One UCF senior spent this semester looking as much at the past as she did looking toward the future.
History major Katherine Bowers interned with the Volusia County Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture to help document rural cemeteries as part of a five-year county plan to preserve the sites and boost public interest in their historical value.
“Working with cemeteries is such a unique focus. At first it may seem dark and even morbid, but I find it to be a celebration of life and memory more than anything else,” said Bowers. “I have always loved the discoveries that can be made at a cemetery, whether it is discovering local legends buried there or working to piece together a cause for numerous deaths in a specific year.”
The student said her internship was to help supplement a state historic-preservation master file for historians, archeologists and, in some cases, builders who need to know that there are human remains on some sites that have been overgrown and often overlooked through the years. She summed up her work at the recent student Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence.
Bowers said she became interested in the preservation of historic cemeteries while taking a public history class taught last year by Anne Lindsay, an assistant history professor.
“Having the opportunity to glimpse into the history of Volusia County and Florida in general is absolutely fascinating, and being able to research founders such as Henry DeLand [founder of the city] or George Colby [founder of Cassadaga] allows for such a unique peek into what life in Florida was like, especially at a time when it was mainly a frontier,” Bowers said.
Some of the historic cemeteries she researched are in towns, such as the maintained Hollywood Cemetery with its segregation-era Lincoln Cemetery section in Orange City, while other burial sites are almost lost deep in woods, such as the Saints and Sinners Cemetery near Oak Hill.
The student said she also is fascinated by headstone iconography of various images such as handshakes, flags, Woodsmen of the World, and the scripted word “love.”
Bowers said she hopes the research she’s gathered through her internship helps communities become re-invested in preserving the historic cemeteries.
The decaying of headstones and the information contained on them “is a preservationist’s nightmare” and something she’s trying to help minimize, she said.
“I’m always saddened when I see eroded, broken or just decrepit headstones, obelisks and markers, for that item once held a small peek into the history of whoever is interred there,” she said. “It was a glimpse into their life and it has become lost to time now.”
Bowers said she was glad to have the chance to pursue the Volusia internship after having another internship at the Smithsonian last Christmas.
“It has been very insightful participating in two varied positions in public history,” she said. Next on the horizon is another internship in Winter Garden and then applying for graduate school.
Katherine Bowers’ blog on the completed project can be found at: http://perseveranceinpreservation.blogspot.com/.