The Spatiality and Materiality of the Rosemary Cemetery

You might well have gotten this far without knowing WHERE exactly the Rosemary Cemetery is.  Its OK.  The cemetery is on Central Ave, just south of 10th St.  In its original plan, the cemetery had a bay front view;  now it has a view of Coconut Avenue.  Things change.  

The cemetery was designed and plots were sold in a very precise, geometric formation.  It divided into quadrants, and each quadrant contains co-centric plots.  Check it out below:

quad map of Rosemary Cemetery
Now, here's where the archaeology gets interesting. Quadrant A,B,C,D... all neat circles and square plots.  Until the Great Depression hit in 1929.  All of the graves marked in quadrants A-D are oriented east-west (presumably for that bay view).  During the depression, someone (officially or not) added quadrants E and F.  These were burial grounds for the poor, with graves oriented north-south.  'E' is to the south of A & B; 'F' is north of C & D.  The grave markers were much smaller (if there is one at all), and often made out of concrete (cheaper than marble).  

Also, we found evidence of unmarked and unsanctioned graves.  For example, Jeff and I (Lauren) worked in Quadrant D.  We found, near Lot 10, a piece of white marble, unmarked as far as we could see, sticking up from the ground.  Was this a burial?  If so, was it sanctioned (meaning, did the person have permission to be buried there)?  That's archaeology: more questions than answers.  Also, east of Lot 38, we found two burials, presumably a couple (same last name).  They had marble headstones, but were not in a lot -- in fact, the vaults might have extended to the sidewalk on Central Ave (Creepy, huh?).  So what's their deal: they can afford a marble head stone, but not a normal plot?  Also, there's no record of this couple with the Toale Brothers funeral home, the dominant funeral home in Sarasota at the time of their deaths.  Were they buried without permission?  

These questions were raised in Quadrant D -- you can only imagine how many little quirks of history live in the whole cemetery.

I want to give you a better look at the material culture.  Check out possibly my favorite section of this CD, below.  It will walk you through the different styles of burials we found at Rosemary. 

The Fashionable Dead: A look at the styles that mark (pun!) the grave sites in the Rosemary Cemetery

There are a few components to your basic Rosemary gravesite.  Lets walk through these first:

This is why I am not a funeral planner.  But lets assume my drawing represents the ideal grave: marked headstone, footstone, a cover over the vault, and some marker around the grave.  Most graves have some combination of these features.  Part of our job was to figure out if there was a pattern to the styles: for example, maybe graves from 1900-1920 all had a certain type of vault cover.  

In fact, we found very little correlation between time periods and styles.  But I am jumping ahead.  Lets go through each feature of a grave, and see some of the variety of styles found at Rosemary.


Headstones were made out of concrete, marble, granite, or sometimes metal.  Some larger headstones were meant for a whole family, some were obviously the size of one grave.  Many graves were completely without headstones, and some forewent headstones for a personal marker that was put directly on the vault cover.  

On the whole, the Rosemary Cemetery has much less religious imagery than many cemeteries.  There are examples of religious styles on headstones. An obelisk is a very particular type of marker; usually it is made for a whole family.  They are very expensive, and we don't see many newer graves with obelisks at Rosemary (or in the Unites States in general).


Vault covers were much more fashionable in burials from the early 20th century than they are today.  In Rosemary, many graves have vault covers.  Most are concrete, though we had pink marble (very expensive!), gray marble, and a few granite.  You will notice that granite always ages the best, followed by marble.  Though concrete is cheap, it weathers badly because mold and lichens can grow in the porous surface.    


Footstones are very popular at Rosemary.  Often, a grave in a family plot will have a personal footstone.  Also, some otherwise unmarked vaults were found with small metal footstones designating the buried person's name and date of death.  We found footstones with or without headstones.  They came in a variety of materials, most often granite.


Coping is the optional perimeter marking on a grave site.  It is usually a concrete or marble 'fence', though only a few inches high.  If you look closely, you'll notice a perimeter marker -- that's coping. 

And for another dose of history...  Prominent figures buried in the Rosemary Cemetery

 These biographies are the products of intensive archival research done by Kim Sumrow.  You will read her findings below, presented as a research paper.  Enjoy, and thanks Kim!

Biographies of Selected Individuals Buried at Rosemary Cemetery  

            For my individual project, I decided to get some experience with doing archival research.  I chose to do some research on a selected number of individuals that were buried at Rosemary Cemetery.  As my partner and I came closer to completing the survey for our quadrant, I began thinking of how to select the individuals that I would research.  The decision as to which individuals to research was made in conjunction with my project advisor, Uzi Baram.  We decided that I would research some individuals buried in the quadrant that I worked on during the survey portion of the ISP.  Ultimately, we decided that I would research the Barkers, the Higels, and the Calsons / Colsons.  By looking at these three families, I was able to look at a cross section of the Sarasota community. The Barkers would shed light on the average citizen of Sarasota, the Higels would represent the movers and shakers, and the Calsons / Colsons would give an example of members of the African-American community in Sarasota. 

            My research began by reviewing the survey forms for these individuals.  I made a note of the dates of birth and death in order to insure that I was able to locate the individual in question.  The first place I began looking for information was the internet because it was closest at hand and the Historical Resources Department was closed.  The web page for the Historical Resources Department was my first source of information.  The web page only provided information on the Higels and the Calsons / Colsons, and most of this information focused on the patriarchs of these two families. 

            I then went to the Historical Resources Department, where I first looked through their books on Sarasota and its history.  After going through these books, I started looking through the obituaries that the Historical Resources Department had on file.  Sifting through the obituaries took quite a bit of time.  First I consulted the card catalog of obituaries, where I was able to see if an obituary existed and if it did exist where I was able to find it.  I then had to go to the filing cabinet where the folders containing the obituaries were located.  I then had to locate the folder of the appropriate year and month.  After locating this folder, I had to look through its entire contents in order to find the one obituary that I was in need of. 

            Some of the individuals that I was to research did not have cards in the card catalog of obituaries, so in order to attempt to find obituaries for these individuals I first went to the filing cabinets with the obituary folders.  I used the dates of death on the markers from the cemetery in order to work backwards.  I then looked for the corresponding year and month, and then hoped that there was an obituary for the individual.  Unfortunately, some of the individuals that I attempted to research did not have an obituary.

            By combing the information gleaned from the marker, the obituary and any other sources, I was able to complete a short biography for each individual researched.  After this was completed, I was able to look at the significance of the individual in light of the history and development of the city of Sarasota. 

The Selected Families and Individuals Located in Quadrant C

Lot 8 – The Barkers:

    Caroline Barker

    George W. Barker

 Lot 14 – The Higels:

    Gertrude E. Higel

    Harry Lee Higel

    H. Gordon Higel    

    Louise K. Higel

    Marcia Rader Higel

Lot 37 – The Calsons / Colsons / Carlsons:

    Reverend Lewis Calson

The Selected Individuals and their Biographies

 The Barkers

            The Barkers are buried in lot 8 of quadrant C in the Rosemary Cemetery facing to the east.  The style of George W. and Caroline Barkers’ grave are the same.  The vault covers, their construction and materials are the same, as are their markers located at the west end of the vaults.  Both graves have additional decoration as well.  The vault of Caroline Barker has a ceramic Dutch shoe and some spiral shells cemented near the marker.  Unfortunately some damage has occurred to the additional offerings on the vault of George W. Barker.  At one point there was a ceramic Dutch shoe and some spiral shells cemented near the marker, but now there are only some remains.  Also on his vault are the remains of a ceramic bowl or vase.  Both of the Barkers had additional shells attached to the vault cover, but many are missing and there is no apparent pattern to the positioning of the shells.  Due to the similarities of the materials of the grave, it is likely that George W. Barker and Caroline Barker were married.

            I was not able to find an obituary for Caroline Barker, so all of the information I was able to find about her comes from her marker.  She was born in 1886 and died in 1923, at the age of 37. 

            According to his obituary, George W. Barker was a native of Augusta, Maine (ST Nov. 6, 1919).  He was born in 1848 and died on November 1, 1919 after being ill for many weeks.  George W. Barker was 71 at the time of his death.

Here in Sarasota, George Barker was a member of the Baptist Church and a Superintendent of the Sunday School.  Barker was engaged in the concrete business as an occupation.

            Barker had two children, a son and a daughter.  The son died in 1909, but the daughter survived her father’s death (ST Nov. 6, 1919).  However the obituary makes no mention of a wife, which is interesting if Caroline Barker was indeed his wife because she lived for four years after his death in 1919.  If Caroline Barker was the wife of George W. Barker, why was she not mentioned in his obituary as surviving him?  Perhaps they had separated, but then how can the similarities in their graves be explained and why would they be buried next to one another? 

            Neither George W. Barker nor Caroline Barker were prominent citizens of Sarasota.  They were not the movers and shakers that shaped the development and growth of a small southern Florida city.  The Barkers were ordinary folks whose lives represent the average citizen of Sarasota, and it is for this reason that these two individuals are significant. 

 The Higels

            The Higels are buried in lot 14 of quadrant C in the Rosemary Cemetery.  Harry Lee and Gertrude E. Higel have matching marble markers that are embellished with a cross and flowers.  This husband and wife pair are buried next to each other with the husband, Harry Lee Higel, buried to the south.  To the east of Harry Lee and Gertrude E. Higel are three additional markers, those of Louise K. Higel, H. Gordon Higel, and Marcia Rader Higel.  These markers are all made of granite and do not have the same amount of embellishment as those of Harry Lee and Gertrude E. Higel. 

            Harry Lee Higel was born in Philadelphia, PA on December 30, 1867 to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Higel.  At the age of seventeen, Harry Lee Higel settled in Venice along with his parents when the group arrived in South Florida in 1884.  Harry Lee and his brothers operated a large canning business, which in turn began the citrus development in the area (ST Jan. 13,1921).

A few years later he moved to Sarasota, where he eventually was elected as mayor of Sarasota for three terms.  Here in Sarasota, Higel owned the dock and operated a boat line between here and Tampa.  He was instrumental in bringing the first telephone to Sarasota as well.  In addition to this, Higel owned a large amount of property on Siesta Key and at one time served as the postmaster of Siesta (ST Jan. 13, 1921).

In 1898, Harry Lee Higel married Gertrude Edmondson, the granddaughter of Mary Whitaker (the wife of the first white settler of Sarasota County), here in Sarasota (ST Jan. 13, 1921).  Gertrude was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Gordon and Louise Edmondson in 1876.  At the age of 3, Gertrude and her parents moved to Sarasota in 1879 (SHT Sept. 10, 1953).  Together, Harry Lee Higel and Gertrude Edmondson had three children: Genevieve, Louise, and Gordon (ST Jan. 13,1921).

Harry Lee Higel died in 1921 after being found nearly beaten to death on Siesta Key.  He died while being transported to Tampa for medical treatment, and the only way that an identification of the body was made was by the double H on a signet ring.  An investigation was launched, and Rube Allyn was arrested and charged with the beating, but was later excused from all charges because all of the evidence was circumstantial (ST Jan. 13, 1921).

At the time of his death, Higel was a director in the Bank of Sarasota and in the Seaboard Air Line Railway.  He was also promoting the Van Guilder method of concrete construction and had recently closed a contract to erect the first home built by this method in Sarasota (Sarasota Times Jan. 13, 1921).

Gertrude E. Higel lived for thirty-two years after the death of her husband.  She was 77 years old at the time of her death in September of 1953.  She was survived by all three of her children and a sister, Mrs. E. F. White (SHT Sept. 10, 1953).

            Louise K. Higel was born in 1899 to Harry and Gertrude Higel here in Sarasota.  As the daughter of Gertrude Edmondson, she was the great-granddaughter of William Whitaker (the first white settler of Sarasota County).  She was a lifelong resident of Sarasota and served as a historical advisor to the county.  She attended the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, and was cremated after her death in 1977 at the Sarasota Crematorium.  She was 78 years old when she died in November of 1977 (SHT Nov. 13, 1977).

H. Gordon Higel also has a headstone in Rosemary Cemetery.  The headstone is made from granite and is made in the most common style for granite markers.  This stone varies slightly in that there is an additional epitaph at the bottom, which reads “Beloved Husband of Marcia.”  The only date on the marker is his date of birth, December 18, 1908, and I was unable to locate an obituary.  For these reasons, it appears that he has not died and is still quite alive.

            Marcia Rader Higel is also buried in the Higel family plot because she was the wife of H. Gordon Higel.  She was born on December 12, 1913 in St. Louis, and moved to Sarasota with her mother and grandparents at the age of 6 in 1919 (SHT May 6, 1995).

            Marcia Rader graduated from Sarasota High School and received her teaching degree from the teachers college at Columbia University in New York. She then returned to Sarasota, where she was a teacher with the Sarasota County School System (SHT May 6, 1995).

            She died on March 5, 1995 and is survived by her “Beloved Husband,” H. Gordon Higel (SHT May 6, 1995).

             Of those individuals buried at Rosemary Cemetery, Harry Lee Higel is one of the most prominent.  Higel played a major role in the development of Sarasota.  His death is also rather intriguing since no one was ever convicted of his murder.  It seems odd that an individual as prominent as Harry Lee Higel was murdered, but that the killer was never identified. 

The Higel family plot illustrates some important issues and raises some intriguing questions.  One issue that it illustrates is the resident pattern that was prevalent at the time.  Genevieve, the second daughter of Harry Lee and Gertrude Higel is not buried at Rosemary Cemetery.  The reason for this is probably because she moved away from Sarasota after marrying her husband and she is likely buried next to her husband.  This reveals that the bonds of family can be broken by marriage and that marriage creates a new family, especially in regards to daughters.  It is interesting that H. Gordon Higel has a marker in place prior to his death.  It lies there today waiting to receive his date of death.   Why would one have a marker created prior to their death?  The epitaph on the marker of H. Gordon Higel is also curious because it refers to his wife, while his wife’s marker does not refer to him.  It is also interesting that Louise K. Higel has a marker even though she was cremated.  This raises some interesting questions, such as “are her ashes buried there” and “why was she cremated if she was just going to be buried in a prearranged plot?”

 The Colsons / Calsons / Carlsons

            There is some confusion over the surname of Reverend Lewis.  The name that appears on the marker is “Calson,” but this version of his surname does not appear anywhere else.  The name “Carlson” appears within the Cemeteries of Sarasota County, FL, and also does not appear elsewhere.  And finally the name Colson is the commonly known version of his name and this variation appears in several places.  “Colson” appears in the Toale Funeral Home Records, in the Complete General Directory of Manatee County, and in the book by Annie M. McElroy.  Seeing as Reverend Lewis is more frequently referred to as Colson, I will use this surname to refer to him.

            According to his grave marker, Colson was born on July 6, 1844.  He arrived in Sarasota sometime around 1894 as part of Richard E. Paulson’s survey team.  This team surveyed 50,000 acres of land for the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company and platted the town of Sarasota (McElroy p.1;

            Reverend Lewis Colson was married to Irene and together they raised a large family.  Irene served as the midwife to the Overtown community, the section of town where African-Americans lived.  Colson was sort of a “jack-of-all” trades.  He worked as a fisherman and a surveyor, and he was also a land owner.  Colson also served as a lay preacher and was willing to preach to convicts (McElroy p.1). 

            In 1897, Colson and his wife donated land to the Bethlehem Baptist Church, and it is here that he served as minister from 1899 to 1915 when failing health caused him to retire (

            Reverend Lewis Colson died on April 6, 1923 and was buried at Rosemary Cemetery.  Colson and his wife are the only African-Americans buried at the generally Anglo-American Rosemary Cemetery.

            Despite his prominence in Sarasota, it does not appear that an obituary was run in the Sarasota newspaper for him.  I was also unable to find an obituary for his wife, Irene.

            It is fairly widely stated that Colson and his wife are the only African-Americans buried in Rosemary Cemetery.  Why were they buried in an otherwise Anglo-American cemetery, and what does this say both about their individual standings within Sarasota society as a whole and the race relations that were negotiated during the founding and the subsequent years of development in Sarasota?