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Buried as paupers then forgotten, their resting place became King High

These 14 brief profiles come from death records and newspaper archives that identify people buried at Tampa’s old Ridgewood Cemetery.
Members of a special Ridgewood Cemetery committee learned Wednesday that graves had been detected beneath King High School in Tampa. Tammy Shamburger, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County School Board, addresses fellow committee members at the meeting.
Members of a special Ridgewood Cemetery committee learned Wednesday that graves had been detected beneath King High School in Tampa. Tammy Shamburger, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County School Board, addresses fellow committee members at the meeting. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Nov. 25, 2019|Updated Jan. 13, 2020

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District on Wednesday announced that 145 graves had been found beneath largely vacant land on a corner of the King High School campus.

Ground penetrating radar detected images of caskets buried three to five feet deep. When the shock subsided, the questions began: How did this happen? Who are the people whose graves were forgotten?

The first question remains unanswered; a tip to the school district about a place called Ridgewood Cemetery led to the search. But the Tampa Bay Times sifted through death records and archives from the Tampa Tribune and came up information on 14 people said to have been buried at Ridgewood.

RELATED: Radar finds 145 graves buried beneath King High School in Tampa

Records indicate that there were 250 to 268 burials at Ridgewood. Nearly all were African-American.

This is the second time in less than three months that a forgotten black cemetery has been found in the Tampa Bay area. In August, in reaction to a Times report, archaeologists went looking for and then found nearly 130 caskets from the segregation-era Zion Cemetery under a portion of the Robles Park Village housing projects in Tampa.

Here are brief profiles of the 14 people said to have been buried at Ridgewood.

James Tuten Bell: The Jacksonville resident died on the corner of Franklin Street on August 22, 1942. The cause of death was unknown. He was 65.

William Coleman: A driver for Jiffy Cab company, he died June 21, 1942 at 84.

Eli Dotson: On Oct. 16, 1951, he lost both feet when he fell asleep on a railroad track in downtown Tampa and a switch engine ran over him. He died Nov. 9, 1951, at 90.

Eddie Gross: The 25-year-old Seaboard Air Lines Railroad employee living on Seddon Island - now Harbour Island - accidentally drowned when he fell into the channel while fishing on April 13, 1947.

Willie Jones: The 41-year-old was shot to death by Ben Riley on May 23, 1948.

Alex Maddox: He was billed a hero by the press July 26, 1946, when, while on duty as the night watchman for Tampa Linen Supply, he scared off two would be burglars. He died Sept. 28, 1949. Records do not indicate his age.

RELATED: See how the story of lost cemeteries has unfolded in the Tampa Bay Times.

RELATED: What we know about those buried at Tampa’s forgotten Zion Cemetery.

Lucious Mahoney: In May 1949, the Seffner man was accused of burning down the Lake Thonotosassa First Baptist Church where he was once a minister. But the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence. He died March 17, 1952, at 59.

James Robinson: Age 20, with an address of 2005 N Boulevard in Tampa, he was killed when he was struck with a piece of a concrete block during a dispute at Constant and Highland avenues. The dispute was May 15, 1948. He died a day later. Second-degree murder charges against Clarence Duncan of 2003 Highland Ave. were dropped when an investigation determined that Duncan acted in self-defense.

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Ben Sadler: On Nov. 19, 1928, the newspaper described him as a man “with a wealth of bushy gray hair and a gray beard who would have looked more at home in a Turkish minaret at sundown than in a police court.” He had been charged with “being drunk.” He died Sept. 12, 1943, at 80.

Josephine Sanders: The newspaper wrote that she was arrested in March 1931 for being “about the most persistent violator of the prohibition law” in the area. “Josephine ran a little joint just outside the city limits of Ocala ... The government has been trying to get her ever since 1925, but until this week she was scarcely nicked.” She died May 9, 1942, at 56.

Stanley Stokes: He was stabbed to death by his wife, Alice Stokes. He died May 15, 1942, at 32.

Charlie Thurston: He was killed by a northbound Atlantic Coastline train on April 27, 1942, as he pushed his car across the tracks at Sixth Avenue and 15th Street in Tampa, “apparently oblivious of the train,” according to the newspaper

Joe Walker: He lived at 1109 Highland Ave. in Tampa and was found floating in the Hillsborough River near the Cass Street Bridge on July 6, 1950. His landlady reported to police that he was last seen drunkenly wandering off wearing only undershorts and a blue denim jacket. He was 66.

Perry Williams: He had been missing for about a week when police found him dead and floating in the Hillsborough River near Garcia Ave. on Aug. 14, 1949. He lived at 3218 33rd Ave. in Tampa. He was 60 on the day of his death, officially listed as Aug. 9, 1949.

An overlay map shows the location of forgotten Ridgewood Cemetery at the King High School campus. The red outline indicates the boundary of the cemetery and the pink boxes are graves.
An overlay map shows the location of forgotten Ridgewood Cemetery at the King High School campus. The red outline indicates the boundary of the cemetery and the pink boxes are graves. [ Courtesy of GeoView ]
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