By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
After Woodlawn's records were destroyed in a fire, Tampa assumed no plots were left. Research and radar show that's not the case.
TAMPA - Woodlawn Cemetery is the final resting place for some of Tampa's most prominent citizens. Headstones bear the well-known names of the Mabry, Linebaugh and Robles families. Sumter Lowry and Frank Adamo are buried here.
For 20 years, no plots have been sold at the 117-year-old, 28-acre cemetery just north of downtown. Records of the grave sites burned in a fire in 1986, and city officials assumed there was no space left.
Turns out they were wrong.
In an effort to restore the lost records, officials studied singed cemetery cards, delved into state and county records and ran advertisements to find families of the dead. The Parks and Recreation Department recently completed a ground-penetrating radar survey of a portion of the cemetery known as Potter's Field, which holds the unmarked graves of the poor.
Final results of the radar survey are due in about six weeks, but city officials estimate that more than 1,300 plots may be available.
Those grave sites could be for sale by the end of the year.
"We will mark what's empty and what's full," said Linda Carlo, spokeswoman for the parks department.
The city opened Woodlawn Cemetery in 1888, once Oaklawn Cemetery downtown was completely full. Woodlawn was one of the most popular burial sites until 1917, when Myrtle Hill opened in east Tampa, said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center.
"Oaklawn is the cemetery for Tampa's true, true pioneers. Woodlawn was for that next generation of people who really made Tampa a city," Kite-Powell said.
Two Jewish cemeteries and Showmen's Rest, a burial ground for carnival workers, border Woodlawn, which is off North Boulevard just south of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Sales of the plots in the old Potter's Field should begin by the end of the year. Rates, which need approval of the City Council, have not been set, but the price may be around $1,200, parks officials said. According to a parks department survey, the price for grave sites in the Tampa Bay area ranges from $700 to $6,000.
"There are people that would probably want to buy spaces there because they have family members there," said Mike Adams, owner of Adams and Jennings Funeral Home. "Do I think there would be a great need? I don't think so. There are still plenty of spaces in Hillsborough County."
People tend to buy burial plots in places that are convenient for them to visit, Adams said. The largest population growth, he noted, is in suburban areas, which tend to be better maintained and safer to visit.
In the early 1990s, vandalism and grave desecration prompted the city to post nighttime security officers at Woodlawn, but some vandalism still occurs there.
Nonetheless, Epifanio Agliano, 72, is among those who want to be laid to rest at Woodlawn.
His grandfather, mother, father and sister are all buried there. He visits their grave sites several times a year.
"I might as well be there rather than someplace else," Agliano said. "If someone wants to visit one family member, they can see everyone at the same time."
Janet Zink can be reached at 813 226-3401 or firstname.lastname@example.org