Tag Archives: Florida cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #163: Neptune Memorial Reef

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From the Neptune Memorial Reef gallery: http://www.nmreef.com/reef-gallery.html

Neptune Memorial Reef
International waters off of Key Biscayne, Florida
N 25° 42.036′ W 80° 05.409′
Founded: 2007
Size: 16 acres
Number of interments: There are 1200 places available “in the reef’s initial development.” More than 200 placements have been made.

Three and a quarter miles off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida stands a one-of-a-kind cemetery. The Neptune Memorial Reef, inspired by sunken cities like Alexandria and Herakleion, is the world’s most beautiful underwater graveyard.

Sponsored by the Neptune Society — one of the largest providers of cremation in the US — the manmade reef is designed as a repository for human cremains. Families select a design created by Key Largo artist Kim Brandell, add their loved one’s cremated remains and small mementos like fishing lures or crucifixes to the concrete, and the unique monument is placed by divers forty feet below the waves.

The monuments are all huge and quite heavy: five-ton columns on fifty-ton bases. Even the smaller sculptures of shells weight ten pounds.  Because of their weights and the depths at which they are placed, the Neptune Reef has safely ridden out the hurricanes that damaged the historic cemeteries of St. Augustine.

Shipwreck diver Bert Kilbride — who was immortalized in the Guiness World Records as the oldest scuba diver when he was still diving at the age of 90 — has a place of honor atop one of the columns at the Reef gate. Other monuments in the cemetery include benches, columns, starfish, and more. Future monuments may include dolphins and Neptune himself.  Brandell considers his architecture futuristic rather than classical, but the broken columns, colonades, and massive bronze lions echo the mythical Atlantis.

The largest manmade reef yet conceived is in the process of transforming more than sixteen acres of barren ocean floor. The reef meets the guidelines of the EPA, NOAA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Memorial Reef also belongs to the Green Burial Council.

The reef was designed to welcome fish and promote the growth of corals. Since 2007, the reef has attracted 56 species of fish. The most common is Bluehead Wrasse, followed by Sergeant Majors, Bar Jacks, and Tomtates. French angelfish and yellowtail snappers have been seen. Long-spined sea urchins and many species of crab have moved into the reef’s crevices. Sponges colonize the vertical surfaces of the reef, alongside trunkfishes, filefishes, and pufferfish. Fourteen species of coral have moved in, followed by spiny lobsters, spotted and green moray eels, and rainbow parrotfish. In fact, the ecosystem has developed faster than expected.

The Neptune Memorial Reef attracts recreational scuba divers, marine biologists, and researchers from all over the world.

Useful links:

The Neptune Memorial Reef homepage: http://www.nmreef.com

Atlas Obscura’s listing for the reef: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/neptune-memorial-reef

Night-diving in the Neptune Reef: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMvjvHxmrRE


Cemetery of the Week #161: The Old Huguenot Cemetery

Huguenot gate

These photos are borrowed from the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery Facebook page.

Old Huguenot Cemetery
aka the Huguenot Cemetery or the Public Burying Ground of St. Augustine
A1A Orange Street
Saint Augustine, Florida 32084
Established officially: 1821
Size: one-half acre
Number of interments: approximately 436
Open: Third Saturday of every month (see below for more details)

During the Spanish colonial era in Florida, this half-acre of land served as a potter’s field to bury criminals, other ex-communicants, and all non-Catholics who died in St. Augustine. The oldest graves have no markers, since the Spanish felt it was best to erase the memory of people who died outside the Church. Although the cemetery is named for the French Protestant movement, it’s unlikely any actual Huguenots are buried here.

When the United States took control of the Florida territory in 1819, the old potter’s field became the city’s only Protestant graveyard, opening officially in September 1821. Shortly thereafter, a yellow fever epidemic gripped the city. The mosquito-borne virus attacks the kidneys and liver, causing jaundice. Before a vaccine was developed, the disease was often fatal.

The cemetery’s owner, Reverend Thomas Alexander, deeded the land to the Presbyterian Church in 1832. The Presbyterians oversaw the cemetery until it closed in 1884. Since its closure, Memorial Presbyterian Church maintains it, aided more recently by the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery.

Among the approximately 436 people buried here are US Congressmen Gideon Barstow, who retired to Florida and died in 1852, and Charles Downing, who also served as a Colonel in the Seminole War in 1836.

Famous names aren’t what draw most people to this old cemetery. By many accounts, the Huguenot Cemetery is the most haunted place in the ancient city. One ghost story begins with the body of a fourteen-year-old girl abandoned at the nearby city gates during a yellow fever epidemic. Since no one claimed her and she couldn’t be proven to be Catholic, she was buried in the Huguenot Cemetery. It’s said her ghost, clad in a flowing white dress, still wanders the cemetery after midnight. Sometimes she waves at visitors. She’s even been seen atop the cemetery gate.

The most famous ghost in the Huguenot Cemetery has been identified as Judge John Stickney, who died in 1882. When his children had him exhumed years later, the gravediggers opened his coffin to find the judge reasonably well preserved. In the mob of people watching the exhumation hid a thief, who stole the judge’s gold teeth right out of his skull in the commotion. Although Stickney’s body was moved to Washington, DC, the tall dark figure of judge’s ghost continues to prowl the cemetery, searching for his missing dental work. He’s been sighted day and night.

The fragile old cemetery is usually locked, but until earlier this month, the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery opened it on the third Saturday of each month.

Huguenot hurricane damage

When Hurricane Irma tore up Florida two and a half weeks ago, it swept across St. Augustine and over the old cemetery.  A hurricane-spawned tornado toppled one of the centuries-old magnolias.  Other damaged trees landed on fragile old tombstones.  Damage is estimated to amount to $25,000.

Despite this, the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery hope to open the cemetery on October 21 for its regular third Saturday visitation day.

If you’d like to help with the costs of tree removal and conservation of the gravestones, please email Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery President Charles Tingley at catingley (at) gmail (dot) com. The Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.

Useful links:

The Old Huguenot Cemetery homepage

Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery Facebook page

Report on the damage from Hurricane Irma

Weird US report on the Huguenot Cemetery

Ghosts & Gravestones report on the Huguenot Cemetery

Links from Cemetery Travel:

The cemetery is mentioned in Famous and Curious Cemeteries

Key West City Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #137: Historic Key West City Cemetery

View of the Key West Cemetery photographed by Kathleen Rhoads.

Key West Cemetery as photographed by Kathleen Rhoads.

Key West City Cemetery
aka Key West Cemetery
701 Passover Lane
Key West, Florida 33040
Telephone: (305) 292-8177
Founded: 1847
Size: 19 acres
Number of interments: an estimated 100,000
Open: Weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on weekends.

Key West is the last of a string of islands stretching southwest off the tip of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico. As such, it forms the southernmost point of the United States.

When a hurricane struck Key West on October 11, 1846, it destroyed the old city cemetery on a sand ridge on the southern part of the island. Port inspector Stephen Mallory reported, “The dead were scattered throughout the forest, many of them lodged in trees.”

The following year, the city purchased a piece of land in the center of town large enough for 100 burial plots. Over time, more land was added, including a separate Catholic Cemetery in 1868 and a Jewish section with its own gate in the southeastern corner of the property.

Capt. James Johnson, as photographed by Kathleen Rhoads.

Capt. James Johnson, as photographed by Kathleen Rhoads.

In addition to a spectrum of religions, the graveyard encompasses a variety of grave markers, too. Marble, granite, or zinc monuments were shipped from the mainland. Less expensive markers were made locally of brick, tile, or cement. The people in the cemetery came from Scotland, Cuba, the Bahamas, Prussia, and across mainland America. They were freed slaves and Confederate sympathizers, civil rights leaders and a man tarred and feathered by the KKK for loving a “mulatto” woman. One was a 40-inch-tall “midget” called “General” Abe Sawyer. Several were friends of Ernest Hemingway, including a bootlegger who inspired To Have and Have Not.

Also buried in the cemetery are three Yorkshire terriers and a pet Key deer in the Otto family plot.

The oldest gravestone in the cemetery belongs to Captain James Johnson, who died in 1829. His stone was moved from the earlier graveyard and placed at the back of the Dade Masonic Lodge plot.

The USS Maine Monument, as photographed by Kathleen Rhoads.

The USS Maine Monument, as photographed by Kathleen Rhoads.

The most famous plot in the cemetery remembers the Maine. In Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, the gunpowder magazines aboard the USS Maine exploded. 268 sailors, nearly three-quarters of her crew, died. William Randolph Hearst used the full power of his media empire to drive the United States into the Spanish-American War.

Of the Maine‘s victims, only 200 bodies were recovered and, of those, only 76 could be identified. Two dozen victims of the explosion are buried in the old Key West Cemetery, alongside other Spanish-American War veterans, Civil War veterans (including African-American sailors), and veterans of other wars.

One of the most amusing monuments remembers 50-year-old B. P. “Pearl” Roberts, a hypochondriac who got the last word. Near her rests Gloria M. Russell, whose stone says, “I’m Just Resting My Eyes.”

Pearl Roberts' marker, as photographed by Kathleen Rhoads.

Pearl Roberts’ marker, as photographed by Kathleen Rhoads.

The Historic Florida Keys Foundation offers walking tours of the cemetery twice weekly. For reservations, please call (305) 292-6718.

Useful Notes:

Tourist info about Key West, including a map.

Map and self-guided tour of the Key West Cemetery

Historic Florida Keys Foundation page on the cemetery

The City of Key West offers occasional Cemetery Strolls, although they seem to be over for this year.

The Weird Florida entry on Key West Cemetery

This ghost tour includes the Key West Cemetery

Special thanks to Kathleen Rhoads, my mom, for touring this graveyard in my honor and allowing me to use her photographs.

Cemetery as garden and vice versa

Gardens and Graveyards of the Southeastern Seaboard: A Photographic JourneyGardens and Graveyards of the Southeastern Seaboard: A Photographic Journey by Henry Clay Childs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The lure of silent places — gardens can be as tranquil as graveyards — leads each of us more easily to reflection and remembrance, revelation and joy.” That sentiment inspires this gorgeous full-color photo book. Every page is graced by a 7 x 9-inch photo, which reproduces a rainbow of greens and grays, highlighted with bright flowers.

On his travels between Popes Creek, Virginia and Cumberland Island, Georgia, Henry Clay Childs stopped off to visit the only unaltered American colonial church, graves of the earliest European settlers as well as George Washington’s ancestors, graveyards of villages abandoned after the Civil War, and the elegant cemeteries of Savannah.

Childs saw a graveyard anywhere dreams were buried and a garden wherever flowers bloomed, so there’s a great deal of fluidity in this definitions. This book will delight anyone who takes pleasure in beauty, whether they’ve previously been cemetery aficionados or not.

Even your mom might like these beautiful photographs.

These books are going for a song on Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.