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3 possible graves located under Tropicana Field parking lots

A report from a contractor also identified “areas of interest” where other graves may be located.
This June 16, 2020, file photo shows parking lot 1 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
This June 16, 2020, file photo shows parking lot 1 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Aug. 6
Updated Aug. 7

ST. PETERSBURG — Three possible graves and “areas of interest” where other graves may be located have been identified by a contractor hired to scan land near Tropicana Field in search of lost gravesites, the city announced Friday.

The identified graves were found in parking lots 1 and 2 of the ballpark, at the southern boundary next to 5th Ave. S. and Interstate 275, Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office said in a news release. The area is the former site of Oaklawn Cemetery. Oaklawn housed both Black and white bodies in segregated sections.

Cardno, the Riverview company contracted to conduct ground-penetrating radar work at the site, presented its findings to Kriseman this week, the mayor’s office said. The company also provided a draft report to the city of St. Petersburg staff July 20.

Rebecca O’Sullivan, the senior archaeologist at Cardno, uses ground-penetrating radar to take an initial scan for unmarked graves under a section of land at a Tropicana Field parking lot on March 26.
Rebecca O’Sullivan, the senior archaeologist at Cardno, uses ground-penetrating radar to take an initial scan for unmarked graves under a section of land at a Tropicana Field parking lot on March 26. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

The remaining areas of interest include two adjacent cemeteries to the south: the Evergreen Cemetery, serving Black residents, and the Moffett Cemetery, a burial ground for people of all racial backgrounds.

When the city first paved parking lots 1 and 2 in 1990, residents raised concerns about caskets located in the area. At the time, city officials said they were confident that all graves had been exhumed, but they did not conduct a full archeological survey before building the lots.

As the city prepares to redevelop Tropicana Field in the coming years, some archeologists have called for further investigation into the possible presence of lost gravesites.

“If there is still a cemetery there, it needs to be recognized,” Lou Claudio, a 68-year-old avocational archeologist from Safety Harbor, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2020. “I am the type of person who wants to solve mysteries. I don’t like things like this to linger. We need answers.”

Upon learning of the findings Friday night, Claudio said he hopes the city will continue to work with Cardno and the community to determine the next steps, but he’s glad they went to the effort of investigating the reports of lost gravesites.

“I’m not surprised,” Claudio said. “It’s been a poorly kept secret.”

The University of South Florida’s Florida Public Archaeology Network also registered the property as a historic cemetery site with the state, bringing the area under state oversight. The city was unaware of the filing last summer, but said it knew about the possibility of graves still being there and pledged to hire a company to find out.

This overlay of a 1923 map onto a modern one shows the location of three of St. Petersburg's earliest cemeteries. Oaklawn Cemetery was located where Tropicana Field's parking lots 1 and 2 now sit. The other two, Evergreen Cemetery and the St. Petersburg Cemetery, also known as Moffett Cemetery, are under I-275. [ Courtesy of Florida Public Archaeology Network ]
This overlay of a 1923 map onto a modern one shows the location of three of St. Petersburg's earliest cemeteries. Oaklawn Cemetery was located where Tropicana Field's parking lots 1 and 2 now sit. The other two, Evergreen Cemetery and the St. Petersburg Cemetery, also known as Moffett Cemetery, are under I-275. [ Courtesy of Florida Public Archaeology Network ] [ Courtesy of Florida Public Archaeology Network ]
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Kriseman released a statement saying the city would work to honor those whose remains might be located at the site.

“While the number of potential graves discovered is small, it is not insignificant,” Kriseman said in the Friday news release. “Every person has value and no one should be forgotten. This process is of the utmost importance and we will continue to do right by these souls and all who loved them as we move forward.”

The mayor was unavailable for further comment until Monday, communications director Benjamin Kirby told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday evening.

Cardno currently is developing a proposal and cost estimate to further investigate its findings and determine the next steps. The city said it is planning to consult with descendants and other community stakeholders and groups.