Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yalaha Cemetery In Florida

Yalaha is just a ramshackle little place in central Florida.  Sneeze and you might miss the town.  I drive through what appears to be the heart of the town at least once a week and for some time the little green street sign informing the passerby that up the hill is Yalaha Cemetery has always intrigued me.  I finally decided to investigate when I had a little extra time and I found a fairly depressing cemetery.  It was not more melancholy than other cemeteries I have visited.  Nor was it greatly unkempt, although the layout is quite haphazard.  Its distinction is the fact that so many of the headstones have no dates.  Many have no real names.  It feels as though there was no compelling need for those that lie here to be known.  But this is not true as I came to find that many people had gone to great lengths to keep graves marked here that originally had wooden markers and such.  Many of the simple granite stones I found were placed in 1996.  Unfortunately, many graves were unable to be marked because locations were lost over time.
The oldest marker I found was one belonging to an infant buried in 1868.  It was the Laws Baby.  A little girl who did not live more than two months.  A little lamb is at the top of her headstone.  Many infants are buried here with very simple markers like this:
With this above marker, I think it was a replacement for the stone it sits against.   The original is broken and hard to read.  This is just conjecture on my part.  This family may have lost more than one child since there are no dates.  I found four similar looking markers to this one that were the infants of another family named Godfrey.  Very sad.
Children were not the only ones with these types of markers.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith have the same type of memorials.  Imagine having the last name Smith as the only identifier.
The Cottrell family had a sizable plot here, so I imagine they were a heritage type family for the town.  There is a  little sign near Carrie Sims Duncan Cottrell’s headstone (it is cut out of the picture) that identifies her as a Daughter of 1812.  This means that she is a descendant of a patriot of the War of 1812.  The National Society United States Daughters of 1812 formed in 1892.
There are military members memorialized here as well.  Captain Melton Haynes, who is identified as someone who fought on the confederate side of the Civil War; J.W. Fisher whom I believe if I interpret his headstone correctly, served in the 2nd Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry; and William Henry Snow who served in the 147th New York Volunteer Infantry.  The 2nd Massachusetts regiment fought in Cuba during the Spanish American War and the 147th New York served the Union during the Civil War.  I’ve included links for further information, which I found fascinating.

My favorite grave marker is the most prominent one in the cemetery leading me to believe that the Drake family were significant members of the community.  This actually is the second monument.  The first and original is at the bottom of Lake Harris where it fell off a barge in transport.  The main feature is an obelisk that is draped.  It’s more common to see urns draped, but any kind of draping on a tombstone represents mourning.  The design here is from the Victorian Era when obelisks became quite common.  The obelisk is Egyptian in nature and generally symbolizes rebirth.
Other markers of interest include a bench adorned with swans – there was a matching one across from it about fifteen feet away – a marker informing everyone that Patrick Pike is now at his favorite fishing spot and two graves that were covered by brick and concrete curved slabs.

I liked the epitaph on this tombstone:
The Whitt family plot was another one of the larger plots and it was off to the far right, almost as though set away from the rest of the cemetery and nearly all headstones indicated membership in Masonic organizations.
I would like to point out here that there is another cemetery across from this one maintained by St. Matthews Church of God by Faith that is gated and chained shut, so I was unable to explore.  Here is a basic shot of the heart of the cemetery.  Most of the memorials are covered by slabs of concrete or marble.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Greenwood Cemetery In Eustis, Florida

The town of Eustis in Florida dates back to the late 1800s and was named for Colonel Abraham Eustis.  The town unfortunately gained some notoriety in 1996 for the “Vampire Cult Killings.”  Richard and Ruth Wendorf were found bludgeoned to death in their home and the suspects were members of a vampire cult of teenagers who dressed in goth attire and drank each other’s blood.  Their daughter Heather belonged to the cult.  Teenager Rod Ferrell was the leader of the group and claimed that he would live forever.  He is spending his “immortality” in jail and rumor has it that iron bars are good for keeping pesky vampiric vermin at bay.
Greenwood Cemetery was founded in 1885 and lies on two tracts of land on either side of a two lane road outside of downtown Eustis.  Several of the headstones within date back to the founding of the city.
Unfortunately, this older stone did not fair well:
I found these really unique headstones that were made from wood, so any inscription was long gone.  I need to contact the sexton sometime when he is there to see if they have any information on these.  I’m interested to find out as well if the circle and diamond shapes have some kind of symbolic meaning.
There were several headstones that were hand written on what appears to be concrete:

Here are some other images from Greenwood Cemetery:

 Mary J. Phillips Allen was a nurse who served in the Army’s Nurse Corp during the Spanish American War:
And then there was the infant section.  I chose a few headstones with touching epitaphs to photograph:

And this is a touching tribute to a couple who are together again past the sunset:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Cemetery Nursery

     The word nursery usually conjures an image in the mind of either a row of cradles on the opposite side of a large glass window in a hospital or a small room furnished with a crib and a mobile in a home.  Most individuals would never think of a cemetery, but many cemeteries in America have a special section set aside for the burial of babies and toddlers.  Pinelawn Memorial Gardens in New York refers to their section as Babyland.
     Infant mortality has declined in the modern era, lowering by 90%.  At the turn of the last century, 100 babies out of every 1,000 born died.  Anyone who has visited a cemetery with older burials knows just based on headstones that infants did not fair well in the past with families many times losing several children.  That is generally one reason why families would give birth to so many children because the chances were high that a couple would never see their teens.
     The ways that we as humans have memorialized and buried infants are varied, but recorded history that dates back several hundred centuries attests to the truth that we hold little ones dear.  For example, there is this Neolithic baby that was placed with care in the fetal position and adorned with bracelets made from beads of bone and colored stones in Çatalhöyük, Turkey:
“Neolithic Baby Burial [Archeology],” in Children and Youth in History, Item #213, (accessed January 18, 2014). Annotated by Susan Douglass
Infant headstones are generally smaller in size than those for adults and in many cases are adorned with lambs and/or angels.  Some of the neatest epitaphs I have seen are on the markers of children.  One unfortunate realization I have come to through years of trekking cemeteries is that children’s names in the past were not given as much importance as they are today.  History and genealogy are lost through the word’s of say a headstone reading “The Smith’s Baby.”  Less room is needed for infant burials and their plots are placed very close together, which strikes me as somewhat comforting.

I generally like to think that these children were so special that God just couldn’t wait to get them to heaven.  The reality is more tragic and in paying respects at the headstones of these little ones, that reality is stark.  Today, I visited a cemetery and saw a headstone in the distance that caught my eye and I ventured forward for a better look.  It was this one featuring a baby angel:

As a taphophile, I survey headstones as I walk by looking for interesting epitaphs, designs and situations.  On my way to the baby angel headstone, I started noticing that nearly all the markers had only one date.  I must have been a sight as I paused for a moment in the middle of this area and spun around looking in all directions as it slowly dawned on me that I was standing in the middle of a cemetery nursery.
The tragic tale of twins lost:
Some families may not be able to put out the money for the expense of a headstone, which may be why so many infant burials have a simple placard from the funeral home to a child’s final resting place.  If someone is having a financial hardship, there are organizations that will help.  The Connor Kirby Infant Memorial Foundation is one such group.