Tales from the Crypt

He died of consumption. Sounds like a cause of death better suited to Europe during the Middle Ages. But Miami? Turns out H. Graham Branscomb, a 24-year-old Englishman (had to be!), became the first person to be officially buried at the Miami City Cemetery when he died as a result of consumption (AKA tuberculosis). The year was 1897, and poor Branscomb went six feet under shortly after William Brickell (as in Brickell Avenue) sold a ten-acre lot of land to the City of Miami to serve as its first cemetery. Even those ignorant of Miami’s past have to marvel at the history on display at the cemetery. The tombstones read like an anthology of the city’s pioneering days. Julia Tuttle, the “Mother of Miami,” is buried there, as is William Burdine, founder of the erstwhile department store, and John Sewell, the city’s third mayor. There’s also a fair amount of Miami’s African-American history on display, with Judge Lawson Thomas and Richard Toomey, the city’s first black judge and lawyer, respectively, resting there. The uniqueness of the cemetery is not confined to its dead, either. It has the only known oolitic limestone gravestone in existence and the unique distinction of requiring the owners of plots to hold deeds to the land. Despite its age, the cemetery still has about 1,000 plots open, with only ten to 20 burials a year. If you have a healthy interest in Miami’s dead or are just casing graves for your next necrophilic phase, hit up HistoryMiami’s Secrets of Miami City Cemetery tour this Saturday at 10 a.m. Guide Nathan Samuels will tell you all about the graveyard and burial customs.
Sat., April 30, 10 a.m., 2011


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