Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review--Sacred to the Memory

Mitchell, Florence A. Sacred to the Memory: A History of the Huguenot Cemetery 1821-1884 St. Augustine, Florida . Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery, St. Augustine, FL. 1998. 75 pages, notes, bibliography, b/w photographs, drawings, maps.

If you visit St. Augustine, FL and stop by the visitors center you can't help but be taken in by the Huguenot Cemetery next door. If it is open it is well worth a stop in even if just for a few minutes. Even if not open for a walk through you can still see over the walls.

Florence Mitchell has written a very brief history of the cemetery one which hopefully will lead another author to write a more thorough work with better photos and maps. The book is a locally published work with the aim of helping to raise funds for the upkeep of the cemetery. It really shows that this is not a large budget book. If it was however the price would of course be much higher. Trade offs I guess.

The first order of business is the name Huguenot. There appears to be no REAL reason for the cemetery being called this. It has been called many things but somehow the name Huguenot has stuck despite it not being a cemetery for Huguenots. An early Huguenot settlement at Fort Caroline was destroyed by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1564. St. Augustine was to remain primarily a Catholic town for over 200 years. Catholics were buried in Tolomato Cemetery several blocks away.

In 1821 a half acre of land just outside the city gate was allocated for a cemetery after the Yellow Fever outbreak. This outbreak took lives of young and old, rich and poor. Some of the remaining stones make reference to the disease that swept through the city. After some legal wrangling as to who the owner of the cemetery truely was it was determined that the Presbyterian Church was the owner with the stipulation that all protestants be allowed to be buried there. By 1884 a hysteria over city cemeteries was sweeping the country with people being concerned over disease and the possible smell coming from cemeteries. This caused both Tolomato and the Huguenot cemeteries to be closed to future interments.

The cemetery fell into disrepair and eventually in 1946 the city accepted a quit claim deed and became responsible for maintenance. This only lasted a few years and the Presbyterian Church again reclaimed ownership. Eventually the cemetery was closed to the public. By 1990 enough repairs had been done that it could be opened to the public with supervision.

Mitchell goes on to talk about stonemakers from Charleston, various materials used, the use and then disuse of gates and fences to monuments, symbolism, the reason that the graves face to the east, and provides a listing of the known burials with a seperate listing of monuments.

While overall an interesting book and one which should hold anybody interested in cemeteries there are some major drawbacks. Overall I found the writing to be just ok. Nothing great, nothing bad, but probably in need of a good edit. The book is somewhat disjointed. As I said there is a listing in the middle, with a pitiful looking map that is not drawn to scale, of the current headstones. At the back of the book there is a listing of known burials. I found it somewhat confusing trying to keep track of where the information on the burials came from. It seems maybe these should have been together. The photographs and drawings are really poorly reproduced. It's possible this happened during the layout process and that the originals are much better. I passed by most of them without a second thought except to wish they were better. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a $7.95 booklet geared toward tourists and not a scholarly monograph that would cost many many times this price. As I stated at the beginning maybe someone will work on that one day though I would have to say the market would be extremely limited.

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