A Member of the Association of Graveyard Rabbits

Monday, August 1, 2011

Adding to the Generations

A week or so ago, I took my 7-year-old niece with me to the cemetery. I wasn't sure how she would handle it, not having been to a cemetery before, but she got right into it. She was taking all sorts of pictures and asking questions. It was great. A budding taphophile!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A most horrific visit

Okay, maybe horrific is too strong a word, but I was left speechless by the state of the combined cemeteries I visited yesterday. Typical for the area in which I live, these were historic African-American cemeteries left to disappear. I have seen overgrown cemeteries and those forgotten by time, but these took the cake. To add insult to injury, at the back you could look over a chain link fence to the perfectly manicured lawns of a lovely, historic (originally white) cemetery. I just wanted to cry for all those forgotten souls there yesterday.

I wandered with my dad and stepmother as we looked from overgrown plot to destroyed stones, to abandoned areas with our mouths gaping, trying to understand how anyone could ever let a cemetery get in this state.

Here are my pictures. They can tell the story better than I. There are headstones in every one of these photos; you just have to look closely: http://spirit-dust.smugmug.com/Cemeteries/Florida/San-Sebastian/17177565_TVcCBT#1302327875_XT2Z75q

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Good deeds

This past Saturday I oversaw the cleaning of a neglected cemetery in my area. The cemetery isn't abandoned, but no family members remain in this part of Florida, so I volunteered to take care of it after watching it for the past year.

I first went to the cemetery in April 2010, and it looked like this:

Since I work with a group who keeps tabs on these sorts of burial grounds, I notified the leader about it's sad state. He contacted the man who was being paid to mow it and keep it clean, and he said he had just finished mowing it.

I didn't get back there again until this past January when it looked like this:

Basically the same as a year ago, just with the grass now dead from frost. The leader of our group had asked me to check it again as the family had "concerns." When I reported back, the family quickly asked if I would be willing to take care of it. Of course, I said yes. I got quotes on the price, and the family agreed to pay.

Last Saturday was clean-up day. Here's how it looks now:

I'm so proud of our work and feel so good about doing it. The family sent their thanks after getting the new photos. The whole atmosphere of the place changed and it felt like such a warm, welcoming place when we were done. The lawn guys we hired told me this was a great thing we were doing and that they didn't know of anyone else who would take this on, especially since I had no ties to the family. My dad and I are now going to pay the guys to come back every couple of weeks to keep it nice and neat. I plan to put flowers on the graves at some point, just to let those who are there know they are not forgotten. (By the way, the death dates range from 1840 to 197o, and they are all members of the same family. This used to be on their plantation and has since been swallowed up by a subdivision.

* This cemetery first appeared here in this post.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Plantation Cemeteries

The area of Jacksonville I live in used to be a series of orange plantations, some established while the Spanish still ruled Florida. Since organized public cemeteries weren't established in the area until the turn of the 20th century, there area a lot of small, family cemeteries that used to be on these plantations. Dad and I have adopted one to take care of, which will involve a lot of mowing, weeding, and putting up a fence (with the blessing of the family left around). There are three others relatively nearby that we will be keeping an eye on. One is fenced already since a neighbor thought everyone had forgotten about it and he was going to make it part of his property -- surprise! That didn't happen. Now, partly because I was contacting people and city offices left right and center, the cemetery belongs to the city proper and has been designated a historic site, but it still needs upkeep. That's where we will come in to mow and keep it clean. The other neighbor has put a drainage pipe under the fence so their yard drains into the cemetery. I need to figure out how to deal with that. The other (that I mentioned first) has neighbors who trim their trees and throw the branches over into the cemetery. That's going to stop -- somehow. The fence has been torn down, which is why we need to replace it, and apparently kids like to hang out there.

Two others are sadder. All four of these are in subdivisions now, but are designated historic sites. One is fenced, but the fence has been torn down in one section, and in another the gate hasn't been closed in so long that a tree has grown large enough to keep it from shutting at all. When we were there late last summer, it was mowed and fairly clean. This time at least one of the headstones had been knocked over and broken, there's trash and overgrowth of weeds everywhere. The people located here have been there since at least 1820 if not earlier, since many of the original markers used in this area were made from wood and have since rotted away. From the layout, it seems to have been divided into quarters, with one quarter strictly for the family, another for friends or (white) servants, and then a couple more for slaves or black servants. You can tell there are burials from the way the ground looks, but there are no markers. Since I am officially
part of the Cemetery Liaison Team reporting the condition of the cemeteries to the City Council, I need to take care of this pronto. There's also a back gate that leads into a neighbor's back yard, so I'm going to check to see if it would be okay to lock that gate.

The other one is in fairly good condition, but that's only because some elderly neighbors have taken it upon themselves to tend to it. This one is especially historic since Anna Kingsley is buried there in an unmarked grave (probably another example of a rotted wooden marker). A few of her descendants are buried in marked graves, but their markers have fallen and are in danger of disappearing into the ground. There's no fence, but there was no trash or anything at this one. It just feels forgotten and neglected. It needs to be raked, but otherwise it's physically okay. It's just sad.

There are others around here that have been bulldozed over or the graves have -- supposedly -- been moved, but truth be told, apart from a handful of people in Jacksonville, no one cares.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In a Disused Graveyard by Robert Frost

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never anymore the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
"The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay."
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can't help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Update on Parsons Cemetery and Visit to Houston

Some progress was made on gaining access to the cemetery -- at least by the Southern Genealogists Exchange Society, of which I am now a member. The neighbor was met with, and he agreed to let the society have a key to the cemetery, and Dad and I will pick up care of the graves if he decides he no longer wants to do it. My next move is to check to see if I can get the key, even just for an afternoon, so I can finally get in there and take a look around.

I've been visiting some other cemeteries out of the norm again recently, including the Houston/Talbot Island Cemetery. This is an interesting place. It was hard to find, to begin with, considering I didn't have any directions other than the road it was on. Once on the right road -- after stopping at the park and asking the ranger for directions -- we hiked around dead palms and pine branches before giving up. Then as we were leaving we saw a small trail going off into the brush. Unlike the others on the road, this one didn't have a mail box by it, so we hazarded into the path. Not far in, we were met with a big fence with a big padlock and phone number to call. Said call was dutifully made and the combination given to us to get inside.

It's small, but neat. Unfortunately there has been a great deal of vandalism in the past and many stones are missing or destroyed. One had it's bottom half still visible indicating it was for a woman (based on the "wife of" statement on it), but there were a few in excellent condition. Some dated from the early 19th century and belonged to a Revolutionary War vet. There was a lovely one with a weeping willow on it.

It was in nearly pristine condition considering the age. It had been broken in two but was repaired.

The whole set is available here: cliquez ici

I've started working on a Café Press store for my photos and other goodies. Last week after Dad and I ran into a girl doing research at Evergreen, I thought it might be nice to have some sort of tee shirt identifying us as researchers. So I've designed a shirt, a messenger bag, a water bottle, a baseball cap, and some magnets. I want to add postcards and greeting cards, posters and prints, but I need to find my high res photos for those uses. For some reason all I can find right now are the lo res ones needed to upload to Find a Grave.

Speaking of FAG, I was able to add all the photos for Houston and a few for McCormick. I think I need to add the White Family Cemetery since I can't find that on FAG at all -- but it's known by about four different names, so I need to double check. I added another cemetery that wasn't even on there, but I can't remember which one now!

Next month, I'm heading home for the first time since 1994. Jo and I have plans that (hopefully) will involve at least one cemetery while I'm there. The question is, do I want to go to a big, beautiful one I haven't been to before or do I want to go to Mt. Morris and visit the relatives interred there? Jo suggested going back to Mt. Hope in Lansing, too, but we'll see. Depends on how I handle the cold after being away for so long!