Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Victorian Cemetery Design

A few days ago, yours truly mentioned a fellow named Samuel A. Robinson, whose name should be heralded by all local graveyard rabbits.

It was Mr. Robinson who came up with the original design for Orlando's beautiful municipal graveyard: Greenwood Cemetery.

Here is a basic map of the modern cemetery's layout, but it has been expanded and modified significantly since Mr. Robinson first took pen to paper back in the 1880s. In his day, rabbits entered from Gore Street, on the south (see the red dot between sections J and G). That is why most of the earliest burials here are clustered from that point to sections A and H.

Unlike modern planners who seem more interested in utility and aesthetics, Robinson was a true Victorian. His three purposes were pragmatism, amenity, and morality.

By pragmatism, I mean his primary intent was to provide the city with a sanitary means of handling human remains. Imagine how important a concern that was in his day, especially given Florida's subtropical climate.

By amenity, I mean he also wanted to create a space that would be as inviting as a city park. He intended the grounds to be used for more than just funerals, and expected his design would to welcome both individual citizens seeking a refuge from the bustling urban center as well sizeable civic gatherings on important dates.

By morality, I mean Robinson expected visitors to receive important messages about mercy, virtue, and patriotism . . . and from the other side of the coin: vice and selfishness, too. A section was mercifully set aside for the indigent. The virtue of the family unit was reinforced with multigenerational plots. The patriotic values of the city founders are reflected by the placement of all the veteran sections at the front, where they could be clearly seen by those traveling along Gore Street. (Confederate veterans in section J, Union veterans in section I, and later Spanish American War veterans in section W.) Vices would be decried in the monuments that sprouted up when the grounds were opened. But, there would be none of the selfish old iron fences surrounding individual plots and interrupting what was intended to be a broad, open, and tangible moral lesson.

Robinson's intentions are all but lost on modern visitors to Greenwood, who enter thru the new gate on the west side of the property . . . especially since most turn north after passing the cemetery office and head toward the more active sections that crowd up against Anderson Street and the new "urban wetlands."

But, now, at least ye rabbits know a lot of thought was put into designing this little corner of heaven, and the heavy thinking was done by Sam Robinson!

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