Friday, June 25, 2010

West View Cemetery, Palatka, Putnam County, FL by Sarah Miller

It seems I can begin every blog in the Six Feet Under series with this phrase, but here it goes: Sarah has a new favorite cemetery!

Last week Toni Wallace and I had the opportunity to visit and record West View Cemetery near historic downtown Palatka. The Cemetery was established in the 1840s and is still in use today. What makes it my new favorite? Could it be the Woodsman marble markers, or metal statues or obelisks?

A great variety of Woodsmen of the Word (WOW) markers abound. These are markers from a fraternal organization, somewhat like the masons but with a very different ideology. WOW members would pass the hat to provide all members with a memorial marker that featured a maul, axe, wood, and dove (Hacker 2001, Sefter 2001).
Woodsman markers can be found all across the country, and I included a few images from West View to compare to ones you may have seen.:

Several famous figures are buried in the cemetery, including Florida’s first governor under statehood William Dunn Moseley (1795-1863), physician and mayor of Palatka Edmond Walter Warren (1875-1935), and politician Howell Anderson Davis (1873-1957). I almost missed this headstone for northwest Volusia County businessman Barney Dillard. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings used Dillard’s life as a pioneer, musician, and historian as source material for many of her stories in The Yearling (1939) (Poertner 1999). I would have missed it if not for our hostess for the day, Christy Sanford.

But I haven’t gotten to the heart of West View. I appreciate cemeteries as dynamic spaces between the living and those who have parted. And for this, West View made me smile. In the back in the modern section was a collection of burials that featured benches before the headstones. I’ve never seen so many benches! Places for quiet visitation, contemplation, and areas to keep memories alive; a sign that cemeteries are just important for what they say about the living and our feelings about death, and taking care of one another. One headstone in particular evoked powerful maternal emotions; a mother and son buried side by side with the inscription, “My moon, my stars.” A bench in front of the son’s headstone features the lyrics to “Freebird.”

For evoking powerful emotions from a stranger, words that struck at the very heart of what it means to me to be human and walking around on this earth, West View Cemetery is my new favorite.

Reminder: please enjoy cemeteries as outdoor museums, but visit with respect. No rubbings, no trash, no loud noises, no impact to the environment except your footprint and occasional snap of a camera.
Thanks to Toni for doing all the leg work and Christy Sanford for bringing the cemetery to our attention.

Hacker, Debi
2001 Iconography of Death: Common Symbolism of Late 18th Through Early 20th Century Tombstones in the Southeastern United States. Chicora Foundation, Columbia S.C.
Poertner, Bo
1999 “Stories of Life in Backwoods Florida Live On Through Books, Memories.” Orlando Sentinel May 25, 1999.

Sefton, Julie
2001 “Woodsmen of the World” on-line article viewed at on June 26, 2010.

One Response so far.

  1. Jeff says:

    Hi. I grew up in Palatka but moved away about 30 years ago. I've developed an interest in historic cemeteries and now I discover that Palatka actually has one! I'll be sure to stop in and do some photo shooting when I'm down there soon for my annual Thanksgiving trip. And I'd be interested in exploring others near Palatka if you care to recommend any. (

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