USF Team May Have Found Dozier School's 'White Cemetery' Site
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Researchers at the University of South Florida have their sights set on excavating what they say might be the location of the long-rumored “white cemetery” at Marianna's infamous Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, and one of them says that might just be the tip of the iceberg.
“We thought this was private property,” Dr. E. Christian Wells, one of the archaeologists leading the ongoing excavations, tells Sunshine State News, of a square-shaped strip of land that lies just north of the school's Boot Hill cemetery. “But now that we know it's state property ... it's an area of interest for us.”
But “[t]here have been several reports of graves witnessed to the north of the Boot Hill cemetery as reported by former students of the school and families of the deceased, who were shown graves in multiple locations by staff of the school in the 1980s,” Wells wrote in a July 8 letter to Mary Glowacki, the state archaeologist, as part of an application seeking a permit to excavate whatever bodies his team might come across.
“The area ... approximately one half mile north [of Boot Hill] was unknown to the USF research team until several weeks ago,” the letter continues. “It is therefore quite possible that the graves that were reported north of the Boot Hill cemetery were located in this northern area and, in order to determine such, that area should be cleared of underbrush and thoroughly searched[.]”
That area is nearly a mile northeast of the site where three former inmates of the reform school have previously told SSN they saw grave markers when they were incarcerated in the 1960s. Yet another survivor-witness situates the "white cemetery" almost 2,000 feet away, in an area now occupied by some sort of parking lot with a covered carport.
Wells says his team may well be searching for more than one additional burial site.
“Historically, if you look at other state institutions, in Florida and in adjacent states, there are often segregated cemeteries – two cemeteries,” he explains to SSN. “That said, based on our historical and archival research, we would not be surprised if there were additional burial areas; by which I mean, where some bodies were buried indiscriminately, but not in a formal cemetery setting.”
(The four survivors who have shared their stories with SSN have said the burial grounds they witnessed were marked with several white crosses and appeared to be formal cemeteries.)
Though it's still too early to say for certain, Wells does expect his team to turn up more bodies eventually.
“Ever since we started the work up at Dozier, the people that we've collaborated with have always said that there is a second cemetery somewhere on the property,” he explains. “We've talked to about 30 to 40 people, and each one points in a different direction. ... There may be more burial areas, but we anticipate finding two formal cemeteries.”
USF's researchers have already verified the deaths of two adult Dozier staff members and 96 children inmates between 1914 and 1973. The school which was opened in 1900, finally shut down in 2011 after decades of reported allegations by inmates who claimed to have suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of staffers and other students.
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at 954-235-9116.