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Desecration By Neglect: Palm Coast’s Masonic Cemetery Decaying Again 2 Years After Lift

| March 27, 2012

An exposed casket in a vandalized grave at Palm Coast's black Masonic Cemetery on Old Kings Road: the reinforcement wires have been pried up, the concrete shards thrown about, suggesting willful desecration rather than a part of the slab mereley falling in from decay. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s a terrible sight at the Masonic Cemetery in Palm Coast: a desecrated grave, exposing the pale metal-blue casket below. A third of the concrete slab covering the tomb appears to have been ripped off, the concrete’s reinforcement wiring pried up, chunks of broken slab thrown to the foot of the grave and to its side. It’s not clear how long it’s been like that. A local resident alerted the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday. The grave remains uncovered.

Aaron McKinnon, the cemetery’s groundskeeper for the Masonic Lodge in Espanola, which is responsible for maintaining the cemetery, says it’s the result of kids who must have stepped on the grave or pulled on some of the wiring, causing the slab to shatter. “Somebody pulled the wire up on it and made it look like somebody was trying to break in on it,” McKinnon said.

But the explanation doesn’t match the scene: it took effort to demolish a third of what is, after all, not an overly old tomb: David McCall Chase was buried there in 1988, or 24 years ago. Many older tombs around the cemetery are in better shape.

And many are not. The Chase tomb is only the most violent example of desecration, most of it by neglect rather than intent, but much of it by errant vandalism, too: there are several grave-marking crosses thrown about, face down, in various parts of the cemetery, severed from their gravesite.

The desecration up close. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Piles of refuse have been collected in clumps around the rim of the cemetery, inside its relatively new black fence—donated and installed there by Palm Coast when the city joined with the lodge to refurbish the cemetery, take a census of all gravesite, refurbish the grounds and build a parking lot. It was Palm Coast’s way of giving the cemetery something back for losing its old entrance and brick gate when Old Kings Road was four-laned. The 64-year-old black cemetery was re-dedicated in June 2010.

Now even that fence has been plundered, torn up in a couple of places, with one section, its concrete base clinging to it like a millstone, leaning against a remaining section of fence, and another section twisted up in one of those refuse piles. One of those sections was removed by the cemetery’s caretakers to let in vehicles during funerals, McKinnon said.

At the entrance of the cemetery, in the parking lot, a big garbage pile is strewn with Coors Lite bottles and Bud cans and fast-food receptacles, as if it were the site of picnicking for slobs. Nearer the entrance, a big, dirty mattress sits against a box spring.

The neglect is pronounced. Deep inside the cemetery, next to the new, still flowered grave site of Darius Giddens, the young son of Bunnell who died from an injury to the head several days after a fight in Daytona Beach, a tree has fallen, splintered at the base, its fall strong enough to have uprooted an adjoining grave-marker. But it sits there, the dead tree and the cracked marker, ignored. It’s not the only fallen tree in the cemetery.

A fallen tree, not far from Darius Giddens's grave, has heaved up a nearby tomb and been left to rot in place. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Several tombs’ slabs are riddled with crevices and broken corners. It wouldn’t take much to finish them off. Glass shards from flower vases broken by wind or time are common, artificial flower bouquets that have traveled in random directions from their original spot, worn and shredded, dot the grounds. Between a cluster of graves, a clump of excrement from a large animal—not uncommon in cemeteries, which remain the crowing paths of wildlife, but not usually left to decay in place, either.

McKinnon says he’s preparing to fix the broken grave this week and reinforce several others. He says at least eight graves need their concrete re-poured, but that he’s redone about 10 in the last eight months. A concrete mixing tub sits near the middle of the cemetery, half-filled with grayish water. But he concedes that there’s a problem at the cemetery. “I’m not saying we don’t have people who come in and turn headstones,” he says. But, he adds, “we don’t have any funds to really maintain the cemetery or anything like that.”

Vandals aside, it’s not as if anyone can be blamed, exactly: the Masonic Lodge in Espanola is poor. So are many of the families that bury loved ones at the Masonic Cemetery, where it costs about $350 for a burial (compared to $5,000 in more upscale cemeteries). There’s no money for so much as dragging a dumpster there and cleaning up, though it does so once in a while (and did so with Palm Coast’s help two years ago).

“The real problem with historic cemeteries is they’re intermittently used,” Dana St. Claire, the archeologist who worked with Palm Coast to restore the site and inventory its more than 500 graves, said. “Unless it’s owned by a company, unless it’s a family plot that’s protected by a family or there’s an organization that’s dedicated to the upkeep of the cemetery, they very often find themselves unattended, especially after they’re no longer used. The Masonic Cemetery is still used, it isn’t used as often, and because of its remote location it’s difficult for anyone to maintain it, and it’s also very diff for anyone to secure it.”

The city is not in charge of the cemetery. “We kind of extended ourselves and helped them out as part of the four-laning,” said Bill Butler, Palm Coast’s landscape architect who oversaw the project two years ago. “Beyond that, it’s not our property. It’s private property. We’ve really kind of helped them as much as we can.”

Not that the city hadn’t projected a more continuous involvement in some form. “We will be moving forward on an archeological site, acquiring grants and donations for upgrades,” City Manager Jim Landon told the city council in January 2008, “and meeting with community leaders to initiate an ongoing volunteer cleanup projects. Grants and donations will be utilized to restore and beautify the site.”

jon netts palm coast mayor city council

Jon Netts. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts took particular interest in the project. “This cemetery represents a valuable piece of Flagler County history,” he said later that year. “City staff will work with members of the Masonic Lodge to develop a ‘management plan’ that will insure the preservation of this unique piece of Flagler History.”

With St. Claire’s lead, the management plan was developed. But grants or donations for continuing clean-up and beautification didn’t materialize. “Developing a preservation plan conceptually and implementing that are two diff things,” St. Claire said. “It’s costly and it’s typically not something you find in the budget of city governments or county governments, to maintain a historic cemetery, especially when it’s private.”

Two years ago Butler had mentioned the possibility of the Flagler County Rotary getting involved in providing a kiosk for the cemetery. That hasn’t happened. The lodge organizes cleanups with volunteers once in a while. But they’re rare, and there hasn’t been one in a long time, McKinnon said: unlike the beaches or Bunnell’s streets or trails or community problem solving projects that puff up community chests, mobilizing volunteers for a cemetery clean-up seems to have little appeal. Especially a black cemetery.

But that’s an old story for the Masonic Cemetery: its neglect these days is merely the latest expression of a long legacy born of discrimination against and contempt for the people who filled its grounds: when they died, Bunnell’s black residents were buried in Bunnell until, more than half a century ago, a developer wanted to build in place of their cemetery. Those dead were never re-interred: they were just plowed over. A white landowner made slight amends by granting the five acres of lost land where the Masonic Cemetery sits now, though at the time—in 1948—it was a thickly wooded trek of wilderness near the old Old Kings Road, several miles from Bunnell. If blacks were to bury their dead, or visit them at graveside, they’d have to make the haul.

It’s still a haul, in more ways than merely geographic.

And It’s part of a larger historic preservation issue, St. Claire says: how communities take care of the fabric that defines their history and heritage, and what portions of either communities choose to preserve.  “It’ll be a looming issue for the rest of our lives and for centuries beyond I’m sure.” He credits the city’s work but acknowledges limitations. “Unfortunately,” St. Claire says, “vandals love to vandalize cemeteries, I’m not quite sure why, but they are attracted to cemeteries, and many people don’t understand the sacredness and sensitivity of cemeteries, historic or otherwise.”

A segment of vandalized fencing, left to spoil the area of a relatively recent grave: The fence was installed by Palm Coast two years ago during the cemerety's face-lift. The cemetery was re-dedicated in a public ceremony less than two weeks before Aponte's burial there. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


Another grave beginning to shatter. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


Discarded crosses well away from their original marking places. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


Wire mesh sits like tumbleweed on a grave. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


What's left of an alcove. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


The concrete mixing tub looks unused for a while. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


Garbage and yard waste sits uncollected around the rim of the cemetery. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


At the entrance to the cemetery, in the parking lot. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)


The old entrance to the Masonic Cemetery, no longer used. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

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15 Responses for “Desecration By Neglect: Palm Coast’s Masonic Cemetery Decaying Again 2 Years After Lift”

  1. Geezer Butler says:

    These are the folks that don’t need the Affordable Healthcare Act.
    But enough with that (failed?) attempt at levity….

    That’s some lowdown hooliganism, desecrating departed people’s graves.
    It’s a sick world, folks. And it’s getting sicker everyday.

  2. Kendall Clark-StJacques via Facebook says:

    I wonder if we can pull together some volunteers to clean up and make repairs maybe the city or county would provide a dumpster or trash hauler to get the garbage out of there.

  3. Joe A. says:

    This is very sad. The Masonic Cemetery serves as a Potters Field for families of indigent status. When I look at the head stones, I am often reminded of the dash. There was a day we were born, a day we died and that dash represents how we lived our lives. That simple dash covers so much. I pray for the souls resting in peace at Masonic Cemetery. I hope it is able to be revitalized so that it serves as a fitting burial ground.

  4. Kari Anne via Facebook says:

    This hurts my soul.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Shows the lack of law enforcement patrolling our city roads, parks and this cementery as well as the whole county. Too many chiefs and very few indians at work.
    The vandals doing this desecration sure took some heavy tools to achieve their shameful goal and sure did not go on foot there. Let us all know if volunteers are needed to repair it.

  6. B. Claire says:

    Looks like we all see the problem…but no specific plan to correct this injustice to those buried there….and the citizens of this area.

    What about all those civic organizations posted on the sign on Palm Coast Parkway & Hwy 1, any of the surrounding cities. How much money, how many volunteers are we talking about to fix this horrible representation.

    Come on Mayor [Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts took particular interest in the project.]…please take the lead on this…ditto City Manager Landon.

    This situation is so NOT OK to just leave it in this current state.

  7. wsh302@msn.com says:

    Kendall Clark, ou can include me in the volunteers list if you form one

  8. Flagler Native says:

    This would be a great opportunity for some young adults to have a summer volunteer job, while making a difference, instead of wandering around doing god knows what.

    It’s kinda ironic, I remember seeing funerals going on there from the school bus window when I was kid. I just didn’t realize it was in such a state of disrepair.

  9. Bro. Charle G. Williams says:

    People have lost respect for one another in life as well as in death. Nothing is Sacred any more.But believe me things are going to change….

  10. Ms. C.M. says:

    My father iis buried there. Its been 3 years since he passed and i cant bring myself to go there. *in due time*. this has been going on for years, how hard is it to get a lawn mower and cut that grass or get fertilizer? something anything to make it look decent.

  11. Nancy N. says:

    This needs to be fixed. It does not reflect well on our community at all.

    Perhaps money wouldn’t be needed for a dumpster if a few people with pick-up trucks could be rounded up to haul the stuff to the nearby waste facility? Heaven knows there’s enough trucks in this town!

    Part of the reason that kids are hanging out in this place and desecrating it is because the community is showing it so little respect in not maintaining it properly…we are tacitly sending the message that this place isn’t important. Maybe if there was a set schedule of regular community clean-ups and maintenance in the place it would have an effect. What if community groups signed up and took turns maintaining it once a year. There’s enough groups in this town that if a few took a turn, we could have a crew in there at least every couple months, if not monthly.

    • B. Claire says:

      Nancy and all posters,

      What great ideas. Even though this cemetery is private property and not owned, managed, etc. by Palm Coast…hopefully the Mayor, City Staff in coordination with the Masonic Lodge will be able to utilize these ideas to restore this historic cemetery.

      Perhaps a security company could reduce or donate [& be recognized as the donor] of a solar security system to assure anyone damaging even one stone in the newly restored cemetery would result in an arrest and prosecution.

      These are responses and support worthy of Palm Coast…not what we have now.

      Kudos to the Mayor & all who assist in restoring Palm Coast’s Masonic Cemetery.

      Looking forward to ‘the Plan to restore’ and how we can help.

  12. Michele Nethery says:

    On April 28th, the youth group (EYC) from St. Thomas Episcopal Church will be hosting a “30 Hour Famine” we are looking for community service projects to take on. I would love to know who to contact to set up some plans to get out there and help clean up the grounds. If anyone has contact information please e-mail me youth.stthomas@yahoo.com Thanks!

  13. Betsy Tier says:

    My husband and I noticed the graveyard while driving down Old Kings road. Not knowing the site was there we turned around to investigate. we were shocked at the condition of the grave yard. I couldn’t help but to wonder how I would feel if it were my Loved Ones resting place. I was saddened that the families that have their loved ones resting there would accept this neglect. Upon doing research on sites like this one I came to find out that there is not much that could be done. That it’s out of their hands. So sad. I cant help but to wonder that while the city of Palm Coast is laying brand new bicycle paths that cyclists are not using, fresh sod and gates around them one would think that respecting the grave sites of these families would be a higher priority.

  14. Betsy Tier says:

    And please explain to me why the original sign was not moved to the entrance of the site instead of being hidden in the midst of weeds and trees????

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