Thursday, November 22, 2018

Cemetaries as Museums

Pam Schwartz and I went to the Osceola County Welcome Center and History Museum (4155 W Vine St, Kissimmee, Florida 34741)to listen to guest speaker Kevin Gidusko from the Florida Public Archaeology Network as he spoke about the preservation of historic cemeteries.

His talk covered, the archaeological process in cemeteries, the use iconography and headstone styles to date sites, and preservation and dating techniques. Cemeteries are a rather recent phenomenon when compared to the entire history of the world.  Cemeteries have had an important place in our culture since the beginning of recorded time. Taking special care to honor our ancestors and have a proper final resting place for them is one of the things that makes us uniquely human.

Many cemeteries are now being documented online on Find a Grave making finding distant relatives for genealogy increasingly easy. Any cemetery is a  place where we can see the people who helped shape our history. Weathering, vandalism, neglect, and encroachment by development and plant growth threaten the fate of historic cemeteries. Because of this it is important to systematically survey and document these historic sites before they are forever lost.

The intricate carvings on headstones can tell much about the beliefs of the person buried. Common designs in the 19th and early 20 centuries included urns, Latin crosses, willow trees, doves, lambs, hands bibles, flowers and vines. For instance the symbol of a weeping willow reflected the interest in the United States in ancient Greece. The most obvious meaning is the "Weeping" or mourning for the loss of a loved one. A willow is a fast growing tree that is easy to grow from cuttings and often is the first tree to grow on a disturbed site. Thus the tree is known as healing. In many cultures the willow tree is a symbol for immortality.

Kevin let us know that there are many opportunities to volunteer should we want to take part in the preservation of cemeteries.

The event was sponsored in part by Gatorland.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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