Does your traditional Halloween custom include visiting graveyards?
October is a special month, not only for tricks and treats, but also for “plotting history” through a trip to the old graveyard. You can dedicate time to explore and learn from local historic cemeteries, memorial sites and burial grounds; take interest in saving an abandoned cemetery or forgotten gravesite; or plan a cross-country trip that includes visits to historic plots and cemeteries with national prominence.
“Historic cemeteries are disappearing from our landscape – it’s a national and statewide problem,” says Sarah Miller, region director of the Florida Public Archaeology Network. “They are very fragile historic resources that we need to preserve. They are our outdoor museums.”
Miller developed Cemetery Resources Protection Training (CRPT, or “crypt,” for short), a course that teaches how to save cemeteries and unmarked burials and add them to the state’s Master Site File, which, as of June 2013, listed 1,103 historic cemeteries and burial sites.
Several local cemeteries have been restored.
Pinewood Cemetery in Coral Gables (first known as Larkins Cemetery) is one of the oldest cemeteries south of the Miami River and is the final resting place for many of Dade County’s pioneer settlers. It stood forgotten for many years until 1983, when a group of citizens took an interest in its restoration. The city of Coral Gables lent its support by appointing a citizens’ advisory board and later by the allocation of funds for the restoration project.
The City of Miami Cemetery is a historic cemetery that was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Among the 9,000 burials are pioneer families such as the Burdines and the Peacocks and Dr. James Jackson. This site has the only five known oolitic (limestone) gravestones in the world. It is also one of the few cemeteries where the owner of a plot actually holds a deed to the land where the plot is situated. The criteria to be buried here is strict – one must be either the deed holder or able to prove familial relationship to the owner. In 1997, Enid Pinkney and Penny Lambeth began a restoration project of the cemetery. It has been a major transformation.
Others need attention and saving.
The 20-acre Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Brownsville, probably Florida’s most significant predominantly African-American graveyard, needs attention. Its founding dates back to Dr. Kelsey Pharr, who purchased the land in 1937 and likely named it after President Lincoln. Some of early Miami’s most notable black citizens are buried here, including Dana Albert Dorsey, who is often considered Miami’s first black millionaire. Dorsey died in 1940, but his portfolio includes what would later become Fisher Island. Bahamian-born H.E.S. Reeves, who founded The Miami Times, the city’s first black newspaper, is also buried here. At present time, there is no restoration or preservation plan in place, and the sacred site is sadly neglected and many graves have been vandalized.
Cemetery tourism is alive and well.
If you are planning a trip this fall, add a national historic cemetery to your itinerary. A few recommendations include the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, which was established in 1864 and is the only cemetery to hold soldiers’ graves from every war in U.S. history (and where President John F. Kennedy is buried); the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in California, which was founded in 1899 and is the final resting place for hundreds of movie stars including Charlie Chaplin Jr.; and the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York, which was established in 1863 and features many mausoleums and monuments designed by legendary architects. Notable graves include salsa queen Celia Cruz.
The Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 1991. The association promotes the understanding of the importance of historic resources and their preservation. For more information, visit historiccoralgables.org.