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This week in history: Woodlawn Cemetery deeded to city

On Dec. 14, 1914 the Woodlawn Cemetery Association deeded the cemetery to the city of West Palm Beach. Henry Flagler created the cemetery on 17 acres of pineapple fields in 1904. The original iron gate was removed in 1925 when Dixie Highway was widened. It was replaced with a concrete arch on which the inscription from the original gate — “That which is so universal as death must be a blessing” — was recreated. The origin of that inscription remains a mystery.

The back of this 1905 postcard reads “The main entrance to the beautiful Woodlawn Cemetery is guarded by a massive gate of iron, black with letters of bronze. The avenues are of that pure white splendor which is characteristic of all the roads in this vicinity.”

The 1925 Mediterranean Revival-style arch still stands at the entrance to Woodlawn Cemetery. (Augustus Mayhew/Palm Beach Daily News file photo)

Read more about the history of Woodlawn Cemetery at the Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County, and read more about the earlier Lakeside Cemetery here, where you can see photographs of the Pioneer Memorial Park historical marker and the two other memorials on the grounds of the Norton Museum of Art, across Dixie Highway from Woodlawn.

March 2012 Update: Read more about efforts to restore grave markers at Woodlawn Cemetery and view a photo essay here.

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Posted in Flashback blog and Our history in photos December 12, 2011 at 6:00 am.


Cemetery Integrated 40 Years Ago

Readers: At times, we stray from the Q&A format to mark an anniversary. This one comes, appropriately, during Black History Month. Forty years ago, on Feb. 7, 1966, the city of West Palm Beach voted to integrate Woodlawn Cemetery. Behind the push: William M. Holland, the same man who had forced Palm Beach County Schools to integrate.
When the city had taken ownership of the graveyard in 1916, a provision restricted use to whites. The commission voted in 1962 to uphold the language. In January 1966, four blacks deposited $625 for five plots. They included Holland and Louise Buie of the local chapter of the NAACP.
At the February 1966 meeting, City Attorney John H. Evans told the commission the provision would be struck down in court. The vote was 4-1 in favor of integrating the cemetery. Commissioner David H. Brady voted no. According to the minutes, Brady said he sympathized with Holland, but “when the city had sold contracts and deeds to people who might object to this change, he could not consciously go against something that the city had done in good faith.”
Minnie Gass, one of the four blacks who had put down deposits on plots, thanked the commission, saying, “I merely wanted a decent place to be buried.” Gass would never use the plot; she later moved to the Detroit area, where she died in 1987, according to her son Ulyd. He said the plot remains empty. Holland died in 2002, Buie in 2003. City Attorney Evans died in 1988. Brady, who would serve as mayor in 1968 and 1969, still lives in the area. Now 82, he said in a December interview that he has four plots in the cemetery for his own family.

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Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog and Eliot Kleinberg February 8, 2006 at 10:53 am.

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Inscription’s Origin Still A Mystery

The Nov. 9 column said mystery surrounds the source of the inscription, “That which is so universal as death must be a blessing,” on the gates at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach.

Stories quoted pioneers as suggesting Henry Flagler himself coined the phrase, although they also cited German philosopher Johann Schiller and 18th century satirist Jonathan Swift.

In a 1937 article, The Post offered a reward of 10 whole dollars for the answer. But an article 12 years later still referred to the inscription as “one of the city’s unsolved mysteries.” So Post Time extended the 1937 reward offer.

And readers responded.

Rick Nelson of Clermont, near Orlando, went with Schiller.

Boynton Beach pioneer Alice Weaver cited the writings of Greek playwright Aeschylus, so I asked Barry B. Powell, a scholar of Greek literature at the University of Wisconsin, who said he knew of no link to Aeschylus but found another possible source: Anah Babcock Yates, 1869-1902.

History buff John R. Reis of suburban Boynton Beach found a May 1937 New York Times article citing an ancient Chinese proverb, source unknown.

He said the article noted the inscription is at Woodlawn and at a cemetery near Altoona, Pa., and appears on a large block of native stone at a cemetery in Merida, Mexico, where a nearby pillar displays the additional quotation, “And none may escape its benediction.”

Reis’ conclusion: “I hope this earns me $10; if not, it was fun researching its inscription.”

After careful consideration, and not wanting to part with such a sum lightly, management has voted to keep the contest open until one of the theories is more definitively proven. Readers: keep hunting!

Next week: Woodlawn integrated.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 1, 2006 at 10:55 am.

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Tiny Cemetery Has Pioneers’ Graves

Q: What is the origin of the tiny cemetery on Lantana Road east of I-95?
- Bob Adler, Boca Raton

A: Evergreen Cemetery, the only one in Lantana, stands at the corner of West Lantana Road and Arnold Avenue, across from the A.G. Holley Hospital. It is believed to have been established in 1893. The plot is only about a half city block in area and has only about two dozen headstones, representing some of the town’s pioneer families.

They include unofficial founder Morris K. Lyman; son Morris B. Lyman, the first postmaster and the man credited with naming the town for some flowers that grew in the area; and Morris B.’s wife, Mary, who donated the land for the nearby Lantana Elementary School.

The original “Barefoot Mailman” Daniel McCarley also is buried there. The cemetery had been closed to new burials by the time McCarley died in 1950, and his family had to get special permission. A few names have faded from markers or been lost with vanished headstones.
The local Kiwanis Club maintained the cemetery for years before the town took it over. In April 2002, the town placed four concrete pillars on Lantana Road – two donated by the town and two by local philanthropist Martha Morgan – and removed shrubs to create an entrance.

Lantana Historical Society founder Jack Carpenter said he began working to beautify Evergreen Cemetery in 1999, before the society even had a name. The project gave way to the successful effort to save the historic Lantana school building.

In July 2005, the historical society began a yearlong campaign to raise $80,000 to finish building a fence to ring the historic graveyard.

Next week: Back to Woodlawn cemetery.


Posted in Eliot Kleinberg January 25, 2006 at 10:57 am.

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Norton Museum Built On Old Graveyard

Q: Are there really bodies beneath the stage at the Norton Museum of Art?

A: Last week, I told you about Woodlawn Cemetery. The art museum across the street was built on land that had originally held the graves of some 200 pioneer settlers. That cemetery operated from 1895 to 1921, when it could no longer compete with Woodlawn. The Lakeside Cemetery Association donated the land to the city, with the provision that it be used as a public park, that its graves remain untouched and that, with the exception of a pavilion, no construction be allowed.

When Ralph Norton leased the land from the city in 1940 to build the museum, the association removed a number of restrictions. But it added others. In 2001, the Lake Worth Pioneers Association, representing more than 300 families who claim to descend from the region’s early settlers, complained that the museum wasn’t complying.

The dispute was later resolved.

Three graves were found in 1985 in a crawl space beneath the auditorium. They apparently were not moved because relatives couldn’t be found or didn’t want the graves disturbed.

Readers: The recent series of columns on sites that are on the National Register of Historic Places prompted a note from historian and retired Florida Atlantic University professor Donald Curl of Boca Raton.

He pointed out the fire station on South Ocean Boulevard in Boca Raton was on the register at the time that it housed “Old Betsy,” the town’s first firetruck. The truck has since been moved, so the station should rightly come off the list. He also noted that while the Bingham-Blossom House (Figulus) and the Blesford House, both in Palm Beach, are listed, both have been demolished. And he said the Dixie Court Hotel in West Palm Beach was torn down to build the new courthouse. He also pointed out that the GulfStream Hotel in Lake Worth was recently bought and will be turned into a condominium hotel.

Next week: The great Norton jewel heist.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg November 16, 2005 at 11:22 am.

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