Thursday, June 30, 2011
Yesterday, June 29, was the day! Unfortunately, it was also a day full of drenching rains and the occasional thunderstorm, most of them right at the time that the members were supposed to start arriving at the cemetery.
So attendance wasn’t what we had hoped, but those who came out despite the rain got a real historical treat, with talks about the cemetery and even an 18th century soldier (also known as John Cipriani) standing by.
Nick McAuliffe presented a talk on Tolomato Then and Now, using historic photographs, mostly from the late 19th century (around 1880) to contrast how Tolomato had looked in the days when it was a forest of wooden crosses and grave enclosures, and how it looks now. Locating the photos at the points from which they had been taken, he pointed out the changes, the lost markers, and the additions that had occurred over the 130+ years since the photos were taken.
Here we see Nick giving his talk while our 18th century solider and Louise Kennedy watch from under a nice comfy umbrella. Incidentally, the rain did taper off, and most of the rest of the evening was a little damp and drippy under the trees, but very cool and pleasant.
Elizabeth Gessner gave a presentation on her translation of the 1811 cemetery plan (below) created by the Spanish authorities, probably in cooperation with Fr Miguel O’Reilly, the pastor of the parish at that time. This plan was never carried out (1811/12 was not a good year for the Spanish!), but shows an elaborate design for a new cemetery on or just behind the site of the current Tolomato Cemetery. Dr. Jim Cusick, who attended the event, is going to search for more information on the map and thinks he may be able to determine the engineer who created it.
Finally, Matt Armstrong talked about our preservation activities, both past and planned for the future. This included whipping out a bottle of D/2, the magic headstone cleaner, from under his jacket. He got the group so enthusiastic about it that Priscilla de la Cruz was able to collect the names of a long list of people who want to hear about the next preservation workday.
Louise Kennedy just sent me the following photo of the three speakers (Nick, Elizabeth and Matt) standing around our resident harpist, Mary Jane Ballou.
So while the rain cut down on attendance, the event was great, and Sue Howden, Carol Lopez Bradshaw, Louise Kennedy and Moises Stzylerman made the brave guests feel welcome, while Mary Jane Ballou played the harp on the porch of the Varela Chapel to distract them from their slight sogginess.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
We had a pleasant surprise at Tolomato Cemetery yesterday when TCPA member Natalie Lucas brought Latrell Pappy Mickler to visit the cemetery. Latrell Mickler has written an excellent, story-rich book on her Minorcan ancestors, focusing particularly on the Papy and Pons families and their descendants.
She spent many years researching it, poring over records in the archives in St Augustine as well as personally interviewing other Minorcan descendants and finding records elsewhere. The result is a large book with factual accounts, some quite detailed, of the lives and deaths of many of the people buried at Tolomato Cemetery.
One particularly sad story concerns a vault that we worked on restoring this spring, the Oliveros-Papy vault (both, of course, families to whom Latrell Mickler is related).
One of the stones we cleaned was this pretty stone bearing the name “Nena” and a spray of roses, as well as the information that Nena was only 16 when she died.
And as sad as the death of any young person is, her story was even more tragic. Latrell told us the details: when Nena Papy was 16, she was accidentally shot and killed by her younger brother, 12 years old at the time. The killing, reported in the press, devastated the family and probably contributed much to the later unhappy life of the brother.
There is an account of the event in Latrell Mickler’s book, along with many other stories that remind us of the real people buried under these historic stones and our need to treat the cemetery with respect and care.
Monday, June 13, 2011
A few weeks ago when we were working on the Oliveros Papy vault at the back of the cemetery, we kept finding our work impeded by sharp pieces of iron that stuck out of the ground behind the vault. We thought they were probably parts of a metal grave enclosure that had probably been removed from its grave because it was in poor condition and stashed behind the vault to await – well, something or another.
Since we are getting ready to install a storage shed behind the vault to hold our preservation supplies and other miscellaneous “stuff,” we decided that it was time to excavate. Nick McAuliffe, Matt Armstrong and Elizabeth Gessner appeared at Tolomato bright and early today and began to dig.
The pieces of metal seemed to go on forever. Some of them were separate, but most of them were part of a larger piece that we realized was a fence section. It was close to the surface, only some 4-6 inches deep, and extended for about 5 or 6 feet in length and was about 3 feet wide.
Digging diligently and snipping off the roots that were holding it down, we were finally able to lift it – and we saw a lovely piece of iron fencing that had major damage at one end, probably from a falling tree or branch that had hit it hard enough to curve the wrought iron.
What’s more, we were even able to identify the piece. It was the west side of the grave enclosure for two of the headstones that we cleaned earlier this spring.
For the time being, we have put it aside under a tarp, and will consider whether to attempt to conserve it and reinstall it. But it is actually in better condition than the piece that was left standing. We don’t know how long it was buried. We found a piece of Styrofoam under it, so obviously it’s got to be fairly recent, or at least after the invention of Styrofoam!
Thursday, June 2, 2011
The TCPA is delighted to welcome the new Bishop of St Augustine, Bishop Felipe Estévez, who in addition to everything else, will have Tolomato Cemetery under his care.
In this photo, Bishop Estévez arrives at the door of the Cathedral – which will now be his cathedral, where his cathedra (chair or seat) is located. For those who have never seen this ceremony, the new bishop arrives at the closed doors and taps on them with a small silver hammer. The doors are then opened from the inside and the bishop is welcomed into his cathedral.
I wasn’t able to get a photo of the hammer or the bishop actually tapping on the door, unfortunately, but in this photo taken from the plaza during a brief gap in the traffic, you can see the bishop arriving.
At the door, Bp. Estévez quoted the words said by our founder and first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, upon landing:
“My ultimate object and desire is to procure that Florida be settled in perpetuity so that the holy Gospel be extended and planted in these provinces.”