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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 1 year ago

Ormond Beach Historical Society to host first Gethsemane Cemetery tour

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With close to 200 graves, descendants of those buried at Gethsemane will finally get the chance to tell some of the African American history in Ormond Beach.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

For the first time ever, Ormond Beach residents will be able to hear the tales stored away in Gethsemane Cemetery, one of Ormond Beach oldest resting places for African Americans. 

The Ormond Beach Historical Society has spent the last year identifying the almost 200 graves and searching for descendants still alive today to make the first Gethsemane cemetery tour come to fruition. On Saturday, Feb. 1, the public will finally get an opportunity to see the Historical Society's efforts pay off. 

“This has been an education for us, and for some other members of the community," said Erlene Turner, Historical Society board member and chair of the education committee.

Seven descendants will be sharing stories of their ancestors during the tour. Attendees will be able to hear about the Rose family, who have many members buried in Gethsemane. They'll also hear about people like Mabel Baker, who was once a parade marshal for the city of Ormond Beach on her 100th birthday. The cemetery is also home to veterans.

Turner, like many, had seen the cemetery in the 100 block of S. Orchard Street while passing through. But it wasn't until she became involved with the Historical Society that she was drawn in.

“Had I not been in the society, I probably wouldn’t have taken the interest as well, even though we’ve seen [the cemetery] many, many times," Turner said.

This event is milestone for the Historical Society. Diana Simmons, past president of the Historical Society, said they have been working for the past several years on highlighting more of the city's African American history.

“Without the African American story, we don’t have the whole story of Ormond," Simmons said.

History is about stories, she said, and the Historical Society loves cemeteries because of that reason: They tell the stories of the past.

While the Historical Society currently hosts two other cemetery tours in Pilgrim's Rest and Hillside Cemetery, this one is unusual in the fact that those telling the stories are not simple re-enactors — they're descendants. 

Some of the 200 buried at Gethsemane probably would have been employed at the Ormond Hotel as well, she added. The cemetery closed in 1974, and African Americans were then buried at Oakridge Cemetery. 

“We need to be educated on our history so that we can move forward,"  Turner said. "I think all places should know their history and expand on it.”

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