Boneyard Ramble

Crushed in a garbage truck, poisoned by a landlady, crapped out-literally--during a dice game. These and more are buried in this county's cemetaries, and come Halloween night, they'll be dying to get out

Eggs, milk, sardines, and peppers - the totality of his diet for the last years of his life - finally caught up with Edward Leedskalnin. Dade's most productive and best-known eccentric is laid to rest in section B, lot 1886, grave 5, just south of the east mausoleum, 50 yards from the Palmetto Expressway, beneath a live oak tree and a new granite marker donated five months ago by some of his fans. "Born in Latvia. Creator of Coral Castle," reads the marker, embellished with bas-relief orchid blossoms.

Leedskalnin died from malnutrition on Pearl Harbor Day 1951, after having spent his life experimenting with magnetism, writing bizarre essays about politics and morality, and quarrying 1000 tons of rock to build his Coral Castle at the intersection of U.S. 1 and SW 286th Street. How Leedskalnin, a skinny, five-foot-tall recluse who worked alone and at night, accomplished this engineering feat is a bona fide mystery. His motivation is only slightly less murky. Legend has it that before leaving Latvia for the United States in 1918, Leedskalnin was jilted by his sixteen-year-old fiancee, Agnes Scuffs. The teen-age betrayal led him to an obsession with sexual purity, which helps explain his superhuman energy and determination. "A girl is to a fellow the best thing in this world, but to have the best one second hand, it is humiliating," he wrote in his essay "Ed's Sweet Sixteen."

Leedskalnin may or may not be rolling over in his grave. His former home is now a privately owned national historical site that yanks $7.25 apiece from thousands of tourists each year, and conducts a "psychic fair" the fourth Saturday of every month. So far Leedskalnin's ghost hasn't put in an appearance at the fair, staffers say. Back-from-the-dead potential: Extremely high. Leedskalnin said he could do anything he set his mind to, and he hated being underestimated. Plus, he may now regret having died a virgin.

Don't leave Miami Memorial without asking for the date and time of the next party. Gypsy tradition calls for a lively relationship with the dead, and caretakers say there are more Gypsies buried here than anywhere else in Dade. "They believe you should talk to the dead," a cemetery worker says. "The last time they had a cookout here, they came by the office to invite me. This woman said, `My husband wants you to eat lobster with us.' They have a party and they dance and sing. They drink like crazy. That's the only time this job is really fun."

Pinelawn Memorial Park (formerly Paradise Memorial Gardens), 13900 SW 117th Ave., Richmond Heights, just north of Metrozoo

It was the sort of police sting operation that might have caused a riot in Miami today. In 1956, though, it was more like business as usual. "The killing by a deputy sheriff of a Negro who reduced a White woman to a state of hysteria by daily telephone threats was ruled justifiable homicide today," the Miami News reported. The woman, whose name was never revealed, had been receiving naughty phone calls from a mystery man. Finally the caller requested a face-to-face meeting. The woman drove to a lonely spot in Richmond Heights, with officer Bruce Berry hiding in the back seat of her car. Robert Lee Manuel drove past and blinked his lights. A few minutes later he was dead, brought down by a double blast from Berry's shotgun. The officer later said Manuel tried to flee, then jumped out of his car and charged. There were no other witnesses. Back-from-the-dead potential: High. Manuel never got to tell his side of the story. And he never got to see the child his wife was carrying at the time of his death.

Pinelawn's 22 acres were fairly peaceful until the state department of transportation constructed Florida's Turnpike on its western edge. Now the noise of the traffic is loud enough to wake the dead. Ownership has changed hands twice in recent years. The latest proprietor, the aptly named Osiris Holding Co. of Philadelphia, hopes to spruce up Pinelawn and diversify the ethnicity of the dead buried here. Until lately the population has been, like the subdivision the graveyard served since the 1940s, mostly black. "We are going to invest a lot of money down here," says cemetery manager Juan Ramos. "It has been neglected for a long time."

A year after the six-lane freeway was finished, John Lee West moved into Pinelawn. On the afternoon of July 25, 1975, West and two other Metro garbage men arrived at the last house on Northwest 97th Street. The driver stopped the truck, and West and another man jumped off. All at once a snarling Great Dane appeared from behind the house. The guard dog's temper was not improved when West's partner hit it in the head with a trash can. West, who was petrified of dogs, jumped onto the slime-covered lip of the garbage truck, lost his balance, and fell into the trash bin. An emergency shutoff switch apparently failed, investigators later said, and while his fellow workers watched aghast, the compacting mechanism crushed West to death. Back-from-the-dead potential: High. You know those split-second decisions you make that you wish you had a chance to make over again?

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