Monday, August 28, 2017

Finding Footstones

On our most recent Open Day, while seeking the shade of our trees on a blazingly hot day, a couple of our volunteers came across some footstones that had somehow become separated from their headstones but bore initials that might make it possible to identify them.  The result was some excellent sleuthing by Louise Kennedy, our TCPA Secretary and genealogical expert, and Nick McAuliffe, our Vice President and archeaologist.  And this is what they found...

First of all, what is a footstone?  Basically, it was just a small marker to indicate the end of the grave, and was placed at the opposite end from the headstone. It generally bore only the initials of the deceased, although occasionally it included the date of death. Footstones seem to have entered into common use in England in the 17th century, and many 18th century English cemeteries have them.  It is also thought that, in some places in England, footstones bearing only initials and placed at the foot of a burial without a headstone were used to mark the graves of felons.  But generally, they simply represented the termination of that particular individual's cemetery plot, and in fact, many of them were later removed to reduce cemetery clutter and make it easier to cut the grass.

Tolomato has a number of footstones, some of them nearly sunken into oblivion with only a tiny band of marble remaining, others with no identification at all on them, and a few others with initials but no identifiable headstones to associated with them.

And then there are the wandering ones, such as the one Nick discovered, blackened and mildew-covered because of its long exile at the edge of the cemetery.  The marker was found near the remains of the cast iron grave enclosure on the south side of the cemetery.  When the new fence was put in, workers removed a tree - which as you can see, wasn't easy, since it had "swallowed" some of the metal parts of the enclosure - and we think that the stone was half-buried in the ground behind or very near to the tree.

It was certainly not the most legible thing, and it took us awhile to discern the letters E.F.M.  They are in the dark part of the marker. At first we weren't sure if the footstone was dark from earth staining, having somehow been turned upside down and stuck in the ground with the inscribed part at the bottom. But it turned out that the white part had actually been the buried part, protected from the elements and the pervasive lichen and mold.

Initially we hoped that we had found something associated with the grave enclosure, since we have never found any hints as to the identity of the person or persons buried there.  But Louise hit on the answer:  the footstone belongs to the grave of Fr. Edward Francis Mayne, priest at what is now the Cathedral from 1827 up to his death in 1834.  The footstone had somehow ended up about 30 feet from the headstone.

As you can see, Fr. Mayne has an imposing marker, nearly 6 feet tall, with "shoulders." (Yes, we plan to have it straightened.) Perhaps it was given to him to compensate for his trials at the Cathedral, since he was the parish priest during the "Wardens Period."  This refers to a period during the transition of Florida from a Spanish settlement to an American territory, when the resulting changes of diocesan authority and delays in assigning priests let to the establishment of a group of church wardens to run the parish.  Unfortunately, they seem to have been a fractious group, and drove more than one priest out of the parish.

When the Irish-born Fr. Mayne was assigned in 1827, he became embroiled in a conflict with the wardens when one warden, Antonio Alvarez, tried to prevent him from doing the burial rites for Jose M. Sanchez on the grounds that Sanchez was a Mason.  Fr. Mayne felt that the decision was his to make, after which the wardens locked him out of the church and he was able to conduct only a graveside burial service at Tolomato for Sanchez (who had been a political rival of Alvarez for the position of Mayor of St Augustine). In fact, the wardens would not let him reenter the church and he was forced for some time to say Mass in a private residence.

The struggle over his authority went from bad to worse over the years, even ending up in the secular courts, and was finally resolved at the end of 1832 during a meeting with the French-born Bishop Portier, Bishop of Mobile and Vicar of Florida, when the bishop threatened to excommunicate the wardens.  They settled down, but poor Fr. Mayne lived little more than another year, dying in January of 1834.

The Latin inscription on his marker records that he died in the 33rd year of his life and that he was a faithful pastor, "gentle and humble of heart."  So perhaps some recognition of his trials came from the faithful of St Augustine, and his beautiful headstone - which we plan to reunite with its footstone - represents this.

But that's not all!  Yet another grave enclosure yielded another footstone to study and once again, Louise Kennedy went into action.

This enclosure is under one of our two huge oak trees, and is slowly being pulled out of the ground by the tree. It contains some fragments of stone, along with a footstone that didn't belong there but was put into the ground in the recent past just to keep it from being run over by the lawn tractor.  And while nobody knows the identity of the "owner" of the enclosure - a relatively small enclosure possibly for just one burial - the footstone bore the initials C. D. G.  And who else could that be but Charles Dominique Gobert, whose simple but dignified and well-preserved headstone is located about fifteen feet away from the grave enclosure?

Like Fr. Mayne, he had a dramatic and conflict ridden life, and Louise uncovered his story for us.

Charles Gobert was born in France in 1767 but emigrated to the new United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1794. He started his life in the US as a merchant in Philadelphia, marrying the daughter of Lewis Ogden, an important figure in the War of 1812, and eventually moving with her to Spanish St Augustine. Unfortunately, he lost his fortune as a penalty for his involvement in a duel with a Spanish officer and returned north, this time to New York, where he filed for bankruptcy.  He seems to have moved around to various positions and then was employed as a civil engineer at the Washington Navy Yard, during which time he ended up defaulting on a contract for producing musket balls, perhaps because he was too busy with his own invention: a "hydro-war-ship."

In this tense period before and during the War of 1812, Gobert tried to interest the Mayor of Newark and other authorities in his "Machines for public harbor Defense."  He even wrote to President James Madison in 1814, shortly before the end of the war, to describe his project and get support. And while he got a cash advance from Newark for this work, he never seems to have delivered the product.  In fact, no plans for it have ever been found and it is not clear what this "machine for blowing up Ships of War" looked like or  how it functioned.

Gobert took off again and ended up getting arrested for treason after it was found that he was dealing with and sending clandestine communications to the British in the Chesapeake.  Somehow he seems to have gotten out of this predicament, and was merely jailed, once again, for bankruptcy, this time in Washington.  When he was released, he bounced around a bit, pursuing interests and seemingly phantom opportunities in Baltimore, Havana and New York.

Finally, in 1816, President Monroe accepted his claims of innocence of the charge of treason and the State Department restored his papers.

And then at last, in 1821, we find a mention of him in the "Florida Territorial Papers," where he appears as a translator and interpreter of French and Spanish.  The other mentions of him are in a census and a couple of civic and property records - and, true to form, in records of a 1826 lawsuit over rental payments.

Louise cites the report of the New York Evening Post:  "Charles Gobert, native of France, resident merchant in New York City, for the last 9 years residing in St. Augustine, died 26 March 1830."

And all this information was found by Louise from the finding of that small, stray slab of marble that was the footstone installed at Tolomato Cemetery 137 years ago.  So even the humble footstone deserves its measure of historical respect.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Fair West

Occasionally we travel beyond our humble one acre at Tolomato to view the spreading cemeteries of other countries - or, in this case, of our own American West.  And even though we spent several hours at the 285 acre Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, which includes an enormous public mausoleum, seen below, we visited only a fraction of its monuments.

Fairmount Cemetery as such was founded in 1890, but was in use well before that as the City Cemetery, founded in 1858 and incorporating yet another cemetery, Mount Prospect.  Its first burial was James (Jack) O'Neil, who died in 1859 in unfortunate circumstances, shot to death in a gambling argument. This was the Wild West, after all. Note that his gravestone, below, proclaims that he was MURDERED.

Perhaps because of burials such as this, the City Cemetery developed an unsavory reputation, and, as boom-town Denver became more prosperous and home to some very wealthy people, city fathers urged the founding of a beautiful "garden cemetery" in the style inspired by Paris' famous Pere Lachaise.  A new cemetery was founded on the site in 1890.  It incorporated several other cemeteries, and some burials were moved to Fairmount while others were moved away, and some of the burials from Denver's earlier cemeteries were left in place - under land that is the site of the Botanic Gardens and various local parks.

A German landscape architect, Reinhard Scheutze, was hired to design it and created a vast, rolling park that now has some 3,800 trees and thousands of markers and monuments.  The style in 19th and early 20th century Denver, oddly, was very French influenced, and many of the mausoleums and markers of the prosperous reflect this or display a Classical theme.  Anybody who was anybody  in Denver is buried here, and the names - Bonfils, Cheesman, Boetcher, among others, can be seen on the streets and important buildings of Denver.

Burials from the 1920's and 30's are often Art Nouveau in style, while some adopted the "Egyptian" style made popular after the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922.

And then there was the mausoleum, with its hundreds of niches and vaults - and the largest collection of stained glass in Denver!  An interesting fact was that in recent times, people had decorated the niches of their deceased with little personal items, such as eyeglasses or some other favorite or typical thing. These are called "grave goods" by scholars, and now appear even in niches holding cremated remains.

There were a couple of "markers" of truly monumental simplicity:  huge boulders of rough pink granite from the Rockies, such as you see below:

However, one of the most interesting things was the marker and monument of J.A. Falkenburg, founder of the Western branch of that famous insurance and burial society, Woodmen of the World. You may know them from their tree-trunk shaped markers, which can be found in virtually any cemetery in the country.

You can read the rather complicated history of the Woodmen here at the blog A Grave Interest, but suffice it to say that none of it would have happened without Falkenburg, shown below. But no tree trunk!  It looked as if the front of his granite plinth may once have had a tree-trunk fastened to it, or at least a plaque featuring their slogan, Dum Tacet Clamat, "Though silent, he speaks," but it was obviously lost at some point in the past and only a few bolt-holes remain.

But all throughout the cemetery, trunks of varying sizes, styles and materials appeared, reflecting the many forms this enduring symbol has taken over the years. In addition, there were more graceful markers with the symbol of a bird and a trunk - for the women's branch, the Women of Woodcraft. Perhaps these form the best monument to J.A. Falkenburg.

 Fairmount Cemetery is open for visitors at any time, and in addition, has a full schedule of tours and events sponsored by their volunteer group, the Fairmount Heritage Foundation.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Memorial Day History at Tolomato Cemetery

The cemetery was open for visitors last Saturday, and since we will not be open on Memorial Day, one of our members, Ray Hinkley, took advantage of the time to set out American flags in front of the markers of our veterans...of many wars.

Going chronologically, of course, we start with the American Revolution.  We did a longer post on this a couple of weeks ago, so you will probably remember that Florida was actually under the British during the period comprising the American Revolution (1775-1783). In fact, the reason the British left St Augustine, which they had gotten away from the Spanish in 1764 as a result of the French and Indian or Seven Years War, was the American victory and the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  This required them to surrender their territory in the new United States and return territories taken from other colonial powers to their earlier owners.  Thus Florida returned to Spain, and was Spanish for another 40 years, until it became a US territory in 1821.

So there were no battles here and no American soldiers here, but some of those buried at Tolomato Cemetery nonetheless did participate in the American Revolution, so we felt they deserved commemoration.  Above you see flags in front of the DAR markers for don Juan McQueen - who, as a merchant captain with business interests in Paris, carried secret letters back and forth between General Lafayette in France and General George Washington - and Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto, who provided crucial information and aided Spanish Governor Bernardo de Gálvez in the crucial 1781 Battle of Pensacola, which kept the British from taking over parts of the lower South.  Spain had become an ally of the Americans in 1779 and at that point possessed Louisiana and had a regiment based there. Gálvez defended or took Baton Rouge, Natchez, Mobile and Pensacola, and was considered so important by George Washington that he invited Gálvez to march at  his right hand in the grand parade in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1783.  Below, reenactor José Gueits appears in an 18th century Spanish uniform such as Gálvez' men might have worn.

We couldn't find anyone buried at Tolomato who had participated in the War of 1812, during which time St Augustine was Spanish, so we had to jump ahead to the Civil War.

And here we have both sides represented: above we see the markers for the Confederate veterans buried in the cemetery (although not in those exact locations).  Colonel John Masters of the Sons of the American Revolution made it his life's work to find unmarked Civil War soldier graves throughout Florida, searching through burial records and VA records, and then obtained and installed VA markers for them. These markers were installed in the year 2000.  The names on them are old St Augustine names, some of them Minorcan names while some of them, such as Bravo, are even First Spanish Period names.

The other side of the Civil War also appears in the two markers below, one for Frank Papy and one for Hector Adams.  They were both members of a regiment of the USCT, or US Colored Troops, units opened by the Union Army for the recently emancipated African Americans; sometimes these vets are referred to as the Freedmen.  This particular regiment was originally from South Carolina, but the recruiting station was at the Castillo, and Frank Papy, a waiter, joined when he was 19 while Hector Adams, a wagon driver, joined at the age of 50.  We know a fair amount about these men from their VA records. 

St Augustine had a number of other Freedmen, and there are more burials at the Mission Nombre de Dios, which was used as the parish cemetery during the 15 or so years between the closing of Tolomato Cemetery in 1884 and the opening of the current Catholic cemetery of San Lorenzo in 1898.

And finally, since Tolomato closed before any of the "Great Wars" of the 20th century, we have a veteran who died far from home, Patrick Keenan, born in Ireland. He joined the Army in Pennsylvania during the Civil War but remained in the service as Regular Army and was stationed with the 5th Regiment here at the Castillo.  He died of tuberculosis in 1877 at the age of 33, and his fellow soldiers in his new home provided this stone for his grave.  The inscription reads: "This Stone is Erected as a Tribute of Respect by his Comrades of Battery K, 5th Artillery."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tolomato Cemetery and the American Revolution

The Daughters of the American Republic (DAR) recently gathered again at Tolomato Cemetery  to dedicate the marker of a DAR American Revolutionary War Patriot - that is, a DAR member's ancestor who participated in the American Revolution in some way - buried in the cemetery.  The first commemoration, you will recall, was for Don Juan McQueen, who was from South Carolina but spent much of his life in St Augustine and is buried at Tolomato Cemetery.  He aided the American side by carrying messages from General Washington to General LaFayette in France when he made merchant voyages back and forth to Paris. 

But now we have a very different story.  The DAR's honoree this time was Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto y Escalona, a Spanish citizen born on Spanish Street in St Augustine in 1730 during the First Spanish Period.  He was of Spanish descent on both sides, although his mother was a 6th generation St Augustinian.  Above we see all of our "Revolutionary War" corner, with markers for Don Juan McQueen, Francisco Sanchez (near the vault on the right) and our newest marker, for Ruiz del Canto.

Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto was responsible for the supervision of the Castillo de San Marcos, and when the Spanish left St Augustine in 1763, he was appointed by the Governor as one of the group of three Spanish citizens who oversaw the mapping, sale and settlement of Spanish properties with the incoming British.  One of the other members of this little group was Juan Jose Elixio de la Puente, famous for his 1764 map of St Augustine.  Below, Elizabeth Gessner stands with a group of "Spanish soldiers" wearing uniforms of the First and Second Spanish Periods (1565-1763, 1784-1821).

Ruiz del Canto made many trips from Cuba to St Augustine for these purposes and also had many contacts among the local Indian tribes, which enabled him to dissuade the Indians from supporting the British in the growing conflict and secure their neutrality.  In 1779, Spain joined the American side in the war against the British and Ruiz del Canto served with the Spanish.  In 1780, he captured a small British sailing craft and took its captain and crew as prisoners to Cuba.  When interrogated by the Spanish, the captain, British Captain. Robert Holmes, revealed information about British troop locations and naval presence in Pensacola. This proved crucial to the planning of the successful Seige of Pensacola by Spanish General Bernardo de Gálvez.  The re-taking of Pensacola by Spanish forces - which included a regiment from Majorca and one of the Hibernian (Irish) Regiments under the command of General Arturo O'Neill - drove the British out of West Florida. At the end of the American Revolution, the area was returned to Spain, which granted Americans access through it to the Mississippi River.  Below you see the reenactors as well as members of the current Spanish military hold the flag of the Louisiana garrison, since Louisiana was Spanish at the time of the activities of Ruiz del Canto.

Our DAR patriot made his way back to St Augustine after the Spanish returned in 1784, settling with his second wife Francisca de la Hita Salazar (also St. Augustine-born) and their children first in a house on Hospital (now Aviles) Street and then on St George Street, in the Avero house, which is now known as St. Photios Shrine and had been the residence of Fr. Pedro Camps after the Minorcan arrived during the British Period.

See how well everything ties together in our complicated past!

The research on Ruiz del Canto was done by the  very gifted and dogged historian for St. Augustine's Maria Jefferson DAR Chapter, Lynne Cason, shown above in front of the honor guard as she tells the story of Ruiz del Canto.  When the DAR decides to dedicate a marker, they do extensive research on the honoree, and in addition, find a DAR member descendant to represent him. In this case, they found Teresa Sardinas, shown in the photo below, who came up from South Florida to be present at this honor.  She is sitting with representatives of the Spanish military, who came from Tampa to be present at this recognition of Spain's aid to the nascent US during the Revolution.

The DAR had members from the local and far-flung chapters in attendance for this important event.  It was a very photogenic and well attended event! TCPA Secretary Louise Kennedy took most of the photos in this post, and others were taken by member Joan Roberts.

Because of the military importance of Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto's actions, there was a delegation of Spanish military representatives in attendance.  Here you see Lt. Colonel Gonzalez Prada addressing the crowd with some interesting details of Spain's activities during the American Revolution.

The DAR had also invited "representatives" of the Spanish military of the past:  two groups of reenactors. Dr. Warren Feldman and Jason Davis were our First Spanish Period soldiers, while John Cipriani and Jose Gueits Romero represented the Second Spanish Period. 

Fr. Ed Booth, a longtime friend of Tolomato Cemetery, gave the invocation and blessed the marker.  Here he begins the prayers as Teresa Sardinas waits to unveil the marker (under the blue tarp).

The American Revolution took place during the British Period in St Augustine, so of course St Augustine had no participation on behalf of the American side.  In fact, it functioned mainly as a prison for Americans captured at sea or in battle further north.  They were held in the Castillo or under house arrest at various other points around town.  But the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolution required England to vacate territory it had gotten from other colonial powers, and Florida then reverted to Spain for another 40 years - which allowed our Revolutionary Patriot to return to St Augustine, live out the rest of his days here (resuming his work at the Castillo), and be laid to rest in Tolomato Cemetery in 1802, over 200 years ago.

And now Tolomato Cemetery has it's very own "Revolutionary War" corner, with markers for Don Juan McQueen (installed by the DAR), Francisco Xavier Sanchez (installed by the Sons of the American Republic) and Juan Francisco Ruiz del Canto (DAR marker), all of them reminding us of the very interesting and little-known story of Florida during the American Revolution.

Monday, March 13, 2017

In Rememberance of Minorcan Headstones

As everybody certainly must know by now, there are about 1,000 people buried in Tolomato Cemetery.  There are probably Christian Indian graves under the site of the ermita – or chapel – of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Tolomato, but since we are not sure how many they were or exactly where the chapel was located, we can't include them in the count.  We really begin counting with the arrival of the Minorcans in 1777.

This group of several hundred people set sail from Minorca with to work on Dr. Turnbull’s plantation in New Smyrna Beach. After eight difficult years in New Smyrna, they rebelled against their mistreatment by the good doctor and walked to St Augustine.  Their priest, Fr. Pedro Camps, stayed to look after the sick and dying who couldn’t make the walk, and then joined them and lived in the house that is now the St. Photios Shrine, dealing with his “parish” of Minorcans and offering mass in the house. Under the British, who were Anglicans, there was no other Catholic priest in St Augustine, and Fr. Camps served both his Catholic and Greek Orthodox Minorcans.  Below we see the statue of Fr. Camps with some of his Minorcans that is in the west courtyard of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

Needless to say, one of the first priorities was to provide a final resting place for his older or ailing parishioners, but this had already been dealt with by a delegation of Minorcans, including Juan Genopoly, Antonio Llambias, and Francisco Pellicer, who went to the British governor, Patrick Tonyn, and asked permission to bury the dead at the old Tolomato mission.  The site was not being used by the British, and the wooden chapel had been torn down and used for firewood in their first winter in St Augustine, so all that remained was the 4-story stone bell-tower and this location just outside the gates.  Governor Tonyn mentions that he granted permission for the Minorcans to use what he referred to as the “old Catholic cemetery” of Tolomato, and the abandoned space then entered into use as a cemetery.

The first burials were, of course, the Minorcans from Fr. Pedro Camps’ parish.  The first one of which we have a record is Gertrudis Pons, although the year of her record is given as 1784, which is the year that the Spanish returned to St Augustine. Obviously, in such a large group, many had died prior to that time.  Alas, the “Golden Book” of the Minorcans (so called because of its yellow cover), referring to the parish records maintained by Fr. Pedro Camps up to 1784, only lists baptisms and marriages, so we don’t have an accurate death record for the time prior to that.  However, Dr. Turnbull, feuding with Governor Tonyn for having accepted the Minorcans and, in Turnbull’s opinion, having encouraged their “rebellion,” states that some 65 of them died in the first two months of 1777.  While he may have been exaggerating – he is trying to claim that they lived better with him than when they got to St Augustine – it is no doubt true that a good number did die, which would explain the urgency of the request to use the “old Catholic cemetery.”

Unfortunately, there are no existing death records for the years between 1777 and 1784, so we have no way of knowing who they were.  Patricia Griffin, in her book Mullet on the Beach, points out that according to the baptismal statistics, births plunged in the first few years, meaning that it is possible that the population had also diminished.  And given the conditions and the poor health and stress of the Minorcan population, perhaps many infants did not even make it to baptism and would not have been recorded.

Still, from about 1784 onwards, with the return of the Spanish and the reestablishment of the parish church (now the Cathedral) under Fr. Tomás Hasset, who was succeeded by Fr. Miguel O’Reilly (both of them Irishmen in the service of Spain) , records resumed and we have a good idea of who is buried at Tolomato Cemetery. 

Of the list, about 400 are from the original Minorcan families, but of course this does not count some of the descendants with non-Minorcan names who were the product of the complicated Spanish-Minorcan-Irish-British marriages of the time.  And remember:  a St. Augustine Minorcan can have a Greek name, an Italian name, or any one of a host of Mediterranean island names (Corsican, Sardinian, Sicilian, etc.), since Dr. Turnbull cruised through the Mediterranean picking up anybody who would go with him. Minorca is a tiny island about 130 miles off the coast of Spain, and because of the same war that made St Augustine British, Minorca was also under the British.  So it was a convenient place to collect the recruits for this New World venture. The result is that 55-60 percent of the original arrivals were actually Minorcans of Minorcan descent, but the remaining “Minorcans” were a pan-Mediterranean crew.  Below is the grave of a member of the Masters family, a very widely extended St. Augustine Minorcan family; the name is an anglicized version of the Catalan surname Mestres.

So what is there to see at Tolomato today?  There are only about 105 markers remaining at Tolomato Cemetery. Many of the 18th and 19th century markers were wooden and would have crumbled into dust long ago, while many other graves may have had no markers at all. It was the responsibility of the family to pay for this and also to maintain the site – the all-in-one “perpetual care” cemetery wouldn’t come along until the late 19th-early 20th century – and many people either couldn’t or wouldn’t – or, this being America, they had moved away.  In addition, there’s the usual cemetery wear and tear. Even stone or concrete markers fall over, they crack and crumble, or sometimes they are even stolen for other uses (garden stepstones used to be a favorite).

Nonetheless, of those 100 or so markers, we have about 30 that have distinctive, identifiably Minorcan names, such as the Manucy headstone above.

So we were delighted when the Menorcan Cultural Society wanted to have a find-a-grave event at Tolomato Cemetery in early March!  The trip was organized and led by Lea Craig, who had been recruiting visitors on the Menorcan Cultural Society Facebook page in connection with this month's Menorcan Festival at the Llambias House.  (Note that in this case, Menorcan is spelled with an e, reflecting the spelling of the island's name in Spanish and Catalan.) That event, with the requisite delicious perlau and chowder, was held on Saturday, and on Sunday, a number of out-of-town Minorcans who had stayed over came out to visit the cemetery.

They were delighted to look at our records (and correct them from time to time!), view headstones that were those of ancestors of one or another branch of their family, and hear the story of the cemetery.  Many of them enjoyed talking with Louise Kennedy, above, who had prepared a list of Minorcan burials for the event. We had some Sanchez descendants.  Sanchez is a First Spanish Period name, but the patriarch of the family stayed in St Augustine during the British Period and had many children, who, of course, married Minorcans.  We had some Andreu’s, a  name often anglicized to Andrews, some Papys, some Miers, and some Pomars – and probably others that I missed, for which I apologize! 

The photos below show you the marker that is embedded in the side of the Oliveros-Papy vault, while beneath it is the ledger stone of Pedro Benet. He was an important 18th and 19th century citizen who was from Minorca, and was known as the "King of the Minorcans."  However, he did not come with the Turnbull group but arrived separately, a few years later, and we have many Benets buried at Tolomato.  The Benet ledger stone once sat atop an above-ground vault, which crumbled long ago.

Louise Kennedy and Joan Roberts were busy as bird-dogs at the Genealogy Desk, and we captured a lot of great family stories to add to our records. Nick McAuliffe and Brooke Radaker took the Minorcan contingent on mini-tours to see the different Minorcan headstones. We had created a map and an alphabetized list, based on Matthew Kear’s invaluable thesis, In Rememberance (available from Lulu, the on-demand publishing site, for a mere $12.00), so that they could find the graves more easily.  Meanwhile, Janet Jordan and Don Roberts dealt with other visitors who weren’t with the Minorcan group, giving a few lucky passers-by entry to the cemetery for photos and stories.
We were hoping to add some family photographs or other records to our collection, but maybe next time.  We hope that this will be the first of many such events in partnership with the Menorcan Cultural Society.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Mighty Oaks

The cemetery is almost back to normal after Hurricane Matthew, but one thing that has been changed forever is our tree-scape.  Fortunately the two oaks that dominate the view, one on either side of the central path, are still standing – although one lost a massive limb that embedded itself several feet into the ground when it crashed down – but we have lost several trees at the back and our formerly beautiful red cedar is not what it used to be. In fact, it looks as if there should be buzzards perching on its broken limb, but you’ll be happy to know that the tree service will be out soon to make it more presentable.

 We talked with a local nursery recently about replanting a couple of trees and placing some bushes across the back fence to make up for shrubbery that belonged to other neighbors but was destroyed during the flooding that followed the hurricane. The flood water was mostly salt water, and you soon discover which plants are salt-tolerant and which are most definitely not!

Of course none of the current trees at the cemetery were planted by a nursery; in fact, most of them, with the possible exception of the cedars, were planted by birds and squirrels, our busy little laborers in the planting business. The cemetery was not regularly maintained for years after its closure in 1884. But even before that, the mid-19th century concept of the “garden cemetery” probably hadn’t made it to St. Augustine.

Our planting plan involves only plants that would have been used in the 18th and 19th century South, the active period of the cemetery, in the interests of historical consistency.  The imagery is important and has shaped our ideas on the basic question of what to plant in a cemetery, but there are also practical considerations.
When we think of cemetery trees, we usually think of willows or other elegiac, “weeping” trees, and possibly some somber evergreens here and there, and perhaps a laurel tree.  That is partly because these trees were frequently featured as symbols of mourning in gravestone carvings, artwork on funeral announcements, etc.  They were not always present in the cemeteries themselves, however, for practical reasons. Willow trees, for example, require a huge amount of space and water and were much less common in the ground than in art.  So trees and plants in a cemetery should be relatively easy to manage...not like this Southern magnolia, a towering tree that is leaning against our front wall and crushing it!

Some of the plants seen in cemetery art have been appearing for millennia. The laurel leaf, either in the form of a crown or perhaps as a leaf motif, goes back to Classical times, when winners of elections and competitions or even simply important people wore crowns made of laurel leaves. The laurel was considered sacred by the Greeks and a symbol of remembrance, because the Greek god Apollo wore a laurel wreath crown in memory of the mortal Daphne, the object of his affections, who had been turned into a laurel tree (precisely to protect her from Apollo’s intentions!).   It was incorporated into later Christian burial iconography to mean remembrance and Christian victory over death.

Here at Tolomato, we have a regional variation: the oak-leaf arch, which we see above, coming out of a broken trunk (the latter, of course, representing death).  But an arborist who was working in the cemetery pointed out that the archway must have been made in the Northeast, because the oak leaves, shown below, are those of the white oak, which does not occur in Florida or the warmer parts of the South.  So there are little details that will reveal interesting things about a cemetery.

The weeping willow is a pretty obvious cemetery choice, and has been part of cemetery and funeral imagery for centuries. It’s weeping, after all.  It has the sad and sorrowful droop of a mourner and leaves that look like tears, so it was a natural for the iconography.  This particular willow, with a mourning dove flying up from the branches and little lambs resting peacefully beneath it, is in the ironwork on the gate to the Hernández grave enclosure (mid-19th Century).

Note the ears of corn, a particularly Southern motif, although there are varying interpretations of its significance and origin.
There are also floral motifs, such as lilies and roses.  Lilies were often featured on the markers of children to express their innocence and purity. Here we see the marker for several Mickler infants, who died in the mid-19th century.  Their marker features tear-drop shaped fuchsia flowers.

Roses frequently appeared on the markers of young women, such as this marker for Nena, the only daughter of Gaspar and Teresa Oliveros Papy, who died in an accidental shooting in 1861 at the age of 17.  The marker is embedded in the wall on the north side of the Oliveros-Papy vault at the back of the cemetery.

And of course, other flowers abound on our grave markers. Look for them on your next visit – and by that time, you might even see real live plants coming again to grace our beautiful little acre at Tolomato Cemetery.