both looked at each other for a beat before Denise said, “We had a coffin once”.

“Really? What kind? ” I asked.

She whipped out her phone and showed me a picture, it was a wicker one- old- and had a person laying in it with a beer can balanced on their chest. She mentioned that they’d been at an antiques festival and someone who’d been drinking had wanted to test it out.

“But you know,” she said, pausing and obviously thinking about something, “one of the dealers inside has one, and it’s for a child.” She told us where to go inside the main building and said, “Just keep looking up- you’ll see it on one of the shelves.”

We headed inside the main building and I had gone about halfway through the first aisle when I spied it. I handed Shawn the remains of the popsicle, wiped my hands on my dress, and approached. It was up high and I could have reached up and touched it, but instead I just stood there, licking watermelon flavor off of my lips and staring up at this coffin. I’m sure that I looked crazy.


A dealer materialized and stood next to me silently looking skyward.

“Do you know what it is?” he asked me.

I turned and looked at an older gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt; his eyes looked mischievous and I immediately liked him. He was smiling.

“Yes, it’s beautiful,” I said. And it was. The dark wicker was in great shape and didn’t seem to have a single flaw. Plus it was smaller than I had expected.

“You do?!” he asked. “Two girls came in here yesterday thinking it was a basket to hold flowers. They weren’t happy when I told them it was a coffin.”

I laughed. I told him that I loved funeral history and wrote about cemeteries, and he asked me if I ‘d like to see it, because it was leather lined on the inside. I knew I wouldn’t be buying it, but I accepted his offer to take a closer look. He was so excited to show it to me, and he mentioned that it had been used for viewing and transport, but not for burial. As my friend Keila had pointed out when I sent her a picture of it, “That  doesn’t look like it would hold up very well underground.”


When Shawn caught up with me I was bent over the coffin with this man, and we were both pointing out features of the pleated leather lining. The lid was propped up next to us, and we were both engrossed in the conversation. I love it when I find one of my own.

Sometimes I feel bad for Shawn. I know it gets weird for him sometimes. I think back to the ways I’ve tried his kindness- asking him if we could make an offer for a coffin in North Carolina, telling him I’d like to hang a cooling board from the 1860’s on the hallway wall, asking for an embalming bottle for my birthday, happily pointing out a case of glass eyeballs in an antique shop one time. The list goes on, and he’s been a good sport every time. Today however, when we closed the lid back on the small coffin and the dealer got on the ladder, Shawn offered to hand it up to him. I’d been there when he handed it down to me and there had been a moment where I’d felt a parent from over a hundred years ago carrying their child in this. Maybe I imagined it, but the notion of it’s true purpose wasn’t lost on me. So, I tried to get there first but Shawn was faster and he picked it up gingerly and lifted it up to the dealer, looking at me for a moment over the top of it’s domed lid. His face was totally blank, but his eyes met mine and I had the feeling he wasn’t happy.


We ended up buying a book from that dealer and talking for awhile longer. When we left I mentioned that I was hungry. Shawn said he’d like to wash his hands.

I recalled trips together where he had eaten with his hands in places I’d never dream of eating in without a good scrub or a bottle of hand sanitizer. Airports. Airplanes. Outdoor festivals. Malls. But this time he wanted to wash his hands. We took care of that and I didn’t judge.

I’m not gonna lie- I wanted that coffin- but I didn’t tell him that. The selling price was 275 dollars and it was in wonderful condition. I had no clue where I’d put it, but I do know that if I’d been single, I’d probably have gone home with it that day.

There is an odd aspect to collecting funeral antiques- you have to keep other people in mind. I always think- if someone came over and saw this, would we stay friends or would they haul ass? The truth is, I want people to be comfortable in my house. The embalming bottles are unusual, small, and will be an unobtrusive collection. A coffin is pretty confrontational. However, I do know that the best collections are held by people who follow their own desires and don’t consider what others will think. And that’s okay too, I really admire those people.



Last weekend I went to North Carolina for the first time. I’ve been through it or flown over it on my way to someplace else, but this was my first actual visit. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

And they have a lot of dead folks there.

Seriously, everywhere we went there were little cemeteries just waiting to be walked through. And so we did.


The best one though- my favorite, was a large and very old cemetery that we passed on the way to Boone as it was getting dark. We both spied it at the same time, noted that the gates were open, and pulled in. No one else was there, presumably because they had sense enough to stay out of a cemetery when night was approaching.

“Just a couple of quick photos,” I said, and dashed out of the car door to start jogging through the headstones. After a few yards though I noticed something- this place was OLD. The headstones near me were very tall, thin, and toppling, reminding me of the ones I’d seen in Knoxville and Savannah. I stopped in front of one of the largest ones and could not believe how beautiful it was. It had been repaired many times over the years and as a result I couldn’t read the last name of the deceased in order to research her, but here it is. I was really moved by this one for some reason. I stood in front of it for quite some time as Shawn crept forward in the rental car behind me. Finally he got out to see what I was looking at.

DELIA This marks the sacred spot where rested the fair, the gentle, the lovely Delia. The perfect daughter, a perfect lady, she died 24th October —-, Aged 16 yrs. 


The ones surrounding me in the oldest section of the cemetery were just as amazing, carved with laurel wreaths, weeping willows, and wonderful examples of Victorian funerary art. I could have stayed all day, but it was getting dark quickly and I wanted to see the stone church on the property. By the time I got to the church the light was turning blue- all of these photos have been lightened for detail. This place is first on my list on a bright morning when I go back to North Carolina.


The church was small and crouched at the side of the cemetery, but it had some interesting features, including small buttressed sides and an outdoor hallway that had pretty lights hanging in the arches. It was all made of river stone and had large stained glass windows. To the side of the property was a labyrinth and a cremation garden. I wished we’d found it earlier, but we’d been going through another cemetery while the sun was up and we missed out on this one.

Here’s the thing- I never got the name of the church or the cemetery. I was so overwhelmed with the age of the place and the unique stones that I never even saw a sign. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll find it online”. NOPE. The closest town was Rutherfordton and we were off of 221. I couldn’t find it online, but maybe didn’t apply myself enough.

I would have liked to have known what Delia was like, or tried to find out more about her. Maybe on the next trip I can learn more about her and her family or speak to someone in the church about records to get the date of her death.

That’ll be another blog post.

Bay Ridge Cemetery

Bay Ridge Cemetery is near Apopka and it has been on it’s own for several years now. It appears there is no owner, operator, or cemetery association for this property. Even the map of the cemetery has no information on where the plots are located, making it extremely useful, as you can imagine.

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One side is clearly abandoned. There is a small plot on the other side of the dirt road that this cemetery lies on that is the Reid family plot. The family died in 1995 after a car accident, the husband and two children died on one day, and the wife died from her injuries the next day. Two of their children were not in the car. It was an incredibly sad moment to stand in front of their monument and look at those dates, knowing that some horrible tragedy had befallen this young family. When I got home that day I looked it up. That small plot is the only part of this cemetery that is lovingly maintained. It’s mowed, weed-whacked, and someone has been leaving flowers and gifts for the family.

The rest of the cemetery is a mystery, because it’s actually quite old, dating back to the 1880’s. The first stone we saw had a date from that decade on it. It was partially obscured by ivy, but the dates were still clear.

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When you look into the cemetery you start to see shapes emerging from the woods; the shadow of a headstone here, the glint of a metal funeral home marker there, another stone crouched beneath a large palmetto. I wanted to charge in but I was wearing shorts and a tank top, plus it was at least 98 degrees that day and this was the second cemetery we’d visited. I was sweating through my clothes and just couldn’t go much further. Shawn walked in though and took several photos, coming out to tell me that there was an entire family plot surrounded by decorative stonework to the left. I can’t wait to go back to this one in the winter when some of the foliage has died.

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I walked to the front of the 2 acre property to take a photo of the homemade sign, and when I did that I walked around it and pushed some branches out of the way. Underneath them was a large stone lion, one paw raised and resting on a shield with the letter S on it. There were no visible graves nearby. I stood staring at it for a minute, wondering why it was there, and if it was marking a family plot.

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Find a Grave has some incredible photos from this cemetery, including one of an ornate funeral from the 40’s. Thankfully, someone has added photos of many of the people buried there and of the cemetery the way it was a few years ago before the ivy, kudzu, and pine needles did their work. It’s well documented, just not well maintained. Carey Hand funeral home held some of the funerals there and there were records of those in the Central Florida Memory collection.

This fall I’m going back with gloves, bug spray, and trash bags to see if I can locate a few more of the graves.