Archive for April, 2008

I want to preface this entry with a few comments. I will be talking a bit about race relations in the United States and I want to be clear that I am not an expert on the subject. The opinions that I give are just that. I have taken a few classes at UNF that have dealt with race issues, like the Civil Rights Movement and a sociology class or two, but it takes someone with years of experience to give an educated viewpoint. This obviously will not stop me from providing my ignoble observations. I certainly do not want to say that I am representing the views of my school or the City of Jacksonville. So enough of the paid program disclosures and on with the writtin’.

Back in the mid-twentieth century, Jacksonville used incinerator plants as means to rid the city of solid waste.  There were many plants around town and some were even close to residential areas.  After the plants closed due to more modern waste management methods, the land where the plants once occupied were often redeveloped.  Recent studies have shown, however, that these plants have contributed to ground and water pollution with deposits of harmful chemicals, including lead.  

One of the areas that was due to higher levels of lead was an elementary school called Forest Park in North Riverside.


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I decided to visit Mt. Olive Cemetery to see how many graves were unmarked. I thought that I could maybe catch something that the surveyors missed. Oh, the hubris of our young. Not only is the cemetery a large one but it has plot after plot of unmarked graves. It is a real tragedy. So many people have family members buried there without any headstones or markers. And it is not as though the families intended to forget these poor buried souls. For one, many of the half-above-ground graves received a surface mounted rubber marker. I assume it would have had the person’s name and dates on it. Many of the rubber markers are permantently destroyed by sun and weather deterioration. Secondly, it is clear that the cemetery has little funds for upkeep. You would think that the graves were extremely old by the looks of the place but most dates that I saw were from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. The following are photos of this cemetery.

Mt. Olive Cemetery: The front section looks quaint although overgrown a bit.

This photo shows a row of slightly above ground graves that have no markers at all.

These above-ground graves are concrete shells and have handles on the sides that, I assume, were to place the lid on the top. You can see near the top of the photo is a cracked, black rubber marker. At the bottom of the photo you can barely make out an outline of a cross that was once made of rubber.

This is a close-up of a rubber marker. This is one of the more intact ones and you still cannot decipher many letters (if any).

Something exciting did happen today. Yesterday I emailed a woman who I found one Rootsweb that was on the Mt. Olive Cemetery council. I asked if she had any information about the burial plots. I was hoping she would have had some old deeds or documents from Mt. Olive Cemetery Inc. She told me that none of the plots were purchased.  People just acquired an area to bury their relatives.  So there would not have been any deeds to record when or who bought the plot or where it was located. Which obviously explains why we couldn’t find a deed. However, I am still a bit perplexed because we discovered a few grave deeds related to Mt. Olive Cemetery at the records department.

But then again, I found a website just today that says that people don’t buy the land for a burial. The land is still the property of the cemetery. You can just reserve the right for burial in a certain place. Why would Joel have us look through deeds for a grave site if there was no way to be deeded a burial plot? There is something missing here. Why are there some deeds for Mt. Olive and some that obviously do not exist? Or, maybe cemeteries retaining ownership of the actual property is a recent phenomenon?  I really need to do more research into the death business.

I’m sure most people would think that this seems a bit trivial. But cemetery research is becoming a fairly big part of historic preservation. So I intend to find out. I just had an idea. Maybe I should go directly to the funeral home’s office. When I called their office to ask for information, the woman seemed to take very little time to find the information. Maybe she was just looking it up in a database. MAYBE, just maybe, they have a paper file that has more burial information. That pretty much would be the last hope. I think.

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Hours: 8:15-6:00pm – 8.75 hrs

Today was our introduction in the Parks and Recreation department’s archival files. Last week I was informed that we, the other volunteer and I, are going to start recording the histories of the Jacksonville city parks into a state database. The database and history research for parks over 50 years old is on course for the historic preservation department. The parks and recreation department wishes to also complete the history research on the parks that a park historian painstakingly already began. Unfortunately, his position was eliminated when the city’s departments were reorganized after budget cuts.

Much their paper files for the parks and recreation department are in the Jacksonville Armory building. The building was once used as a the headquarters for the National Guard of Florida. It was also used as a place to hold concerts and special city events. The parks and recreation department took over the building in 1973. Now their files are stored on the upper, open balcony of the auditorium where Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin once played and where Eleanore Roosevelt once spoke.

Jacksonville Armory Building

It seems as though the city reorganization has created arrested development in many of the city’s departments. Both the parks employee and the volunteer services representative remarked about how they couldn’t properly go ahead with some of their duties (be it writing new forms or organizing archives) because final organizational changes have yet to occur. If the departments put a lot of effort into a task that would only need to be changed in a few months, that would be wasting their own time and the city’s resources. Even one of the planners in the historic preservation section is in a bit of a tumultuous state because she is unaware of when or where the city will reassign her position. Take the once park historian who was reassigned to the library. The city cannot necessarily fire him but must move him to another open post where he could put his archival knowledge to use. Did he ask for that library position? I’m sure not. From what I hear he was very devoted to his research and enjoyed his work. But I’m sure that reassigning him would have certainly been better than laying him off. That is where a civil servant position differs from a corporate job. Is one type of job better than the other? I don’t know. Depends on ones own priorities and opinions on corporate versus public employment. But I divert. Let’s get back to the day’s duties.

Not only did we see where the files were located but we also discussed what the differing needs of the historic preservation office and the parks and recreation department. Joel would like to have a fairly detailed history developed while the parks and recreation department only needs a snippet or abstract for their records. We also got an introduction into the work that the former parks historian had already completed, which was substantial. Data entry into the databases will be the only need for those parks.

Joel also introduced Bryan and I to the real estate division office. That is where we will be able to access unpublished mortgages and other such information.

Bryan and I tried again to locate the cemetery plot eluded us last week. We tried looking for a deed under the funeral home’s name, we tried the cemetery itself again, we looked even further back in time with any name possible with no further success. We concluded that the cemetery company was just not very diligent with their records. We assumed that they failed to file the deed with the city. [Update: There might not have been any sold lots. See “week 2 update” post] I feel bad for the family. It must be upsetting to not know exactly where your loved one is buried.

After lunch Bryan and I did not have a lot of work to do. Joel was gone at a meeting and we have yet to get a sign-in for our computer station. Fortunately, I was able to get to know the planners in the office a little better. I was trying to find out how they gained their positions at the city. One of the more senior planners took the masters program in Historic Preservation at SCAD. (I am completely jealous of her. I would love to go to that school but I am poor and it ain’t cheap.) She obviously is passionate about historic preservation and I hope that I can learn more from her. One of the other planners has a BA in poly sci. I think that she is young and plans to develop her career further beyond preservation. But you know, it takes people of varying interests to offer any organization with a level of objectivity.

After Joel came back from his meeting, the office had their own little meeting to discuss the property action issues. This particular meeting was focused around the properties in Riverside that had been scrutinized by RAP. Our meeting was to discuss whether to add the suggestions made by RAP or not. Most them were used while others were deemed a little exorbitant.

In all, I feel as though I learned a lot about how the city operates. Which is important of course. Hopefully, I will be able to get into the nitty-gritty of research and productive work next week.

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Hours: 8am to 5pm – 8hrs

Miles walked:  About 3 (in dressy shoes)

Tip: Don’t ever try to get away with only having a few hours of sleep on your first day of work. In a normal week I will make up the volunteer day away from my full-time job on Saturday but I will be going to a wedding this weekend. I was up until 3:30 am working on a project for my full-time job so that I won’t be behind at the end of the week.

The first order of the day on Wednesday was to get registered as a city of Jacksonville volunteer.  So I walked to the St. James Building to check in with the Volunteer division of the human resource center.  By the time I got back, the other volunteer, Brian, and the intern, Samantha, were at work.  After our introductions Joel informed us of our first introduction into real research. 

A local family is in need of finding their deceased mother’s grave marker.  Unfortunately, her marker could not be found in the cemetery’s directory nor in an earlier survey of the cemetery’s headstones.  The sad thing is that she passed away in the seventies and had a rubber headstone that probably deteriorated with the weather and sun.  So we were sent to the courthouse to find out if there was a deed for the burial plot.  We were told that the plot was bought only a few years prior to her death.  So the three of us headed to the court-house to search the grantor/grantee indexes.  We were unable to find anything to do with a burial plot under the deceased name, her husband’s name or the cemetery itself.

Next we tried to find her death certificate to confirm the year of her death.  We thought that maybe her family was unclear which year she died.  We thought that sounded a bit strange.  How can you forget the year a loved one passes away.  We couldn’t find her death certificate through ordinary online searched so we walked down to the library to look up obituary notices.  We were able to find her obit which gave us more information, specifically names of her children, funeral company and her church name.  We tried to call both the funeral home and her church, which, surprisingly enough still exist, but neither one had any other pertinent information on her burial plot.  That task was laid to rest for another day.

After lunch we got an introduction into how to record and file received publications.  Then Brian and I were sent to the Library to look up a woman who was once a renowned nurse at Shands Hospital.  In fact, her bio states that fellow nurses and physicians would call her Doctor.  We were there to verify her address in the Jacksonville city directory.  Of course we found her but I think I was getting a bit over zealous.  I started to write everything I could find such as her husband’s name, his occupation, her children’s names, their occupations etc.  I think all they needed was an address confirmation but oh well. 

Art Moderne Home (example)

Back at the office and ready for the office meeting.  Brian and I were there just to sit in and observe but I had a few moments of opinion diarrhea.  The meeting was to go brainstorm the preservation issue brought to the department by COAs (Certificates of Appropriateness) or by district violations.  One of the buildings was an Art Moderne house with jalousies windows that the owners were wanting to replace.  The staff members decided to let the historic commission rule on the window issue.  Of course I got a bit obnoxious with my suggestions after Joel thought one of my ideas was plausible.  I am really going to have to be more respectful of my lowly, volunteer position in the future.

In all, I think it was a great day.  I learned more about doing research in the court records and library archives.  I also feel as though my experience in an architectural office, past schooling and personal interests will provide the office with a degree of practical input.

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