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Gethsemane Cemetery

Christian roots run deep, and when Ormond was still young some of the African-Americans of the area wanted their burial grounds to be named Gethsemane in commemoration of the olive garden on the Mount of Olives (Mt. Olivet) outside the city proper and overlooking Jerusalem where their Lord had prayed before His sacrifice for the sins of all who follow Him.  Negroes in those days were not permitted to be buried within the city limits of Ormond, so the Negro Burial Grounds were placed quite a distance west–beyond the railroad tracks, and the name was officially established not to be Gethsemane.  Sometime later the name was changed to Greenwood Cemetery, but in recent years the efforts of Doris Smith and others insisted that the sign read “Gethsemane Cemetery.”  (A Google search for “Gethsemane Cemetery” will bring up an Ormond Beach map with the words “Greenwood Cemetery” pointing the location.)

It lies along the west side of Orchard Avenue in Ormond Beach about a quarter mile south of Granada Avenue, and although the sign indicates that the cemetery closes at sundown, a smaller sign attached to the chain link fence declares “Private Property, No Trespassing.”  In 1974 it was closed for additional burials, and according to Doris Smith, the county owns the property which is within Ormond Beach city limits.

Doris Smith, now deceased, gave an informative presentation “Forgotten Burial Grounds” on 28 October 2006 in the Anderson-Price Memorial Building as part of the Discover Our History series sponsored by the Ormond Beach Historical Society.  Smith noted that Gethsemane, an African-American cemetery, includes the graves of a judge, war veterans, members of the Odd Fellow Lodge, and a mayor (but she didn’t mention the mayor’s community).

Smith, often known as “Dusty,” also said that vandals had done great damage to the cemetery, including breaking open a crypt on the south side and removing Sarah Bishop’s casket through which Smith could see rib bones and  a hip bone.

Wayne Grant wrote in Hometown News (29 Oct. 2009) that the cemetery encompasses two acres.  In that article, headlined “Old Cemetery Mostly a Mystery to Local Historians,” Suzanne Heddy, director of the Ormond Beach Historical Society, notes that the earliest tombstone is dated 1881.  Many of the grave markers were handmade from stone or concrete, many with hand lettering. A listing of many of those buried in Gethsemane is available online, thanks to Smith and others.

Doris Smith’s obituary cited her favorite quotation: One “can tell the morals of a culture by the way they treat their dead” (Benjamin Franklin).

The history of this cemetery deserves attention.  I invite you to add a comment with details or personal experiences about Gethsemane Cemetery.

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