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South Tampa News

Book examines history of Tampa cemeteries

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 10:23 AM
TAMPA -

The city's first public burial ground opened in 1850, when Tampa had about 500 residents.

Oaklawn Cemetery still exists at the edge of downtown Tampa, and inside is a snapshot of the city's history. A former Florida governor is buried there, as are former Tampa mayors, shopkeepers, slaves and famous people such as Ybor City founder Vicente Ybor and gangster Charlie Wall.

"It's an amazing place, and you can really tell the story of Tampa just by looking at the headstones and seeing who's there," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center. "You can really see the evolution of the city."

A book released Monday captures the vibrant history of Oaklawn and other Tampa cemeteries.

Shelby Bender and Elizabeth Laramie Dunham authored "Tampa's Historic Cemeteries," a 128-page soft-cover book. Copies cost $21.99.

The book is the latest in Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series. Arcadia publishes books about the nation's local and regional histories, and has thousands of books in its catalog. Among the company's other local titles: "Ybor City," "MacDill Air Force Base," "Tampa: The Early Years" and "Vintage Tampa Signs and Scenes."

The new book includes about 200 vintage photographs.

Bender, a Plant City resident, previously has written three books about Plant City. She said she has a passion for genealogy and family history and that writing a book about Tampa's cemeteries was a natural fit.

Bender wanted to share knowledge about cemeteries because, "If we don't share it, it's going to get lost."

Kite-Powell said while reference books already index graves in the area, "Tampa's Historic Cemeteries" is the first of its kind.

"It's certainly important to have a book like that," he said. "A history book of cemeteries is great because it really is a different way to look at our city's past. And a lot of these places are forgotten."

Among the other cemeteries profiled within the book: Woodlawn, Myrtle Hill and Mary Help of Christians School.

Woodlawn opened in 1888 and is just north of downtown. Clara Frye, founder of the county's first black hospital, is buried there.

Myrtle Hill was founded in 1917 and is just north of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Mary Help of Christians' cemetery is in East Tampa.

Fred Hearns, who leads city tours that stop by Tampa cemeteries about twice a month, was excited to learn about the book. Readers, he said, will be exposed to city founders of all races and nationalities.

"History is made by people, and that's where the people are," Hearns said of cemeteries.

For more information about the book, visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.


jpoltilove@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7691
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