Manatee Burying Ground
Despite its name, the Manatee Burying Ground in Bradenton, Florida is, unfortunately, not a place to bury actual manatees. But it is one of the oldest organized burying grounds on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and it's located just a few minutes from where we were staying (David's parents' house) on our recent trip. Deeded in 1850, the property is owned by the city of Bradenton (located in Manatee County) and since 1849, only immediate family members of those already buried in the cemetery can be interred here.
We drove past this cemetery and lured by its intriguing arched metal entrance gate, I gently suggested that we turn around and check it out. It's surrounded by a fence and the main gate was locked. Just as we were considering a little bit of light trespassing / fence-hopping, we noticed that a side gate that had appeared locked was actually open. Unsurprisingly, due to its strict familial restrictions, the cemetery only contains 94 identifiable graves. The last interment was in 1967, a granddaughter of the cemetery founders, Josiah and Mary Gates.
Notable interments here include 11 Confederate soldiers, three Union Army veterans, a private who served in the Seminole War and three members of the Florida Succession Convention. During weekends in October, the cemetery hosts an event called "Spirit Voices from Old Manatee," a torchlight tour with actors portraying some of Manatee's permanent residents.
Although I know geographically it is, I don't really think of Florida as the "South"—but this small cemetery reminded me a lot of other cemeteries I've explored in Savannah, Charleston and New Orleans. The Spanish moss was draped over stones and gates like someone was dressing a set for "haunted southern cemetery." The Manatee Burying Ground was a lovely accidental discovery and the perfect cemetery to explore—small enough to not be overwhelming, but with a diverse and historic collection of old tombstones and monuments.
"How strange it seems / with so much gone of life and love / to still live on."
The Manatee Burying Ground
15th St And 6th Ave E
Bradenton, FL 34205
Visit Manatee Village Historical Park to borrow the key to the cemetery between 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the second and fourth Saturdays of each month (or just check to see if the side gate is open, like we did).