Thursday, October 24, 2013

Death at Dozier School (Part One: 1900-1913)

Memorial Crosses at Boot Hill Cemetery
Dozier School for Boys - Marianna, Florida
Note:  What follows is the first installment in a series I plan to post on the history of deaths and probable burials at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.To check for additional posts in this series, please check back regularly at

Death at Dozier School
A History of “Boot Hill Cemetery” at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida

by Dale Cox

Dozier School for Boys, originally known as the State Reform School, was a facility for juvenile offenders that operated for more than 100 years in Marianna, Florida. During the course of that long history, a number of students and employees of the school died from a variety of causes. Many were buried in the school cemetery, which is known locally and by former students and staff members alike as “Boot Hill.”

The cemetery is now the focus of a controversial research project by Dr. Erin Kimmerle and a team from the University of South Florida (USF). They are exhuming graves from the cemetery, which has been a known part of the local landscape for some 100 years.

Groups of former students claim that murder of juvenile offenders by staff members was common at the facility, even though no documentation or evidence has surfaced thus far.  The matter was investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which determined there were no grounds for criminal charges against former employees of the school and that the graves in the cemetery should not be exhumed.

The three-member Florida Cabinet subsequently overruled FDLE, the circuit judge of the 14th Judicial Circuit, the State Archaeologist and the Secretary of State and authorized USF to begin a project to exhume the graves. That project is underway at this time.

The purpose of this series is to present a documented history of known deaths at the school, with a focus on probable burials in the school cemetery.


The earliest known deaths at what would become Dozier School for Boys were not included in “Documentation of the Boot Hill Cemetery”, the interim report prepared in 2012 by Dr. Erin Kimmerle and other researchers from the University of South Florida (USF).[1]  

According to an October 1906 article written for the Marianna Times-Courier by Frank McDonald, two deaths took place at what was then the State Reform School during its first six years of operation:

The inmates are rosy-cheeked and robust, and their health is and has been excellent. There have been but two deaths since the institution was started, and of these one came to the school with organic disease of the heart, while the other was recaptured escape, who succumbed, notwithstanding the best of care and medical attention, from the inroads of long exposure at an inclement season.[2]

The identities of the students were not included in McDonald’s article, in which he noted that the population at the school then consisted of 39 boys and 4 girls. In the six years that had passed since the opening of the reform school, he reported, 171 juveniles had been received there and 128 discharged. Several of those discharged were escapees who were recaptured and sent on to other correctional facilities.[3]

The earliest records of the school were destroyed when the dormitory that also contained the superintendent’s office was destroyed by fire in 1914, so nothing else is known at this time about the two student deaths mentioned by McDonald. It is not known whether they were buried at the school or returned home for burial.[4]

USF researchers evidently did not locate this article while preparing their interim report for the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

Dr. Kimmerle, the head of the university’s research team, was invited by State Archaeologist Mary Glowacki to attend a meeting in Marianna on April 15, 2013, the purpose of which was to discuss concerns over the nature of the research at the Dozier School Cemetery and to improve communication so documentation could be presented to the USF team. Although Dr. Glowacki attended the meeting, as did I and Julia C. Byrd of the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, Dr. Kimmerle did not show, indicating that she was having lunch with her team members instead.[5]

Ms. Byrd subsequently requested that I continue to maintain an open stance with regard to sharing information with Dr. Kimmerle and her team. I notified her on April 16, 2013, that I was open to doing so. In the six months that followed, I received no contact from them and my only attempt to contact the school was referred to USF’s legal team.[6]

Believing that all information regarding deaths and potential burials at the school should be of significance to a team researching deaths and potential burials at the school, I sent the article quoted above to Gerard Solis, of the Office of General Counsel for USF. He has been cordial in his communications with me and informed me by email on September 24, 2013 that he had forwarded my email to Dr. Kimmerle.[7] 

The next known deaths at the State Reform School took place in 1914, but it is certainly possible that others occurred between October 1906, the date of the article quoted above, and November 1914, the date of the fatal fire that destroyed a dormitory and the school’s records. Future research in newspaper archives may reveal information on additional deaths that may have taken place in this 8 year time period.

The next installment in this series details the facts of the deadly fire that took place at the school in 1914. To continue to it, please visitDeath at Dozier School (Part Two: The 1914 Fire).

[1] Kimmerle EH, Estabrook R, Wells EC, Jackson AT. 2012. Documentation of the Boot Hill Cemetery (8JA1860) at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, Interim Report, Division of Historical Resources, Permit No. 1112.032, December 10, 2012.
[2] McDonald, Frank, “History and Progress of State Reform School,” Marianna Times-Courier, October 1906, reprinted in The Pensacola Journal, October 24, 1906, p. 4.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Ten Lives Lost when Florida Reform School Burns at Marianna,” Tampa Tribune, November 19, 1914, p. 1.
[5] Julia C. Byrd, Bureau of Archaeological Research, to Dale Cox, April 12, 2013; Dale Cox to Julia C. Byrd, Bureau of Archaeological Research, April 15, 2013; Julia C. Byrd, Bureau of Archaeological Research, April 16, 2013; Mary Glowacki, State Archaeologist, to Dale Cox, April 16, 2013.
[6] Julia C. Byrd, Bureau of Archaeological Research to Dale Cox, April 16, 2013; Dale Cox to Mary Glowacki, State Archaeologist, April 16, 2013.
[7] Dale Cox to Gerard D. Solis, Office of General Counsel (USF), September 22, 2013; Gerard D. Solis, Office of General Counsel (USF), to Dale Cox, September 24, 2013.

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