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2 resting places on the mend
The Black Caucus of Pasco County leads an effort to spruce up two cemeteries Saturday.
By CAMILLE C. SPENCER
Published June 14, 2007
Human bones. Abandoned tires. Thick beds of moss and overgrown weeds.
At two of the county's black cemeteries, history and neglect collide among cracked headstones and fallen tree limbs.
Maintenance costs and confusion over who owns the land at Trilby Cemetery and Ehren Cemetery - more commonly known as Mount Carmel Cemetery - has caused their upkeep to fall by the wayside.
On Saturday, the Black Caucus of Pasco County hopes to change that.
The caucus is sponsoring a cleanup at the two cemeteries. Caucus members hope the event will encourage Pasco residents, especially those with relatives buried there, to keep the historical landmarks clean.
"We're trying to preserve the history, " said Blanche Benford, president of the caucus. "We're hoping to find living relatives and come together to preserve these cemeteries."
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The idea for the cleanup started late last year, Benford said. Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri heard about Mount Carmel, a signless landmark bordered by a barbed wire fence, and asked caucus members if they'd be interested in cleaning it up.
"I said, 'Of course we were, ' " Benford said. "So I took it to the members, and we had a meeting. A deputy from the Sheriff's Office was there. He got inmates out there to clean up in November."
But without regular maintenance, weeds quickly sprouted at the cemetery.
So Benford held another meeting in March, and set the date for Saturday's cleanup.
"It's growing back, " Benford said, "so we're going back out there."
* * *
How the county's black cemeteries became a wasteland for junk and weeds is somewhat of a mystery.
Mount Carmel Cemetery, which belongs to the county, is known by two names:
Mount Carmel Cemetery, after Mount Carmel Church that once sat on the current site in the predominately black part of town, and as the Ehren African American Cemetery.
It's appearance starkly contrasts that of the other Ehren Cemetery just a few miles away, a well-kept landmark located in what was once a predominately white part of town.
The acre of land where Mount Carmel Cemetery sits once belonged to a pine company owner named Frederick Mueller, who let black sawmill workers use it to bury church members.
The cemetery is filled with workers who were drawn to the area in the 1800s by the sawmill industry. Names like Lewis and Horton are etched on cracked headstones. The last burial was in 1954.
Maintenance at the cemetery, which now belongs to the county, declined.
According to state law, maintenance at an abandoned cemetery is the responsibility of the landowner. If the landowner fails to maintain the cemetery, relatives then have the right to do it.
But if no one steps up to clean things up, cemeteries can become havens of neglect.
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The deed for the 2.2-acre Trilby Cemetery, another place harboring unmarked graves of black sawmill workers, is in the name of a woman named Willie Z. Spaights.
Spaights died last year. So Kathleen Fink of the Greater Trilby Community Association began caring for the land. Fink said some of Spaights' relatives are buried there, and some live in the area, but none have stepped forward to claim the land.
"I have a team that tries to go in and clean up, " Fink said. "Some kids on four-wheelers were out there destroying graves. They opened some of them. It's very overgrown. You can't even read some of the headstones."
Fink plans to contact local black churches to see if they'd like to help her preserve the cemetery's history.
"I think families with relatives buried there should get involved, " she said. "The graves are being lost right now."
If you Go
The Black Caucus of Pasco County will hold its first cemetery cleanup on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until the work is done.
Ehren Cemetery is located 2 miles northeast of the U.S. 41 and Ehren Cemetery intersection. Those who want to attend the Ehren cleanup should bring rakes and shovels and RSVP by calling Blanche Benford, caucus president, at (813) 778-6064.
Trilby Cemetery is located on Old Trilby Road near U.S. 98. Those who want to help clean up Trilby can call Kathleen Fink at (352) 583-4150.