Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dozier School "Mystery Graves" were there in 1940

USDA Aerial Photographs Show “Controversial” Cemetery Existed Before World War II
by Dale Cox

The little cemetery near Dozier School that has been the subject of so much controversy of late actually existed for decades prior to the current allegations. In fact, aerial photographs taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture clearly show that the cemetery was part of the Marianna landscape as early as 1940.
Historical records indicate that most of the graves in the burial ground, which is located on the hill behind the Jackson County Correctional Complex, probably date from 1914 and 1918.
A deadly accidental fire took place at what was then the Florida Reform School in 1914, claiming the lives of six students and two staff members. A Jackson County Grand Jury report indicates that the fire was caused either by a faulty heater or spontaneous combustion from a nearby pile of oily rags. Regardless of the cause, however, it quickly spread through a dormitory at the school threatening the lives of everyone inside.
While more than fifty students were led to safety by staff members, five other students and two staff members were trapped by the flames. Grand Jury records indicate that a desperate effort was made to save them. Several staff members, including the facility’s superintendent, received severe burns in an unsuccessful effort to reach the unfortunate individuals. A sixth student died after he ran back into the building to try to save one of the staff members. A letter written in 1914 from the superintendent to the mother of one of the victims indicates that those who died in the fire were burned beyond recognition and were buried on the grounds.
A second tragedy at the school in 1918 claimed at least 13 more lives. According to U.S. health records, what is now Dozier School was severely impacted by the terrible influenza epidemic that year that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. A federal health inspector visited the Florida Reform School and found that hundreds of students and all of the staff members were severely ill with the flu. According to his report, one dozen students and one staff member had already died in the epidemic and many others were near death.
These two incidents alone count for the deaths of at least 21 people at the school prior to 1920, all of whom are believed to have been buried on the grounds. Records also verify the deaths of other individuals at the school over the years, from causes ranging from accidental drowning to the murder of a student by another student.
The fact that the little cemetery there existed during the early 1900s can be confirmed by aerial photographs taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A series of photographs taken through the 1940s show that the Dozier Cemetery then looked much as it does today. The initial photograph, taken in 1940, shows the cemetery on the hilltop where itcan still be seen. . Another, taken in 1960, shows the cemetery surrounded by trees as it is today.

While this new evidence does not prove or disprove the stories of abuse at the school, it does show that the little cemetery has been a part of the Jackson County landscape for nearly sixty years.

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