Saturday, December 19, 2015

It's Happening At Last...and a Merry Christmas to All!

What’s happening?  The wall and the fence, at long last. Below you see the current state of the entrance to Tolomato Cemetery.

Work began last week. So far the masons have taken down most of the cracked and unstable parts of the concrete wall and have made the cuts to install the piers that will support the new fence.  Below you see the masons making one of the cuts, this one on the north side of the entry way.

The cemetery itself is closed off with temporary, moveable fencing that will probably remain up for a couple of months, until the wall is done and the fence is installed and all is secure again.

This is a cleaned up view of the cut. Based on the research done by Nick McAuliffe, we think that this part of the wall was built around 1916.  Most of the wall seems to be concrete block under a layer of concrete mortar.  An article in the precursor of the St Augustine Record for that year reports that construction is about to begin on the wall. 

And almost 100 years later, here we are again! Below you see Janet Jordan and Nick McAuliffe, who also volunteer to work with the City Archaeologist, Carl Halbirt, doing a quick inspection of the site.  They found very little of interest, except for a probably late 19th or early 20th century horseshoe, which we of course considered to be sign of good luck.

But that was last week, when it was still warm and sunny. This weekend would have been our normal Open Day, but we had to cancel for the first time in five years because access to the site was impossible. Most of it was taped off and there was construction equipment in the gateway. However, today turned out to be a suddenly cold and windy day, so perhaps it was just as well that this was the day we had to close.

Tolomato Cemetery should be open as usual on the Third Saturday next month, the date of which will be January 16, 2016.  The job won’t be complete by then, but certainly the wall will be done and at least a start will have been made on the fence and the gate.  So that means that if you live here, you have to come by and check on it whenever you can – and if you don’t live here, you have to check our Facebook page, Historic Tolomato Cemetery, because our board members will be updating it regularly with shots of the work in progress.

And in the meantime, from the “temporary Tolomato” shown in Nick’s photo below, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bosque Bello–Tolomato’s Fernandina Beach Cousin


Last weekend, I visited what I know think of as Tolomato Cemetery’s cousin: Bosque Bello Cemetery in Fernandina Beach, founded in 1798 during the Second Spanish Period. This makes it a close relative of Tolomato Cemetery.


Tolomato Cemetery was first used as a cemetery during the British Period, when the Minorcans arrived and established their community in the north end of the city; but it really entered into its own as the parish cemetery for the town during the Second Spanish period, one of the most interesting eras in St Augustine’s interesting history. And what was happening in St Augustine at that time?

The big parish church of St Augustine, which became a cathedral in 1870 with the designation of St. Augustine as a diocese with its own bishop, had just been finished and dedicated in 1797. Fr. Miguel O’Reilly was the parish priest of the church, and Gov. Enrique White (a Dublin born Spanish citizen) was the governor of Florida. Jesse Fish, Maria Evans, don Juan McQueen, Miguel Isnardy, Pedro Benet and a host of other colorful characters were alive and well in St Augustine. With the exception of Miguel Isnardy, who is buried somewhere under the floor in the Cathedral, and Jesse Fish, all of these people are now buried at Tolomato Cemetery.


Outside of little St Augustine, the new United States was consolidating and already testing the borders of Spanish Florida. Meanwhile, on the Continent, that famous Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte, shown glowering below, was preparing for the coup of 1799 against the French government, which would set him on a quest to conquer all of Europe. In 1808, he would invade and conquer Spain, whose far flung empire would still manage to limp along with little help from the patria madre. The Napoleonic Wars produced complicated European alliances, not always the same at all times in all places, and of course spilled over into the New World with our War of 1812, which ended in 1815 and involved most of the major European powers.


Meanwhile in Spain, the anti-Napoleonic “government in exile” in Cádiz wrote a Constitution in 1812 -the very same Constitution that is commemorated by the obelisk in St Augustine’s plaza mayor, erected in 1814. But unfortunately, by 1814, the absolute monarch, Fernando VII (Ferdinand the Seventh) was back in control, and ordered that all Constitution monuments be taken down…an order that never got to or was ignored by St Augustine. Of course, all of this commotion had major effects on Spain and its colonies, and one of its minor but enduring effects was the origin and name of the town of…you guessed it, Fernandina Beach, named after the despised and tyrannical Fernando VII.  Still, we kept our obelisk…and created more, as you see below.


If Fernando was so unpopular, how did the town get that name? It was bestowed by Governor Enrique White in 1811, right after Fernando (below) had returned to Spain upon the eviction of Jose Bonaparte, and around the time that one of the Second Spanish Period’s most interesting but most neglected figures, George J. F. Clarke, was employed as Surveyor General of East Florida.


Clarke was born in St Augustine during the British Period, became a Spanish citizen with the change of governments in 1783, and was baptized in St Augustine as a child in the 1780s during the Second Spanish Period, and then pursued a long career under various flags in the military, politics, agriculture and even scholarship. He died in 1836 in St Augustine, under yet another flag – this time, that of the United States, and as a US citizen – and is buried somewhere at Tolomato Cemetery.

Clarke’s most important or best known work was the platting of the town of Fernandina Beach and his subsequent government and military work in the protection of what is now known as Amelia Island from pirates and British marauders.

His ties with St Augustine remained very strong; his Irish-born mother, Honoria Clarke, had been widowed when her children were young and had bought a property at the corner of St Francis and Charlotte Streets, where George grew up. This property, of course, is now known as the Tovar House, after an earlier owner, and is part of the Oldest House complex.


When George Clarke was finally out of public life on Amelia Island as the result of governmental changes, he returned to St Augustine and devoted himself to agricultural research and development. One of his closest collaborators was another gentleman scholar, Napoleon’s great nephew Prince Achille Murat, whose distinctive little house on the corner of Bridge and St George Streets is currently hosting an archeological dig turning up layers of our earliest history.


Where does the cemetery come in? Bosque Bello was founded as part of the town of Fernandina Beach in 1798, and is in the “Old Town” area, about a mile from its better known newer downtown area, which was the result of a 19th century move of the town’s activities for commercial reasons. The cemetery is owned by the City of Fernandina Beach.

But my visit last week had nothing to do with any of this, but instead was related to St. Augustine’s own Sisters of St Joseph. I was simply tagging along with someone who was doing a research project on the history of the Sisters, many of whom are buried at Bosque Bello. So I found St Augustine and Tolomato connections everywhere, starting with the sign below.


The sign is in front of the house below, which had been bought by Bishop Verot and where he installed some of the Sisters to work in nursing and education in Fernandina Beach. It is still a private residence, and in this photo, you even will catch a glimpse of the resident and his Halloween flag on the porch!


In the lore of the Sisters, the house has an odd name: The Pin House. The name comes from the yellow fever outbreak of 1877, when people would leave their sick family members on the porch of the house, with notes pinned to their clothing identifying them and asking the sisters to take care of them.

We have to remember that nobody knew what caused or spread yellow fever at that time. It was a terrifying and uncontrollable disease, much like ebola, and people feared that it was communicable through contacts with infected victims. It would only be in 1905, another twenty five years or so, when it would be established that yellow fever was spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes. But Bishop Verot (shown below) sent the sisters out to help the sufferers at that time and they went willingly, despite what could easily be expected to be their fate. The Sisters of St Joseph cared for the patients as best they could, but yellow fever has a very high mortality rate and in that pre-antibiotics era little could be done, so there were many, many deaths from the dread disease.


In fact, several of the SSJ died, including two of the original eight French sisters who had arrived in St Augustine in 1867 at the invitation of Bishop Verot. Along with many other yellow fever victims, they were buried in Bosque Bello. Below is the grave of one of the sisters, Mother Marie Celinie Joubert, located in the SSJ plot in the old part of the cemetery.


The cemetery and town were platted in 1811 under Gov. Enrique White, who was a great urban development enthusiast, the same year as the never-realized plan for Tolomato Cemetery that would have meant laying it out in an orderly pattern of rows, aisles and numbered plots, as we see below. But many things were happening in Spain and the US at that time, so the Tolomato plan was never completed, although Old Town Fernandina Beach was in fact constructed according to plan and is the last colonial city to have been built on the grid plan provided in the Leyes de Indias, the Spanish master plan for colonial development in the “Indies.”

1811 Map_Section2_copy

The earliest marked grave at Bosque Bello dates to 1813, and was that of a French soldier who died in Fernandina Beach. We have to remember that Fernandina Beach was the site of many conflicts – between the Spanish and the British, between the Spanish and the (mostly French) pirates, between the French and the Spanish and the British and the American governments…between everybody and everybody, in fact. And it even had a short-lived independence movement, to complicate things further.

The other graves in the old part of the cemetery give a view of life on Amelia Island. There are, of course, many graves of children. The lamb was a common motif on the burial markers of children, such as the one below, for 4 year old J. R. Nelson, who died in 1902.


There are the usual large markers for important men, the smaller markers for their wives, and many military markers. Of interest were the many markers for those who died in or were veterans of the Spanish American War, such as that of Alvin Willis, below. Much recruiting of soldiers for the Spanish American War was conducted in the Jacksonville area, and these stones reflect the impact of this now nearly forgotten war.


Bosque Bello still lives up to its name – Beautiful Woods - because the woods are still beautiful. The cemetery has the requisite Florida live oaks with Spanish moss, and it also has a large number of old red cedar (cypress) trees. You can see the remains of these trees at Tolomato Cemetery, although we only have a couple of specimens still standing. But Bosque Bello has some dramatic and healthy examples still thriving.


There is the odd modern touch of a huge power plant that steadily hums or throbs, depending on the demand at that time of day, in the background at the cemetery. If you look at the photo below, you can see the top of the stack. But it is a regular sound, not particularly obtrusive, and simply makes the visitor marvel that everything changes and yet is still the same.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Memory Eternal–Pat Kenney


Tolomato Cemetery is, well, a cemetery, and thus is all about death. But these are remote deaths, the last one some 125 years ago, and while we tell the stories of the people buried there, probably most of us skip over the fact that one day none of us will be there to tell that story.

Pat Kenney

Two weeks ago, we had our first death in the TCPA with the death of our dear docent and board member Pat Kenney, who was also going to be the editor of our first book on the cemetery. She died about a year and a half after having been diagnosed with cancer. Pat was a strong, positive person and even after her surgery was hoping to resume her work on the book project.

Pat was born in New York but brought up in St Augustine and spent most of her life in the St Augustine/Jacksonville area, so she knew many descendants of those buried at Tolomato, and was always eager to help them connect the dots on sometimes sketchy family records. She was always very much a part of St Augustine. When her family requested that memorial contributions be made to Tolomato Cemetery – a large number of the donations came from her classmates at St Joseph’s Academy, Class of ‘66.

She had a real passion for helping people to know things! Pat was often to be found at the back of the cemetery near the chapel, either working with Louise on the genealogy table or simply explaining that area to the visitors.  She was very shy about photos, so the only photo we had was one where she was leading a tour and had her back to the camera…but her daughter, Kelly, supplied us with a photo of Pat.

Pat Kenney photo

Our very first meeting with Pat came from a visit to Tolomato Cemetery in early 2011, when she visited the cemetery with a group of attendees of the Franciscan History conference at Flagler College. She then contacted us to find out more and to arrange for a visit with some of her students from FSCJ/Deerwood, where she taught at that time. The first time most of us met Pat was when she brought this group of students to the cemetery in May of 2011…and we were all completely impressed by the way she had prepared her students – many of whom were in the mortuary science program at the State College - and how concerned she was about them and their understanding of this site and about burial practices and respect in general.

Later, she contacted us about bringing another group from UNF, where she was then teaching, and also about getting more involved in the activities at the cemetery. And that was how Pat became a docent and then a board member and then the committee chair and editor for the projected book on the cemetery (which will be dedicated to her when it is eventually produced). 

She wanted to come back after her surgery, but that soon became impossible. Yet Pat was still a presence in the cemetery. So now all we can say is “We miss you, Pat.”

Tolomato Postcard 2

This is Pat’s obituary from the Florida Times Union:


During the active time of Tolomato Cemetery, the funeral chant in the Catholic Church was the “In Paradisum.” The English translation is: "May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest." 

This is the Latin, which you can hear by clicking here: In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Farewell to the 450th

As we hope everybody knows, this weekend was the celebration of the 405th anniversary of the founding of the city of St Augustine with the landing of the Adelantado Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Of course, Tolomato Cemetery wasn’t established at that time, and it was not for another 150 years that the refugee Indians from La Natividad de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Tolomato would be settled on the site of the current cemetery.  Still, the historical connections run back through the families buried there, and also reflect the continuing story of St Augustine.

In fact, Tolomato Cemetery hosted one of the few events of the weekend that had any connection with St Augustine’s real history.  The cemetery was the objective of a procession from St Photios shrine to commemorate the Greek arrival in St Augustine and to bless the graves of all of the St Augustinians buried there.


Greeks? At Tolomato? Yes, St Augustine had a fairly significant Greek population in the 18th century because of the arrival of the Minorcans in 1777.  While most of the Minorcans were actually from Minorca, many were from other parts of the Mediterranean, including Greece. The name of the group comes from the fact that Dr. Andrew Turnbull, the British-period indigo plantation owner, shipped the group out from the formerly Spanish island of Minorca, which was controlled by the British at that time as a result of the same war that had given them control of St Augustine. 

Dr. Turnbull had been the British consul in the Ottoman Empire prior to coming to the American continent, and had married a Greek woman from Smyrna.  This is the reason that he named the colony New Smyrna Beach.


Dr. Turnbull felt that Greeks would be able to tolerate the heat of Florida better than other groups of laborers that the British used.  So they set off for Greece to recruit laborers, but for various reasons were not able to get the number of workers they needed.  So they seem to have sailed the Mediterranean, gathering up immigrants from Sardinia, Sicily and other parts of Italy, and even a Corsican or two…and of course, Minorcans. 

Eight years later, the survivors of this group would arrive in St Augustine and become a distinctive and foundational part of the city’s life.

This year, the commemoration of the Greek arrival was particularly spectacular. The above photos, taken by Nick McAuliffe, give you some glimpses of the celebration, which was organized by our good friend Polly Hillier of St Photios Shrine, whom you see above, addressing the group.  Brooke Radaker took the photo below, where you see the members of the Cantorae St. Augustine, directed by Mary Jane Ballou, singing a Greek hymn as the procession enters.


We had a beautiful gathering of clergy, walking together to bless the graves in this special place and showing once again the wide diversity of St Augustine’s founding population.  Here we see the Orthodox Bishop Demetrious with the Catholic Bishop of St Augustine, Bp. Felipe Estevez (who was born in Cuba, a place closely tied to St Augustine), Fr. Tom Willis, who is the rector of the Cathedral, and Fr. Nicholas Louh of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Louise Kennedy took the photos below.

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They were accompanied by official representatives of the Greek community, and Mayor Nancy Shaver initiated the event by reading a proclamation honoring the Greek landing day. Below, Fr. Nicholas places a flower on a vault.

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There were so many striking photos it was hard to know which to pick.  Here are the two bishops again, in front of the Varela Chapel.

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The procession included Greek dancers, who later performed on the stage on the Plaza.

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The grave blessing at Tolomato was actually part of a larger Orthodox memorial service, which had begun at St Photios Shrine with the prayers and hymns that are traditionally used in this service (which also form part of the funeral service).  It concluded at Tolomato with the blessing and further hymns, and then with something that most non-Greeks were seeing for the first time:  the serving of kolyva. This is a mixture of cooked wheat berries (whole grains of wheat), sesame seeds, nuts, raisins or other dried fruits, pomegranate seeds, sugar or honey and bitter spices.  It is blessed and served in small cups after a memorial service and on similar occasions, since wheat represents the Resurrection and the symbolism of sweetness and bitterness is deeply rooted in religious imagery.  It is a very ancient tradition, and appears not only in Greece and the Mediterranean traditions, but among all of the Slavic peoples as well.  Here’s a sample…I wish we had some sort of tasting device on our IPhones, because it is actually very tasty!


So that was how we celebrated the 450th at Tolomato Cemetery – with a little real, living history!


Monday, August 17, 2015

Sister City Cemeteries

Aviles, Spain is one of St Augustine’s sister cities – and perhaps even the most important one, since our 16th century founder, Pedro Menéndez, was from Avilés.  To commemorate this connection during this 450th anniversary year, several members of the St Augustine Archaeological Association took a trip to Aviles to view archaeological work being done in that city.  Our generous hosts showed us everything from prehistoric cave paintings to Roman ruins to pre-Romanesque churches, and even took us down into a modern archaeological site, a 19th and early 20th century coal mine that has been excavated and turned into a museum of early industry.  Next year, some Avilés archaeologists will come to St Augustine, and we’ll show them what we have…not as old, by any means, but certainly interesting.  In this photo, you see some of the group, along with our host, Román Álvarez, surveying modern Avilés.

Aviles View

Naturally, one of the things we will show them is Tolomato Cemetery, since we hope to have even more information about it by next year.  Work is due to begin soon on the repair of the fence and wall, and the city archaeologist, Carl Halbirt, will do a small dig along the front wall to see what information he can…dig up. Groan – I had to say it! 

Next year, a graduate student is also planning to base his thesis on a Ground Penetrating Radar study of Tolomato, looking for the footings of the old mission chapel and bell tower as well as any other significant archaeological record that he can find.

But as we prepare to investigate Tolomato for our visitors, it’s worth spending a few minutes talking about the cemeteries of Avilés. 

Padres Franciscanos

As in St Augustine, pre-19th century burials were under or around the church.  In the above photo, we see the church where Pedro Menéndez is buried, in a marble urn high up on the wall; it is now known as the Iglesia de los Padres Franciscanos, but during the time of Menéndez, when it was his parish church, it was known as San Nicolás.

Iglesia Sabugo

In this photo, we see the side of a 13th century church, with gravestones clearly visible in the yard next to it.  This is the old Iglesia de Sabugo; the latter was the name of the village where Menéndez was born.  It was originally a separate fishing and maritime trades village located next to the larger commercial town of Avilés, but now it is simply a neighborhood in Avilés. The church is now closed, but archaeological work has found many burials around the church and under the floor.

And then we come to the world’s largest, most dramatic angel…as the 19th century cemetery arrives in all its glory!  This angel points to Heaven from its seat on the casket of the Marquise de San Juan de Nieva at the Cemeterio Municipal de La Carriona on the outskirts of Aviles.  This dramatic statue by 19th century Asturian sculptor Cipriano Folgueras was even a finalist in a recent Spanish cemetery art competition.


This cemetery was opened in 1890 when, as in St Augustine, burials were forbidden within the city of Avilés for health reasons.  It contains many huge monuments, some of them by well-known artists and sculptors of the time, as well as fields of more modest stones. Below is the grave of a local poet and author, Armando Palacio Valdés, where a mourning woman sits next to an excerpt from one of his poems, in which he urges the passer-by to leave a branch of honeysuckle in his memory. Someone has, in fact, left some flowers at the foot of the monument.


Below we see a crypt with stairs, so that people could descend to pay their respects to the deceased who were buried in niches under the crypt.


The cemetery is still in use and has regular burial services.  There is a chapel in the center of the cemetery that contains a catafalque, where the casket is placed during the funeral Mass or service. 


The cemetery is located on the top of a hill and is a dramatic sight in its own right.  Interestingly, it also has an interpretation center, and offers guided tours and programs on the cemetery, cemetery art and related matters.


But you don’t have to go all the way to Avilés if you’d like to find out more about our Sister City’s cemetery, which goes by the acronym CicLaC. All you have to do is click here for their Wikipedia site (in Spanish, of course) or here, for the very interesting site of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe, an EU initiative which has links to fascinating cemeteries all over Europe.


Monday, July 13, 2015

An Unexpected California Cemetery

Last week, I had to make an unexpected trip to Santa Rosa, California, and while there, I came across a completely unexpected cemetery.  Called the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, it is located in what may once have been a rural area, but certainly now appears to have been an established residential area for some time.  At first glance, it seems to serve more as a park for local residents than a cemetery – but as I wandered through this hilly, oak-tree covered refuge, I realized that it had indeed been a busy 19th and 20th century cemetery and in fact was even still in use as a burial place.


Santa Rosa is about 75 miles north of San Francisco, and the area was home to the Pomo Indians before the arrival of Europeans. Since the 18th century, there had been Spanish and Mexican ranchers in the area, which has its own Matanzas Creek – so named because the ranchers used to slaughter cattle at a point along the creek.  There were even Russians, strayed over from the Russian settlement at Fort Ross.  But the first formal settlement (1836) was the homestead of the Carrillo family, related to General Vallejo, founder of Sonoma and a man who had passed through three citizenships (Spain, Mexico and, finally, after California became a state in 1850, the United States) by the time of his death.


The town developed rapidly after statehood, and the cemetery was officially established in 1854.  It expanded and other adjoining plots of land were bought, although they were considered separate cemeteries and it was only sometime after the 1930s that they were all brought together as the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.  There are over 5200 burials, and the plots are mapped and identified. While the cemetery is technically closed, the families that hold original titles to the plots are allowed to continue to use it for burials.  Below is a modern marker.


But the 19th century markers were the really interesting sights.  The cemetery has an unusual number of Civil War veterans, some of whom had volunteered from California and others who had emigrated to California from both North and South after the war. During the war, there was considerable conflict, although no fighting, in California between supporters of the South (who were more numerous in Southern California) and supporters of the Union. Most of the 160 or so Civil War burials are those of Union soldiers, although there are also about 15 Confederate soldiers buried at the Rural Cemetery.  Many of those buried here fought at Gettysburg, and a Gettysburg monument was even installed in the cemetery in 1910.  Tolomato visitors will recognize the old-style Veterans Administration marker belwo.


I was also struck by a very touching symbol that appeared on numerous markers: two hands clasping, sometimes in front of a cloud or nimbus-like shape.  This represented a farewell to earthly life and a welcome into eternity.


If you look closely, you will notice something that was not present on all of them and had a slightly different meaning. The cuff on the sleeve of one of the hands looks like a man’s shirt-cuff (sometimes even with cuff links!) while the cuff on the other hand appears to have lace or braid at the cuff, such as a woman’s dress would feature. This meant that the burial site was that of one or both of the members of married couple, with one of them welcoming the other to their reunion in their eternal home.


There were also lambs, birds and other symbols that had been meaningful to the families of the deceased, and I spent quite some time searching out the different symbols in the dappled light.  And I certainly wasn’t alone.  The cemetery was full of strollers, and on the way out, I discovered from a bulletin board set near the gate that it has a full program of activities.  Like Tolomato, it is maintained and curated mostly by a volunteer association, although the City of Santa Rosa helps with major projects.  And like Tolomato, it has docents – and some really neat activities!


So, in the unlikely event that I have to go to Santa Rosa again, I plan to check out the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery website first and see if I can fit in one of these tours.  And if you’re interested in knowing more about the cemetery, click on the link and you can see everything from little bios of interesting people buried there to a detailed plot map.  A highly recommended site!