The Howey Mausoleum

Thanks to Jim Steele for the tip on this one.

A few months ago Shawn and I went to look at a house near Howey In The Hills, an old rambling thing built in 1935. On the way there we turned into a well-heeled neighborhood and I looked around, noting the nice houses all built in similar styles and colors, and the well groomed lawns.

“This can’t be it,” I said, gesturing to the neighborhood. The house we were headed to was all by itself on a small chunk of land and faced woods.

“No, but I thought I’d show you this house,” he said, and right about that time he stopped the Jeep and I leaned over him to look out the window. There was a huge pink mansion with old vines and ivy growing over the front of it, like hair blowing across a woman’s face. The windows were boarded up and it looked (sadly) impenetrable. It was beautiful. I later found out that it was built in 1925.

I got out of the car to take a few photos, thinking it would be a nice thing to post on Instagram. I was also looking for a way in. Since the house faced a neighborhood I was fairly certain that wasn’t going to work out even if I saw an opening. I sent a photo to Jim since I knew he lived near here somewhere.

A few hours later he asked me if I’d been to the mausoleum and told me how to get to it. I was thrilled to have the information, but wasn’t able to get back out there for a few weeks. And I was not very happy about that. I don’t know why I get in such a rush to see these things because it’s not like they’re going anywhere.

When we did get back out there I followed his directions carefully and came upon a clearing in the woods, quite close to the neighboring houses, but sheltered enough to feel very private. In the middle of the clearing was a white mausoleum, green mold creeping gently up its sides, and cobwebs sparkling in the back window. For some reason, it had been situated so that you approach it from the back and walk in a loop around it to see the front. It was quite beautiful. I climbed the steps and pressed my face against the doors to look into the jewel-colored gloom inside. I could smell dust and old pollen, and a cobweb got caught in my hair. I brushed it away. Inside was a stained glass window with a design of white lilies threaded through a gold crown, and three interments.

William Howey in 1938, his wife Lois Valerie Howey in 1941, and then their daughter Mary Grace Howey in 1981. William was a citrus pioneer, and you can read more about him and the mansion here because the news sources tell the story better than I could. This blog would be a mile long.

According to Find A Grave this is called the Taylor Memorial Cemetery but I have to call bullshit on that. There’s nothing here but woods and the cemetery is down the road with around 486 burials. The Howey Family gets to rest here all by themselves.

The mausoleum is technically not part of the mansion grounds and is public access even though it doesn’t feel like it. The property was in the news recently because it finally sold and there are rumors of it being restored, which would be wonderful. It was listed at $480,000 dollars.

And the house we went to look at? Well, I can say that it had a stunningly renovated kitchen. And then in the back of the house we found kitchen #2 from the 1970’s, which they had left there as is, complete with the tacky mustard and orange vegetable motif wallpaper. Basically, a renovation faux-pas that I had never seen the likes of anywhere. I’m usually financially minded and so my first thought was, “Could this be turned into an apartment?” But the thought immediately left me. We wanted a house that was mostly complete- not a house with one gorgeous kitchen and one secret one that we might have to answer awkward questions about. The house also had creepily slanting floors and smelled like old wood, both features that I actually liked. But overall the answer was no.

But I must say, if the house had a mausoleum or a cemetery in the back, we’d have been turning in an offer right there.

Locke Family Cemetery on Boggy Creek Road

This one was a surprise. I’m not even sure how to describe how I got there, Shawn and I were talking and I was fiddling with the music the entire time we were driving. It was hot. I needed a snack. I’d run out of iced tea from Starbucks already. You get the picture.

When we finally pulled up to the gate we found that it was indeed a small family cemetery on the side of the road, and that we had to park on the shoulder because there wasn’t designated parking. The first thing we saw was a big sign that said No Trespassing, and another that said the cemetery was monitored by video surveillance. We ignored them both and unlatched the gate to walk in since it was broad daylight and the gate wasn’t locked. I did take a quick look around though and I saw that the telephone pole next to the cemetery had a floodlight on it aimed at the cemetery, and I know that goes a long way toward preventing vandalism. If I heeded by every No Trespassing sign that I saw I’d never get any writing done because I’d be avoiding every cemetery I’ve ever been in. I usually will research them first to see if they’re privately owned. If so I’ll still visit anyway and see if the gate is locked. If it is, I don’t go in.

This cemetery is OLD, which was another surprise. Almost all of the names are Lock or Locke, but supposedly there is a Jane Green buried there who was in a specific type of trade and ‘worked’ with the cattlemen in the area. Having once dated a farmer who raised cattle for breed stock, I have to say I do not blame her one bit. Nothing makes my hormones stir like a man on a horse, but that isn’t really relevant. Whether or not the story about Jane is actually true remains a mystery, but it’s the legend, and I remember stopping in wonder at her modern headstone because she lived to be 99 years old.

There are some beautiful hand stamped headstones in the center rows that date back to 1892 and 1898. My favorite of the two features a star motif stamped into the top curve of the stone and the epitaph reads “She Died Triumph In The Lord”. Her name was also unusual, Marzila Lock.

When you walk though this cemetery is seems like it’s another sandy lot filled with burrs and old headstones, but when you stand back and view it from the front you notice that a large section is shaded by a beautiful oak tree, and I stood for a moment imagining those strong roots carefully holding the people together underground. All of my shots from the gate were beautiful.


Find A Grave shows 67 burials on the lot but I’m pretty sure there were more given the age of the cemetery, and there are a surprising number of children buried here. 12 out of the 67, in fact.

And finally, a particularly nice tribute on Find A Grave is this one for Cennie Tison Lock, and it shows how large this family really was. Enjoy.

The Former Beaches Memorial Park in Atlantic Beach, Florida

I generally attempt to keep my temper out of these posts but I probably won’t be able to do that today. I’m talking about the Rayan’s, the previous owners of Beaches Memorial Park and the focal point in Florida funeral industry news for a year now. To put it quite simply, these people are turds. And yes, I understand the whole innocent until proven guilty thing, but in my mind that only applies to people who don’t leave bodies in broken refrigerators on their cemetery property.

Amanda Rayan owned this funeral home and cemetery and she and her husband decided to run it by taking the money from customers… and then pretty much not doing anything else. They racked up over 70 complaints from families before getting well and truly busted by a surprise inspection from the Florida Division of Cemetery, Funeral, and Consumer Services. During the inspection they found a man’s body decomposing in a broken refrigerator inside the facility, who turned out to be Burton Acker. He was supposed to have been cremated already and returned to his family, who had been asking to come and pick up his remains. Why he was left inside a broken fridge is a mystery. They also found that John Rayan had been selling the memorial plaques on the property for scrap metal, and also accepting payment for services he never rendered to families. The list of their accusations is too lengthy to mention here.

It was almost a year ago that things started to get really heated at the cemetery. A family showed up to bury their loved one, and there was no one there when they arrived. The plot was not marked, the grave not dug, no one answered the phone when they placed frantic calls. The family had to return the body to the funeral home for storage until they could figure out what to do. They called the police though, and they came out to document the situation. Soon after the Rayan’s funeral license was suspended by the state.

There is a video of Amanda Rayan at a funeral on her property, shot through some bushes, but showing her smirking face clearly as she stands under the funeral tent in a tight tee shirt and short shorts. I saw that video and felt so bad for the family who were all dressed respectfully. I know that if I were attending my grandparent’s funeral, and the cemetery owner (that I had just handed a stack of money) came out to assist with the coffin dressed like that, she’d find herself suddenly on the ground and I’d be cheerfully dealing with an assault charge.

News 4 Jax hounded this couple incessantly until John Rayan’s arrest at the cemetery, and they made sure to be there to film that as well. On the video John Rayan is in handcuffs and wearing what looks like pajamas, being guided by the elbow toward the police car, and the news anchor puts a microphone in his face and starts asking him questions. One minute he is sweating profusely and saying in a weird, breathy voice that he doesn’t have any cemetery experience, as though that’s an excuse for his deplorable behavior. The next minute he’s on the ground in a dead faint and the officers are staring at him like, “Well damn, what do we do with this jerk now?” And what they did was haul him up and literally drag his ass to jail. He is facing 16 charges and his wife, who they went after as well, is facing 45 charges, but for some reason he has been the focal point of this investigation.

So, how does the story end? That depends on how you look at it. Johns Rayan’s trial was set to begin on April 17th of this year and he skipped town, and the rumor is that he is ‘vacationing’ in Maryland. The judge issued another warrant for his arrest and to date, he has not been seen. Amanda Rayan is still awaiting trial. And yes, I still look them up on a weekly basis to see if they’ve been arrested yet (again).

The good news is that when they are brought to trial I’m sure it will be epic. The other good news is that Todd Ferreira bought the cemetery and not only is his name on the sign, but the place is actually quite beautiful. When my mom and I drove out there several weeks ago I wasn’t expecting much; I had this grim image in my mind of what the place looked like when the Rayan’s owned it and everything was brown and weedy. The mausoleums were painted brown along with the offices, and it looked awful. Weeds that were waist high were surrounding the fountain at the front of the property. I would never have gone to that place for assistance. Another point to be made is that the Jacksonville Beaches are beautiful and Atlantic Beach manages to have a small town feel with the fresh air, and  the sandy beach close by. I loved it. It seems hard to imagine that this couple would get away with having such a delapidated looking cemetery for long, and it appears that the residents of this pretty and peaceful area decided that enough was enough when they starting calling in complaints.

Mom and I pulled into an impeccably groomed property with graceful oak trees, mowed green grass, and buildings painted a fresh pale yellow with white trim. It looked like there was another fountain or some other kind of decorative ornament getting ready to go up, and everything felt peaceful and calm. I say good for Mr. Ferreira, because the place looks beautiful and I can’t imagine anything that would make it look better. At the back of the property you’ll find a larger mausoleum and a memorial chapel, which was locked the day that were were there.

I’m hoping that the families that were taken advantage of by this couple will find peace once some kind of justice is served, not only for them but for their loved ones resting in that cemetery.

As for me, I’ll be glued to my computer reading the news and eating Teddy Grahams when they finally get this couple into a courtroom.

After receiving a couple of comments on this post I’d like to add that all of this was based on the information that was available at the time. I’m still following the story and may post updates as they come available.