Evergreen Cemetery Works To Mark Anonymous Infant Graves

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In a small, sunny plot at Evergreen Cemetery, rows of simple concrete cylinders mark the final resting place of hundreds of infants.

The cylinders bear no names or dates, leaving any details about the babies buried beneath them unknown. However, the cemetery is slowly working to honor and restore the memory of these infants’ short lives.

The Babyland Renewal Initiative is an effort by the Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville to replace the cylinders that line Babyland with personalized, engraved granite markers. The initiative was a main topic of discussion during the cemetery’s 160th anniversary ceremony on Sunday.

Evergreen Cemetery Association director Don Barber discusses the Babyland Renewal Initiative with attendees at the cemetery’s 160th anniversary ceremony. Barber and his wife Ann did months of research for the initiative. Photo by Ludovica Weaver.
Evergreen Cemetery Association director Don Barber discusses the Babyland Renewal Initiative with attendees at the cemetery’s 160th anniversary ceremony. Barber and his wife Ann did months of research for the initiative. Photo by Ludovica Weaver.

During a review of the cemetery’s history at the ceremony, Evergreen Cemetery Association historian and president Jimi Brown said that the area known as Babyland began during World War II with three sections set aside for infant burials. In those sections, families could bury their children without having to purchase a whole funeral plot.

Between 1939 and 1960, 211 babies were buried in Babyland, and 165 of these graves had no officially marked headstone. Since the renewal initiative began about a year ago, 19 cylinders have been replaced with engraved markers.  One-hundred forty-six buried infants still remain anonymous.

According to Brown, funds for the remaining markers are still being raised via donations from the community. Each marker costs about $50.

During his talk, Brown addressed the importance of Babyland, in relation to the history of the cemetery, noting that the first burial at Evergreen was the 10-day-old infant daughter of James T. Thomas, the cemetery’s founder.

“Our cemetery began with a baby,” Brown said. “We want to have markers for these babies so they are not forgotten.”

New engraved granite headstones mark the graves of infants in Evergreen Cemetery’s Babyland area. The granite markers will replace the plain concrete cylinders that are currently at the site. Photo by Sarah Chrisien.
New engraved granite headstones mark the graves of infants in Evergreen Cemetery’s Babyland area. The granite markers will replace the plain concrete cylinders that are currently at the site. Photo by Sarah Chrisien.

Evergreen Cemetery Association director Don Barber said he spent months reviewing extensive cemetery records with his wife Ann to uncover the names and birth and death dates of the infants in Babyland.

Barber, a self-described genealogy buff, said he and his wife became involved with the initiative shortly after they moved to Gainesville, and said he was affected by the bareness of the original cylinder grave markers.

“To just have a concrete cylinder for these graves was a little demeaning,” Barber said.

According to Barber, the idea for the renewal initiative came up at a monthly meeting of the cemetery association.

In addition to the new grave markers, the initiative will provide the Babyland plot with a new statue engraved with a poem by Margaret C. Myers.

In April, there will be a formal dedication ceremony at the site for both the statue and the newly marked graves.

During an address at the anniversary ceremony, city of Gainesville cultural affairs manager Russell Etling described the importance behind the cemetery association’s preservation of the history of Evergreen.

“Cemeteries are places of love and community and our ties with the past,” Etling said.

About Sarah Chrisien

Sarah is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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