The Angel & McDonald’s
Every time I go to Sam’s Club, I am aware that right next door is a cemetery. Mt. Pleasant Cemetary, one of Gainesville’s oldest, is on a hill, at what may be the highest point along 13th Street. According to the historic marker at the front, it was established in 1883 by the Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church as a cemetery for African Americans. In a strange feat of planning, somehow a commercial corridor has been allowed to grow around it. I am not terribly sentimental about my own death, but I do find it jarring that this historic cemetery has been crowded by the desires of the living.
There is a homegrown quality to the cemetery itself, with irregular grave spacing, and an assortment of markers. Family plots have been marked off, apparently by the families themselves, in any manner of ways. Many of these have begun to decay, attesting to their homemade nature.
Oftentimes older cemeteries are full of ornate markers and memorials, but there are few of them in this graveyard. By far the most prominent memorial is this angel, in her simple beauty, although, when viewed head on, the bright red and yellow of McDonalds vie for attention.
The vast majority of headstones are simple, with names and dates carved into stone and little else. As I looked around, I noticed that many of the ones in poor shape were not that old, they had just been carved from softer stone. Many were almost illegible, but would have dates as late as the 1990s that could be barely made out.
Always, there are stories in cemetery, which may be more or less clear to the observer. Young children, babies, make for sad stories that are obvious to anyone who can read the dates. But what of the child angel on this grave of 31-year-old woman? Who set it there and why? Was she childlike? Or did she have a child, maybe even one who died before her?
And what of the crudely carved stone below? The headstone itself is made of the same material as many others, but the carving was clearly not expertly done.
Then there are the stones with the Star of David carved into them. This cemetery was built and maintained by the Methodist church, but it was built for all African Americans within the community. Did the Jewish cemetery at the other end of town reject them? Or were their families more aligned with the community than with the congregation?
These two headstones were side by side, laid on the ground, although they appear to have once stood upright. Each with the carving of a hand and a chain, but the hand is not bound by the chain. One of them has a date of death of 1885, the other a date of birth of 1827, which could well indicate that they were born in slavery, but died free.
Toward the back of the cemetery, a large fenced off area has been left to go to weed and wilderness. Is this another family plot? Some of the graves are quite recent, even one or two from the 2000s, but to look at it, one would think it had been abandoned for decades, if not centuries. Even here, though, there were signs of care, such as recently placed flowers on certain graves. Picking my way through the weeds, I found this broken headstone, pieced together and placed upon the ground. What happened to break it and why was it placed so carefully but not replaced?
No explanation accompanies this sign, which marks off a section of the burial grounds. Were there originally two cemeteries so close to each other that have now become one? Why would the historic marker call this Mt. Pleasant if the original name was Grass Lawn? Why the discrepancy in dates?