Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas from Tolomato Cemetery

It’s hard to believe that the Tolomato Cemetery Preservation Association is reaching the end of its first full year…but we are.

Next year we have many exciting projects planned.  But more details on those later.

When we were open last Saturday, some members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy came to put wreaths on some of the graves.  And here they are with a wreath.  So Merry Christmas to everyone from Tolomato Cemetery.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Preserving our Preservation

In the course of preparing for our Annual Meeting, I had to review all the things we had done in the past year – and I realized that we had done a lot! 

Even if we limit the survey to preservation work alone, we have an impressive list: one marker repaired and raised again, 8 markers cleaned, one large vault patched and re-stuccoed, bricks repointed in other markers, and three vaults cleaned and lime-washed.  Pretty good!

However, we haven’t been keeping a very close record of this, so we’re reforming our ways and are developing a form to document each feature that we work on. While we have done a lot, we did the work over a very short span of time, so we can go back now during the quiet winter months and recreate the records for what we have done (while we still remember it!).  And we have a photographic record that we will include. 

Most of the markers in the photo below have been cleaned or repaired, and in the spring, we hope to start on the ironwork.



All of these records will eventually be in our on-line archive.

In the meantime, come out to our next Open Day, December 17, 2011, and see for yourself!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Preservation Time!

Once again a flock of eager volunteers descended on Tolomato, cleaned it up and flew away again.  We had another preservation work day today, and assorted volunteers, including students from Flagler College and from as far away as SCADA (Savannah College of Art and Design), came to the cemetery to tidy up, clean markers and even limewash a vault.

Here we see volunteer Zack working on the Keenan marker.  He is picking off the vegetation and will clean it with D2.


In this photo, volunteers work on the Andreu vault.  They are getting ready to limewash it after cleaning it. The stucco and mortar are in bad shape and will be restored in the future, but even cleaning it and giving it protective coat of limewash will help preserve it.


Below, a group works on the marker for Francisca Gonzalez, who died in 1876.  They have already done a lot of work; it was illegible when they started.


Triumph!  The Gonzalez marker as it looks now…


and  the Keenan marker and the Andreu vault as they look now. Many, many thanks to all our hardworking preservationists!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Great First Tolomato Talk!

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, the TCPA had its first Annual Meeting and Tolomato Talk.  There was a nor’easter in progress, but hardy TCPA members and the general public managed to slog through the wind and rain and get to the Bishop Baker Center for the event. 

Members heard about our activities in this first eventful year, beginning with our first public meeting on Oct. 9, 2010 and going all the way up to the installation of water in September, 2011 and even to the most recent Minorcan Mass, held just the day before the meeting. In the photo, Rusty Hall leads off with the Minorcan flag, followed by Carol Lopez Bradshaw and other members of the Menorcan Society, along with Fr. Ed Booth, the celebrant of the mass.

For the Tolomato Talk, which will be an annual event, Fr. Tim Lindenfelser offered a wide-ranging survey of Christian burial practices over the centuries, culminating in their expression in the markers and layout of Tolomato Cemetery. We hope to put the video or a link to it on our website or blog. It was taken on a cell-phone, so we’re not sure of the quality yet – but for starters, here’s a little shot of Fr. Lim Lindenfelser at the podium.

Fr Tim

Monday, October 31, 2011


This is it!  The TCPA has lived through its first year and we are now preparing for our First Annual Meeting and Tolomato Talk. The Meeting and Talk will be held at Bishop Baker Center, 259 Cordova St., St Augustine. This is on the grounds of Cathedral Parish School, and there is free parking.

The meeting will begin at 2:00 pm and will feature a brief recap of our activities in this first year and some exciting plans for the future. There will also be reports from the Treasurer and the Committee Chairs (Preservation, Research and Media).

And then at 3:00 pm, we will have our First Annual Tolomato Talk. We hope to host this talk every year in the future, probably in conjunction with the annual meeting.  Every year, we will have a different scholar who will focus on some aspect of Tolomato Cemetery or its times and personalities.

We are excited to have, as our very first speaker, Fr. Timothy Lindenfelser, Director of Diocesan Cemeteries and Pastor of St Ambrose Church in Elkton, FL.  He is also a local historian who did considerable research into Tolomato and the Cathedral during his time as associate pastor at the Cathedral a few years ago.  His topic will be “Catholic Burial Customs and Tolomato Cemetery.”

This is a fascinating subject and will help you understand Tolomato in the context of other cemeteries in the area, including the one at lovely old St Ambrose Church itself, shown below.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Pigments Have Arrived!

They’re here – the pigments for the limewashing segment of our upcoming preservation work day. 
On Saturday, November 12, from 10-12 (and beyond), our assembled forces will gather at Tolomato to clean headstones, do some planting and lime-wash a vault or two.  Since the limewash by itself is pure white in color, we have gotten some earth pigments and will mix in small amounts of them until we achieve a color that fits in with the color of the stucco elsewhere in the cemetery. Even though the existing stucco has probably darkened over the years, stained by tree run-off, it did not start out as pure white and probably the limewash used to maintain it was not pure white either.
So we will experiment and try to achieve a harmonious color with this all-natural component, which is simply ground stone and earth.  Limewash protects the stucco and will prevent it from flaking off of the vaults, which are either brick or coquina, and exposing the stone and the mortar to damaging air and water. 
If you want to come and help us play with the earth colors, come on November 12.  Please call or e-mail us (904-257-3273 or  in advance so that we’ll have enough brushes and pails.  Bring gloves and eye protection.  The mosquitos have gone to sleep for the winter, so you don’t need the bug stuff this time!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Under the Streets of Vienna



Under this innocuous looking church in Vienna is a crypt that spreads out under the streets and holds some 4000 burials.

Heading for a café after emerging from the Spanish Riding School, I happened to notice a sign in front of the Michaelerkirche, St. Michael’s Church,  a small, elaborate church right in the center of things near the Hofburg. The interior is mostly Baroque, but there are traces of earlier paintings on the walls, and some of the original building was built in the 13th century, during the Gothic period. The guide informed me that it is one of the oldest churches in Vienna – but then she added, “of course, we have older ones, naturally, naturally.”

In any case, while I had visited the church the preceding day, this time I saw the word “Gruft,” or Crypt, on a sign out front and had to make a detour to see what was going on. I found that I had arrived just as a tour of the crypt was about to begin and I joined it immediately.

The huge crypt under St Michael’s extends beyond the boundaries of the church itself and out under the streets. The practice of burials in the crypt started in the 15th century, when the city decided that burials in the churchyards, often near a stream or water source, just might have been unhealthy. Originally bodies were placed in the crypt by simply opening a ledger stone that was set into the floor and dropping the coffin into the crypt below, but this also resulted in complaints because of the odor when the stone was raised. Because the staircase to the crypt was too narrow to permit a coffin to be carried down it, a chute was built on the side of the church and the coffins were placed on it so that they could slide down into the crypt, where they were then arranged by an attendant.  Many of the wooden coffins are beautifully decorated.

Over the years, as they ran out of space and the wooden coffins decayed, the gravediggers would remove the bones and simply place them on the floor and cover the bones with a layer of soil, so that they ended up with a compacted floor of bones and soil that was about 4 feet deep. Bones were also placed in heaps in niches or sometimes carefully stacked to form walls. 

And then there are the mummies. Several of the bodies were naturally mummified by the cool underground environment, and the coffins have been opened so that the occupants can be seen lying there peacefully in their 18th century dress.  It’s somewhat of a gruesome sight, actually, but our guide seemed unfazed by it.

Burials in the crypt itself ceased in 1784, also for health reasons. The crypt had been closed for over 150 years when a religious order known as the Salvatorians took over the church and decided to, as the guide put it, “tidy up” the crypt.  Much of it is open to the public now in these guided visits, although there are some areas of the crypt that are still walled off and have not been entered for hundreds of years.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Visiting Prague's Jewish Cemetery

On a trip to various cities in Central Europe, I stopped in Prague and saw this beautiful but tragic place, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague.  Prague's Jewish population was literally decimated by the end of WWII, with many having died in the concentration camps.  The old Jewish Quarter of Prague has several historic synagogues, now all museums, and this old cemetery.

It dates back to the Middle Ages.  There are about 12,000 known burials there, with about 1,000 existing markers. The actual number of burials is probably a lot higher, because the burials were in "layers" and they would add new soil as necessary.   The ground rises here because of the mound of burials underneath, and the existing gravestones are from many different periods in the cemetery's history.

These are the oldest markers in the cemetery, dating to the Gothic period (13th century).  Notice the coins and pebbles people have stuck into crevices and lettering as tiny memorials of their visit.  All of this is in a space about the size of Tolomato Cemetery.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tree Down at the Huguenot Cemetery


Tolomato was the cemetery for the Catholic parish during the time that St Augustine was almost entirely Catholic and also during the Territorial and early Statehood periods, when large numbers of non-Catholics began to move into  town. 

Our neighbor, the Huguenot Cemetery, was established during this period. Originally bought by the city for use during a yellow fever epidemic in 1821, it was eventually purchased by the Presbyterian church, which has owned it since 1835 and made it available to other Protestant churches until it was closed in 1884. Since then, most Protestant burials have been at Evergreen Cemetery in West Augustine. 

It’s a lovely place, and has well-researched markers with small signs telling you details about the persons buried there.  Like Tolomato, it has large, mature trees – and last night, during a particularly tempestuous rain coming from the east (always the worst kind of storm in St Augustine), one of the trees came down, taking down an obelisk with it.

2011-10-08 16.18.16 

It doesn’t look like an oak tree, but possibly a beech, and they are usually somewhat sturdier. However, once the wind starts up, it seems to magically detect any weak spot on a tree, and this one clearly had a vulnerable point.

2011-10-08 16.19.09

The Huguenot Cemetery is very carefully tended, but these things happen no matter what. Trees are trees, and wind is wind.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Family Reunion at Tolomato Cemetery

Tolomato Cemetery was open to the public on the 3rd Saturday, and as usual, we sat at the gate ready to answer questions from our visitors. A family came in and asked about an ancestor, Francisco Xavier Sanchez, a First Spanish Period resident who is buried at Tolomato.  Immediately behind them, another family arrived, still wearing the tourist trolley stickers, also inquiring about Francisco Xavier Sanchez, who died in 1807 at the age of 71. We showed both of the families the burial record – although the exact location of his grave at Tolomato is no longer known - and then witnessed one of the most surprising family reunions we have ever seen.

stuff 038

It turned out that both families were related to Francisco Xavier Sanchez, but while one family was directly descended from him, the other was descended from his brother,  Jose Sanchez de Ortega. The two families did not know each other and in fact neither one of them knew of the existence of the other.  But suddenly they found their long lost cousins right there at the gate of Tolomato Cemetery.

The slightly complicated story is that the two brothers were born and baptized in St Augustine during the First Spanish Period, but their paths in life took them to completely different places. When the British arrived in 1763 to take possession of St Augustine as a result of the settlement of the French and Indian War, most of the Spanish citizens left and went to Cuba. Eight Spanish citizens remained behind, mostly for the purpose of settling property transactions and handling the transition,  and Francisco Xavier Sanchez was one of them. However, Jose Sanchez de Ortega went to Cuba with the rest of the Spanish, Indian and black population of St Augustine.

Of the families at the gate of Tolomato, the first man who had inquired, Earl Sanchez, was the descendant of Francis Xavier Sanchez.  The second man, Alfredo Sanchez, was from Cuba (he had arrived here as a refugee after Castro’s takeover and lives in South Florida) and was the descendant of  Jose Sanchez de Ortega, most of the rest of whose descendants still live in Cuba.

Sanchez Family

And here they were, more than 200 years later, purely by coincidence meeting at the gate of the cemetery where their common relative, Francis Xavier Sanchez, has rested for these 2 centuries.  In the photo above, they are standing at the vault of the James S. Sanchez family (a descendant of Francisco Xavier Sanchez), where they all said a prayer for their departed family members. Goosebumps all around!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Venturing at Tolomato

Yesterday was our monthly open-to-visitors day at Tolomato, and in addition to more than 200 other visitors, we had some 80 Venture Scouts visit Tolomato as part of an orienteering or geocaching excursion to St Augustine.  Venturing is a program for young people who have “aged out” of Scouting, which only goes through age 14, but want to continue with the wonderful activities and fellowship of Scouting.  Most of the members of the groups who passed through seemed to be between 16 and 21, and included some foreign exchange students, as well as people from all over Florida and Georgia.

Groups were given the coordinates of different locations in St Augustine and had to find them with a GPS device and then find some item or place within the location and have their photo taken next to it. In our case, they had to find the vault of Elizabeth Forrester, which is the oldest extant vault in the cemetery.

Some of them found it right away, some of them explored the entire cemetery before finding it, but they all found it and had their photos taken next to it – wearing the colored bandannas that identified their particular group.  Elizabeth Forrester, who died at the age of 16, would probably have been happy to know that this youthful company would visit her so many centuries later.

In this photo, one of the groups says a little prayer for Elizabeth Forrester.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Another Tolomato sighting…in color this time!

A couple of weeks ago, we published a photo found by John Garofalo. It was an old black and white photo that someone who works for the parish had come across in a used book store somewhere up north…and of course, it had no date or any other information.

Matt Armstrong was browsing among the postcards at the Jacksonville Public Library’s on-line postcard collection and, lo and behold, the same photo turned up - in color this time. It makes a lovely postcard!


The date given for the postcard, which is clearly a colorized version of the photo we saw earlier, is 1908. Of course, that means the date that the post card was done. Since it was the custom in those pre-copyright days to buy up large quantities of photos and publish them without attribution, we’re still not much closer to finding out when the original was done or by whom. But at least it’s a pretty postcard, even though it appears to have the Varela Chapel confused with the Mission Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.  Oh well, they’re both picturesque. 

Look at all the trees and vegetation and Tolomato had at that time, not to mention the wooden grave enclosures that were still standing at that unknown date. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Quaker Cemetery in Charleston

I passed by this interesting site on my trek from a parking garage to the downtown district on a visit to Charleston yesterday. The photo you see below seems to show just the wall and fence of the parking garage, which is on King St. in Charleston, SC. But if you read the sign, you’ll discover that this was actually a very old Quaker cemetery, moved elsewhere in the 1960s. The fence itself was put up in the mid-19th century, and it was left behind to mark the spot when the parking garage was built.

Quaker Cem2

The sign in the middle tells the story of the cemetery, and it also tells us about some of the very interesting people buried at the cemetery. One of them is Mary Fisher Bayley Crosse, who went from England to the Ottoman Empire in 1660 and was known as “she who sp0ke to the Great Turk.” Like St Francis in his visit to the Sultan several centuries earlier, she was attempting to convince him that the way of peace would be preferable to that of conquest. But her luck seems to have been about the same as that of St Francis, who was allowed safe passage back but seems to have made little or no impression. And somehow, after all this, her final resting place ended up being Charleston, South Carolina.


Below is the place where the long-gone Quakers are currently buried. The site is part of the modern Courthouse complex, which is built on the site of the 18th century courthouse.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Like Tolomato!

Thanks to the labors of Matt Armstrong, Tolomato Cemetery now has a Facebook fan page … and we want you to go look at it and like it right now!  Our page is Historic Tolomato Cemetery.  Go, like us, and friend us.

Matt has been very busy on the Facebook page and just posted a gallery of the great photos taken by Mary Homick. He has also put up some photos of the great things he has been working on. One of the best is this model he has recently created as part of a larger project.  It is based on wide-angle photographs that Matt arranged to have taken a few months ago and will be part of a more interactive web page in the future. But in the meantime, enjoy this most charming and elegant interpretation of Tolomato.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mission Evening

Here’s a tranquil shot of the Mission grounds one recent evening.  You can see some of the many gravestones in the background.


There are a number of headstones there and probably even more burials that are no longer marked.  The site, of course, was not always a cemetery, but was the area where Menendez landed and where the first chapel was built.

After Florida became part of the US, the government seized certain Church properties, declaring that they had been owned by the Spanish Crown and were thus to be handed over to the US.  Lawsuits followed and eventually some of the properties were returned to the Church, but the Mission passed into private hands and was used by a local farmer for grazing his cattle.  Seeing the ruins of an old chapel that stood on the spot, the farmer decided to return the property to the Church and sold it to the diocese for $1.00.

It was the site of several restored chapels after that time, and entered into use as a sort of “overflow” cemetery in the late 19th century.  Looking at the gravestones, I was a little puzzled, however, since it is commonly thought that all burials at Tolomato, the Huguenot Cemetery, and the Mission ceased in 1884 at the orders of the City of St Augustine.  While we know that the first two cemeteries had an occasional burial after this time, most of the markers at the Mission appeared to date from about 1885 through the early 1890s.  So obviously, post-1884 burials must have been permitted at this site.

A mystery. I will have to find out more about this.  Anybody have any ideas?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Madrid – Same Year, Completely Different

As we know, Tolomato Cemetery was closed in 1884 because of fear of yellow fever.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, a cemetery was opening because of another disease, cholera. The cemetery was the Cementerio de la Virgen de la Almudena, known popularly as La Almudena, in Madrid, Spain.

Plans were already underway to build a modern, 19th century cemetery that would be as big and grand as Pere Lachaise in Paris, the model for cemeteries at that time, or the famous cemeteries of Geneva and Viena. The city had decided to move all cemeteries outside of the walls, and the sudden need for burial space during the cholera epidemic of 1884 speeded things up significantly.   While there are other cemeteries in Madrid, this one has grown over the years and is the biggest, with several million people buried in it. It also includes a Jewish cemetery.


Above we see the remarkable mortuary chapel, which is near the front gates of the cemetery (below).


The style is modernist and neomudéjar, which we would refer to as ¨Moorish revival.¨ The architects were Fernando Arbós y Tremanti and José Urioste y Velada, selected by means of a competition.

The design of the cemetery is very complicated and consists of concentric rings surrounding the naturally existing hilly areas. The vaults are built into the walls of the rings, although there are also large free-standing family vaults built on top of the rings.


Like every 19th century cemetery, it is full of massive marble monuments, some adorned with statuary. The cemetery is still open and the custom of elaborate monuments still persists, as we see with this bullfighter.


There were many unusual markers, some quite elaborate. There were also some less formal but very touching tributes, such as this tiny ¨portal de Belén¨ (manger scene) placed at the foot of the vault of a man buried in 2010.  Was he someone who liked to design and build these little works, or did his family simply miss him particularly at Christmas?


During the Spanish Civil War, Madrid´s cemeteries were used by the Republicans during their occupation of the city as a place to execute their civilian enemies, which included conservative journalists, priests and members of religious orders, both male and female. This was to ¨pasear¨ someone, that is, ¨take him for a walk.¨

After the war, the national government repaid the favor, trying and executing the people it perceived as enemies, also in the cemeteries.


But now it´s just another tranquil place, filled with these solid, bleached looking granite markers and dark, still cedar and madrone trees under the white-hot Madrid summer sun, and it´s hard to imagine that it was ever anything but.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Storage Project–Completed!

In the last few months, the TCPA has been acquiring growing amounts of “stuff” for its activities, ranging from preservation materials to tables and chairs used for our open days.  We’ve been stashing these things wherever we could, but now we finally have a space for our “stuff” and can prepare for future activities. 

The hardy band turned up once again to install the storage shed, a large vinyl Rubbermaid shed, behind one of the vaults. Here we see the tireless Bob Kennedy, with an appropriate-looking wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow was made by Bob’s father back in the 1930s – and 70 years later, it’s still going strong. We used it to carry off the scattered metal and stone debris we found so that we could pile it neatly at the back of the lot.

2011-08-13 11.32.40

Janet Jordan, who is recovering from a broken ankle, was our official reader of instructions.  She read the directions aloud while we lined up the pieces; this was an enormous help!

2011-08-13 09.47.18

Here Louise Kennedy puts up a side panel.

2011-08-13 10.14.41

Priscilla de la Cruz shows off the completed shed.

2011-08-13 11.14.21

And we’re already starting to fill it up…we will add shelves next week so that we can store our preservation materials.  The shed is not visible from other parts of the cemetery, and will help to preserve the spacious, tranquil feel of the site.

photo 5

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Another Mystery Photo

John Garofalo, the Cathedral Parish administrator and TCPA board member, found this really interesting photo in an unlikely place, an office at the parish school. The photo’s owner had found it someplace up north and didn’t know anything more about it, and of course there was no other information on it.  So….what do you think?

Old Photo

We know that the photo was after 1853 because that was when the chapel was built.  However, did the chapel originally not have a door? In this photo, it also appears to have a cross on the roof, although different from the current cross.

The tree in the photo appears in another old photo we have, but we’re not sure of the date of that one.  The stone enclosure with the sort of “portholes” is still standing, but the stone with the cross and the scrolled name or names has disappeared, as has the vault in the lower left corner .  Some of the later (1870s and 1880s) markers don’t seem to be there, so this may be a relatively early photo. Or then again, maybe not.

I went out to the cemetery and tried to figure out where the photographer had been standing.  I took this photo below from further back and more to the left to see if I could get some idea of the general layout, but I don’t think it really revealed much of anything.

2011-08-10 No 1

Any ideas or observations? All suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

1st Ever Preservation Work Day!

The hardy band below assembled at Tolomato on a very, very hot and gnat-filled Saturday for our very first preservation work day.  Our objectives were to clean some markers in an area where we had done work earlier this spring, during the NCPTT workshop, to prepare a site for a storage shed we are installing to keep our preservation supplies on site, and to replace a brick in a long-damaged vault.

How did we do?  I’ll show you in detail over the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a general idea. Below volunteer Elisabeth Seaton stands near the markers in a “before” photo.  We had cleaned two of the markers in this section last spring, and aimed to do 3 more today (we did five!).

Here volunteers Heather Alexander and Rosalie Cocci work on two of the markers while Matt Armstrong, our TCPA preservation pro, prepares to start on another marker and Elizabeth Seaton cleans a ledger stone.

Omitting  photos of a couple of hours of gritty, wet labor, this is what we ended up with:  A row of lovely, clean markers whose text could be read for the first time in decades. But a more detailed report on that will appear later…

You’ll notice that the marker on the left was not cleaned. This was because it is cracked and in unstable condition, so we decided to wait and save it for a major project at some point in the future.

But throughout this, we had a particularly outstanding worker:  Bob Kennedy, who toiled quietly behind the vault for 3 hours, hacking his way through roots, buried ironwork and lumps of coquina, to create a level space for the storage shed that will enable us to keep our supplies dry and at the ready for the next preservation day!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fr. Felix Varela in Cuba

Another sighting of Fr Felix Varela was reported by TCPA member Nick McAuliffe, who came across this Cuban stamp somewhere in his internet wanderings.

Varela Stamp

Fr. Varela was born in Cuba but spent his childhood in St. Augustine, leaving for Cuba at the age of 16 to begin studies for the priesthood.  The Seminario San Carlos was the seminary where Fr. Varela studied, was ordained and taught before leaving for the Spain to take his position in the Spanish Cortes [Legislature] in 1821.  As we all know, things didn’t work out once he got to Spain, and it was from Spain that he went to the US.  He never lived in Cuba again, although he maintained his interest in Cuban political thought and in Cuban independence.  He was finally repatriated, in a sense, when his bones were returned to Cuba in 1911; his remains are now buried where he once taught.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another Opening…

Today was the 3rd Saturday of the month, so of course Tolomato Cemetery was open.  The weather was awful – hot, muggy, and obviously the favorite weather of mosquitos and gnats, who were out in annoying clouds. 

I thought we were going to have a slow day but I had underestimated the resilience of St Augustine visitors and locals, and we ended up with a total of 320 people who entered our gates. Most of them did the self-guided tours and many of them opted for the guided tours and seemed quite interested. 

Nick McAuliffe had set out the historical photos he used in his June 29th presentation, so visitors could look at “then and now” photos at the very locations from which the photos were taken.

And perhaps we owed our success to a new addition: an 8 ft. banner hanging on the fence announcing “Tolomato Cemetery Open Today FREE!”  Few things are free for tourists in St Augustine, so how could they resist?


Monday, July 4, 2011

Cemetery Buffs

Last week I was interviewed about Tolomato Cemetery on a local radio station, WFOY, and one of the hosts mentioned that he was surprised to learn of the existence of people whose hobby is visiting cemeteries.   Judging by the websites and newsletters I have found, he’d really be surprised if he knew how many of these people there are out there, roaming the graveyards of this country and any other place they visit.

Tolomato is a tiny cemetery so we don’t get many cemetery buffs, as they are called, although this may change as word gets out that we are now open on a regular basis (3rd Saturday of every month).

In any case, to give you an idea of the potential, one of our members was trolling through cemetery websites and found “The Cemetery Club,” a website run by Illinois author and cemetery expert Minda Powers-Douglas. The website (click on the link above) has great information and is also the gateway to Epitaphs Magazine Online (EMO), a really excellent on-line journal that contains articles on a wide variety of cemetery related topics.  The magazine is also available from in print format.

If you have always wondered about the painted skulls of Austria, go to the current edition of EMO and find out everything you need to know.  For those who have been dreaming of having their skulls painted, the practice was halted a number of years ago because of superstitions that grew up around the skulls, such as the idea that skulls could predict the winning lottery numbers!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Our First Membership Event

The Tolomato Cemetery Preservation Association has been in existence for somewhat under a year, and we already have a goodly number of members and volunteers.  So we thought it was time to host a special event at Tolomato Cemetery just for members and their guests.
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.
June 29 Event
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.
1811 Map
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

Latrell Mickler–Telling the Story

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.