A tour of historic Evergreen Cemetery
Evergreen Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Jacksonville that's still in operation, and one of the city's great historic spaces. Join The Jaxson for a look at the cemetery's history and the graves of those buried there.
St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery
The Catholic Mausoleum
The Pieta statue and crematory niches.
In 1881, the Evergreen Cemetery Association carved a portion of the land they had assembled for the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine to create St. Mary’s Cemetery. This was the first of several areas carved out for different groups. Several of these, including St. Mary’s Cemetery, initially operated separately from the main Evergreen Cemetery; even today, the St. Mary’s section and its roads are comparatively separate from the adjacent sections. In 1976, Evergreen Cemetery purchased St. Mary’s Cemetery and took over its operation; it remains restricted for Catholic burials.
One striking feature of St. Mary’s is the Catholic Mausoleum. It features interment vaults, space for cremated remains, a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, and markers for the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Leo Juro and the Bataan Death March Monument
U.S. Army Sergeant Leo Juro (May 30, 1917 – August 3, 2004) was serving in the Philippines in 1941 when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II. The next year he was one of 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers left behind when the U.S. withdrew from the Bataan Peninsula. He survived the Bataan Death March, in which the Japanese Army forced captives to march 65 miles to prisoner of war camps in one of the war’s most notorious crimes. He then survived years in Japanese camps where captives were subject to torture and interrogation. Through it all, Juro credited his survival to his strong Catholic faith.
After being liberated, Juro married Marie Rahaim and they settled in Jacksonville. Following Juro’s death, the family erected this monument to Juro and fellow victims of the Bataan Death March here in the St. Mary’s section of Evergreen Cemetery. Juro’s grave is actually located in the family plot across the street.
Rocco Morabito (November 2, 1920 – April 5, 2009) was a news photographer who worked the Jacksonville Journal for 42 years. In 1968 he captured his most famous image, “The Kiss of Life,” when he came across a scene in which JEA lineman Randall G. Champion was knocked unconscious high up a utility pole after contacting a live wire. Morabito called for help and captured a striking image of Champion dangling upside down while receiving mouth to mouth resuscitation from fellow lineman J.D. Thompson. The haunting, timeless photograph earned Morabito the Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor.
Mount Olive Cemetery
Mount Olive Cemetery was originally carved out as a separate cemetery for African Americans. This was founders’ method of fulfilling their mission to create a necropolis available everyone in the era when African Americans and whites could not be buried together. Like the Catholic and Jewish sections, Mount Olive was eventually reintegrated into Evergreen Cemetery. Being part of Evergreen Cemetery has allowed the historical Mount Olive Cemetery avoid the fate of other African-American cemeteries on the Northside, which frequently became dilapidated and in some cases were paved over for buildings.
This section’s graves can be distinguished from much of the rest of the cemetery by their modesty; headstones are relatively small and simple. In fact, many of the graves no longer have headstones, as the original wooden ones have rotted away with time. Nonetheless, Mount Olive is just as rich in history as any other part of Evergreen. Among many others, graves for members of the U.S. Colored Troops who helped carry the Union to victory in the Civil War can be found here.
Amelia Isaac and Louis Garrett, survivors of the Titanic
Grave of Amelia Garret Isaac, born Jamilah Yarred.
Siblings Jamilah (died March 8, 1970) and Elias Yarred (died May 31, 1981) were average people with incredible stories: they survived the Titanic in 1912. It’s not clear when they were born; both children later claimed April 15, 1900, which would mean their twelfth birthday coincided with the ship’s sinking. Other records place Amelia’s birth in 1898; family would later stay that they chose the April 15 birthday because by surviving the wreck, they were “born again.” They also took on anglicized names: Amelia and Louis Garrett.
Originally from Lebanon, by 1912 most of the family had emigrated to Jacksonville, and the siblings and their father intended to join them aboard the Titanic. In France, the ship refused their father passage due to an eye infection, so he sent the children on alone. When the ship struck the iceberg, the siblings survived aboard a lifeboat, although their lack of English meant they weren’t on the first list of survivors. In North America, they reunited with their family and settled in Jacksonville, where they became part of the city’s large and vibrant Arab community. Louis married Elizabeth Shedise, while Amelia married businessman and fellow Lebanese immigrant Isaac Isaac. The siblings are buried with their spouses in nearby graves in the western part of the cemetery.
Arab American graves
The grave of Abdullah and Rosa Hazouri features an elaborate headstone with Arabic inscriptions. Photo by Katie Delaney.
Grave of Ernest Joseph. Photo by Katie Delaney.
Many members of Jacksonville’s Arab American community are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, including some of the first Arab immigrants to settle in the city in the 1890s and 1900s. Most of the early immigrants were Lebanese Christians, and their graves are located all across Evergreen Cemetery.
Grave of Reverend Abraham Hazouri. Photo by Katie Delaney.
One prominent family has numerous burials in the same area as the Garrett siblings. Among the first Lebanese families to settle in Jacksonville, the Hazouris thrived in the new city and came to dominate fields as varied as retail, restaurants, religion, media, and politics. One of the first immigrants, Abraham Hazouri, was a Presbyterian minister who founded the Syrian Presbyterian Church in Riverside. Two of the most recognizable members of the family are alive today: City Council president and former mayor Tommy Hazouri, and former news anchor and breast cancer advocate Donna Deegan.
Jacksonville’s Arab American community has contributed much to the city. The city is home to dozens of Arab American-owned businesses; even our most distinctive food, the camel rider, is a product of the community. Today, Arab Americans of all religions continue to make Evergreen Cemetery their final resting place.
Isaiah D. Hart and family
Photo by Katie Delaney
Crossing over the railroad tracks into the older, eastern part of the cemetery leads to the grave of Isaiah David Hart (November 6, 1792 – September 4, 1861), the founder of Jacksonville. Hart got his start as a slave raider who kidnapped free and enslaved Blacks and sold them into slavery in Georgia. Considered a criminal at the time, he nonetheless used the profits to become Northeast Florida’s largest land owners, with property including what’s now Downtown Jacksonville and Westside’s Bulls Bay Preserve. In 1822, he worked with his neighbors to carve out the initial plats of a new town, giving birth to the City of Jacksonville.
Later in life, Hart’s idiosyncratic views and staunch atheism caused friction with his devout wife Nancy, and he took up with a young enslaved woman, Amy Hickman. Upon his death, Hart was initially buried with other family members in a 35 foot tall obelisk on Laura Street in Downtown Jacksonville. The tomb was vandalized in 1896, and severely damaged by the Great Fire of 1901. Subsequently, the remains of Hart and his family were moved to this tomb in Evergreen Cemetery inscribed “The family tomb of Isaiah D. Hart, the founder of Jacksonville”
Governor Ossian and Catherine Hart
Photo by Katie Delaney.
Immediately adjacent to Isaiah Hart’s tomb is the grave of his son Ossian Bingley Hart (January 17, 1821 – March 18, 1874). This Hart could not have been more different from his father. Despite coming from a major slaveowning family, Ossian grew disillusioned with slavery when his career as a lawyer revealed just how abusive owners were legally allowed to be. When the Civil War broke out, Ossian was a devoted Unionist, supporting the United States against the Confederacy. Jacksonville was a hotbed of Unionist sentiment; it was estimated that about half the white resident, and virtually all the African Americans, supported the Union.
After the war, Hart entered politics and became a major figure in Reconstruction-era Florida. He joined fellow white Southern Unionists, Black freedmen, and Northern transplants in a Republican coalition that for many years checked the power of the ex-Confederates and their sympathizers. In 1872, he was elected as Florida’s first native born governor; he died in office. Subsequent generations, influenced by the Lost Cause myths of the Confederacy, downplayed Hart and the significance of Reconstruction, but since the 1990s historians have shed more light on his accomplishments.
Temple Cemetery: Congregation Ahavath Chesed and the Jacksonville Jewish Center
The Congregation Ahavath Chesed section
The Jacksonville Jewish Center’s old section
Like the St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, the Temple Cemetery was originally carved out as a separate cemetery for Congregation Ahavath Chesed (also known as simply “the Temple”). Organized in 1867, it is the oldest Jewish congregation in Florida. Founded by a group of local Jews mostly from Prussia and Eastern Europe, the congregation embraced Reform Judaism in the 1890s and is today Northeast Florida’s largest synagogue.
In the early 20th century, a small section of the cemetery, separated only by an unpaved road, was designated for a second congregation, B’nai Israel, now known as the Jacksonville Jewish Center. A Conservative Jewish congregation, the Center traces its origins to 1901. The graves of many of the congregation’s founders are located here in the Old Center Cemetery; today, the congregation also operates a larger cemetery to the northwest, and serves as caretaker for a section designated for the now-defunct Congregation Beth Shalom.
Wolfson family plot.
Grave of Samuel Wolfson.
Located in the Ahavath Chesed section is the Wolfson family plot. Patriarch Morris Wolfson (March 15, 1879 – September 27, 1943), a Lithuanian immigrant, started a lucrative resale business. The loss of his one year old son led Wolfson to aspire to create a hospital for children; in 1955 his sons made good on this dream by establishing Wolfson Children’s Hospital. His son Louis Wolfson (January 28, 1912 – December 30, 2007) was himself an enormously successful if controversial corporate tychoon.
Another son, Samuel Wolfson (August 15, 1909 – August 16, 1968), is known as the father of Jacksonville baseball. In 1953 he bought the struggling Jacksonville Tars team and transformed them into the Jacksonville Braves. The same year he smashed Jacksonville’s baseball color line by signing three Black players, Hank Aaron, Felix Mantilla, and Horace Garner. In 1962, Wolfson launched the original incarnation of the Jacksonville Suns, the predecessors to the current Jumbo Shrimp. Jacksonville’s previous baseball stadium was named Wolfson Park in his honor; Samuel W. Wolfson High School is also named for him.
Next page: Graves at Evergreen Cemetery, page 3