ELOQUENT GRAVEYARDS - Part 5 of 5
Updated: Jul 1
The Italian cemetery is also rich in religious symbolism with its many statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other saints, as well as angels, cherubs, and crosses. The gravestones, themselves, are predominately made of polished granite, although quite a few family crypts are made of marble. On the other hand, the Centro Español cemetery has its share of expensive and richly ornamented burial site markers, but these are not as numerous. The sites studied were not, in general, as decorative and seemed at times austere when compared to the Italian monuments. The differences in economic or social status are quite clear within the cemeteries as well as among them. It is interesting to note that although one finds religious symbolism in the Spanish cemetery, it is not as widespread as in the Italian cemetery. However, Oaklawn and Woodlawn cemeteries represent a cross-section of the community, and this I attribute to the fact that both of these graveyards predate the others. The Oaklawn Cemetery, being the oldest, has the highest number of the tablet-style gravestones.
Finally, the Memorial Park Cemetery, which represents the black community (particularly the Afro-Cuban), clearly portrays the differences in economic and social status. This cemetery is almost entirely devoid of statues, and the ornamentation of the stones is minimal. There are no marble monuments, and only a few granite gravestones are present. However, there is an abundance of headstones made of cement or concrete, as well as burial site slabs. These slabs, which are common in the other cemeteries, cover an area usually no larger than that required to cover the coffin buried at the site.
In many cases where the slabs are used, there are no headstones—an occurrence that is anomalous in the other cemeteries. Many of these slabs have the information handwritten in the wet cement or concrete; the reader should keep in mind that there is more to a gravestone than the design on top. Many have distinctive shapes and arrangements of words on them, references to a group of which the deceased was once a part, and differences in the material of which they are constructed. Gravestone decorations may vary significantly—often, they are incised. Still, they also come in the form of grave embellishments such as borders around family or individual plots, planted flowers or shrubbery, plastic or cut flowers and their containers, toys, candles, seashells, and so on. Even the position of the name on the gravestone may be indicative of changing cultural concerns (Dethlefsen & Jensen, 1977).
The Tampa, Florida cemeteries surveyed in this paper demonstrate their individuality and value as a historical source. These types of cemeteries may become popular, once again, even though the latest “…development in cemeteries has produced parks of rolling lawns, their necropolitan smoothness scarcely broken by rows of slight indentations in the grass, where small bronze or concrete markers record the names and numbers of those who lie beneath” (Dethlefsen & Jensen, 1977). When comparing graveyards, the newer ones appear to be somewhat impersonal, and it is in these manicured expanses of lawns that the dead are interred “…in all but anonymity in the egalitarian ranks of a multistoried mausoleum or in a memorial lawn, marked only by a flat tablet set at ground level to allow unimpeded passage of a lawnmower” (Dethlefsen & Jensen, 1977).
A cemetery represents an important portion of the lives and histories of a group of people, and it offers valuable insights into the past as well as into the present. It is a source of information waiting to be tapped.
Dethlefsen, E. S., & Jensen, K. (1977). Social Commentary from the Cemetery. Natural History, LXXXVI(6), 32-39.