Thursday, November 10, 2011

Keep Putnam Beautiful voluteer James Townsend at St. Joseph's Cemetery.
Back in September we held our inaugural CRPT workshop in Putnam County in partnership with the city of Palatka.  This week I went back to Palatka to check in on some of the CRPT alums and to check our clean headstones out at West View.

First, Toni and I met with James Townsend from Keep Putnam Beautiful, self appointed caretakers of St. Joseph Cemetery.  Not much is written about the cemetery, but headstones indicate the first internments were made in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  The cemetery is not claimed by the city, or the county, or any private entity; by definition it is an abandoned cemetery.  Looking around St. Joseph's that title is at times hard to believe.  Jim and others from the community have obviously spent a lot of time clearing and caring for St. Joseph's.  While not every effort has paid off, I was really impressed by Jim's patience with the process of keeping up a cemetery for the long haul, and by his dedication.  St. Joseph's is known as a predominately African American cemetery within the community.  Jim has no kin buried there, which to me makes his dedication to the cemetery that much more impressive.

Some hand-written cement headstones in St. Joseph's:

James showed us some of the vandalized portions of the cemetery, such as this cement slab below that caps what was a vault, cracked open by a wreckless car that ran over the vault.  Human remains were exposed until a funeral home stepped in and capped off the vault:

Below, a large stump of an oak tree wreck havoc on this family plot.  Even with the tree cut down, it's difficult to prioritize repairs and keep the plot maintained.

These next two show the corner of one headstone buried beneath leaf litter, and the result after a little brushing with a soft bristle whisk broom.

During the course of CRPT workshops we're finding there are classrooms full of equally impressive people.  Christy Sanford, instrumental in our first workshop in Palatka, volunteers many hours in the upkeep and monitoring of West View cemetery.  Christy is new to town by local standards and also has no kin at West View. 

What makes people do this? 

Matt Armstrong's miniature Tolomato at meeting.
I found a partial answer last week at the annual meeting for the Tolomato Cemetery Preservation Association.  The keynote speaker was Father Timothy Lindenfelser who at one point talked about the presence of San Lorenzo cemetery off Highway 1 in St. Augustine.  The intersection around San Lorenzo is made for shopping.  Target, Marshals, K-Mart and fast food chains surround the cemetery.  He finds the presence of the cemetery inspires a different focus on the landscape, one of remembrance.  A reminder to all who drive by to focus on relationships and not objects.  This theme is certainly repeated in the CRPT alumni who worked hard before and after training to upkeep their own local cemeteries.  Working in a cemetery you are aware of human mortality and the monuments left after one leaves their body.

Two stones cleaned during CRPT-Palatka, West View Cemetery, Palatka.
After our visit with Jim at St. Joseph we wanted to check in on the headstones we cleaned a few miles up the street at West View cemetery.  Some were featured in Toni's blog last week, but the D2 keeps working weeks after the cleaning. 

Thanks to everyone so far for helping make CRPT a success.  If you missed the Palatka class there are MANY chances to attend:

November 29, Ponce Inlet (Volusia County)
December 14,  Flagler County*
January 13, Sarasota with New College and FPAN West Central
February 7, Green Cove Springs (Clay County)*
May 19, mini-CRPT in Fernandina Beach (Nassau County)

* indicates dates subject to change as final plans are set in the next few weeks.  Keep checking the programs page of our website for registration information and calendar of events.

Whew!!  To check out more pictures from our visit to St. Joseph, check out our Facebook Post-CRPT album.

And how bout you?  What cemeteries do you care about and why?

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