Sunday, December 17, 2017
Opinion

Column: Hernando, it's where we live and die

With all the current talk of expanding tourism in Hernando County, people should consider some of the off-the-beaten path things to do here.

For instance, I've just finished reading an interesting book about where we live. Hernando Epitaphs: Cemeteries and Memorials of Hernando County Florida, published by the Hernando County Historical Museum Association, is a guidepost to the oldest grave sites throughout the county. They are often found next to a family home, close to a family church or even the newest burial places in well-kept cemeteries with perpetual care.

From the lowliest citizen with modest little stones to the mausoleums to memorialize community leaders, all who have lived and died in Hernando County are remembered. Even if you are not looking for the final resting place of a long-gone relative, you will find stones with elaborate carvings, almost erased by years of wind and rain, endearing epitaphs and still others which have become a permanent marker of the county's history.

Museum volunteers Linda Welker and Jan Kalnbach spent many hours researching the many cemeteries that dot the countryside, and have compiled maps to direct the curious to these locations. Some are open to the public and others require to enter the private property.

Each location adds a new piece of history, insights into tragedy and love which endures the ages. And, don't forget the humor, as attested to by this gravestone carving:

"Pause stranger when

"You pass me by

"As I am now,

"You soon will be

"So prepare for death

"And follow me.

"To follow you

"I'm not content

"Until I know

"Which way you went."

In the past, stones have been stolen from various cemeteries, including Bayport Cemetery, which is one of the oldest in the county. Eventually they were found in pawn shops. Twelve of the stolen markers are now on display in the garden of the May-Stringer Museum in Brooksville.

Among the local churches that contain graves are Forest Oaks Lutheran, Nativity Lutheran, St. Andrews Episcopal, Community Baptist, Lake Lindsay United Methodist, and St. Stanislaus Catholic Church. Among the most active current cemeteries are Brooksville Cemetery, Masaryktown Cemetery and Florida Hills Memorial Cemetery. For the adventuresome, there are hidden graveyards in Withlacoochee State Forest. The book lists individuals available to answer questions about the final resting places in the county.

Even mysteries abound. Jack Eckard, founder of the drug store chain and the college that bears his name, founded Camp E-How-Kee on Culbreath Road in central Hernando as an outdoor therapeutic program for at-risk boys. There are rumors Eckard may be buried on the property, but the camp public relations manager denies the story.

The first white settler in the county, William Eston Hope, is buried in the family cemetery on Pennbrook Road off Hope Hill Road. Former Philadelphia Eagles football player Jerome Brown is buried at Fort Taylor Cemetery on Culbreath Road south of Hayman Road. The first known burial in Brooksville Cemetery of a white settler is of Charlotte Wynn Pyles. A full description of the incident is on a Florida Heritage Site marker.

This is just a brief description of the many grave sites listed in the book. Welker and Kalnbach did an excellent job researching the cemeteries and wrote in an easy-to-read style to help residents learn more about Hernando County. Copies are available through the Hernando County Historical Museum Association. Proceeds fund the activities of the association.

And why should we want to do that? Hernando County is not just a blur outside our car windows as we rush through our journey of life. It is where we live and it is a part of who we are. Tourists invited.

Jerry Cowling is a free-lance writer and storyteller living in Brooksville.

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