N.B. This articles was revised 3 June 2020.
Coral Gables, Florida
It’s hard to imagine among all the modernity that is South Florida that this area has been settled for many centuries. Native Americans lived here until pressure from the government and white settlers began forcing them out starting in 1822, just after Florida became a state. With most of the Native Americans gone white settlers began building cabins and farming, some with slaves. The area would remain a quiet backwater until Henry Flagler began shaping Florida’s new image in the latter part of the century and speculators and developers began buying land.
Bit by bit, the old Florida succumbed to developers’ vision and disappeared under new construction. Pinewood Cemetery, a piece of Old Florida, disappeared in a forest with its tombstones and graves weathering then later broken and vandalized by hoodlums in search of a thrill. The cemetery was forgotten by most of the living and left for some time to the vigilant care of the cemetery’s own spirits.
Pinewood Cemetery’s air of desolation and dereliction has spawned mysterious stories and legends. A 2006 article on the cemetery in The Miami Herald mentions that neighbors have spoken of midnight burials in the cemetery. Ghost tales have also emerged telling of shadow people, strange noises and, more commonly, odd feelings. One paranormal investigation discovered a large cleared circular patch where nothing was growing, possible evidence that late night rituals may also be held there. The group’s psychic investigators felt that some animal sacrifices may have been conducted there. Regardless, according to evidence gathered by investigators, most of the spirits in the cemetery seem to simply be curious residents intending no harm to the living.
Before the establishment of the large City Cemetery (which may also be haunted) in Miami and the city’s official incorporation in 1896, Pinewood was the main cemetery south of the Miami River. Once the city cemetery established, most of the burials north of the river were removed there, while Pinewood remained quietly in its forest home. Some legends speak of the Pinewood site as originally a burial ground for the area’s Tequesta Indians, though there’s no hard evidence of this. The first pioneer burials are said to have occurred around 1855 and included some of the area’s earliest settlers. The cemetery’s “official” history does not appear in the historical record until the land was deeded to the Trustees of Pinewood Cemetery in 1897.
Over the next 30 or so years the cemetery accepted burials. Included among those buried during this time were Dora Perry Suggs, a young mother who disappeared during a walk from the local general store. Her body was discovered in deep woods by a search party and she was interred in Pinewood in 1905. The cemetery was cleaned up following the great 1926 Miami hurricane, a category four storm that did considerable damage and caused between 250 and 350 deaths. Over time, the cemetery was neglected and trees and legends grew up around it.
Some notice was taken of the cemetery’s plight in the 1960s, but no action was taken. Development also began to encroach on the 4 acre cemetery. Stories have appeared of construction workers finding bones as they dug foundations adjacent to the cemetery. At the time, only a small portion of the possibly 250 burials in the cemetery were even marked, many tombstones having been stolen or broken. In 1983, the City of Coral Gables created an advisory board to oversee the cemetery and steps have been taken to preserve and restore the cemetery. Headstones have been erected to replace missing stones. Interestingly, current plans leave the cemetery in its wooded, natural state rather than clearing it. This preserves the more park-like setting and creates a place where local students and residents can explore nature and Old Florida history side by side.
- 1926 Miami hurricane. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 26 March 2011.
- Bonawit, Oby. “History of Pinewood (Cocoplum) Cemetery.” Tequesta: The Journal of the Historical Association of Southern Florida. Vol. 1, No. 38. 1978.
- Del Marmol, Sebastian. “Spend a Spooky Morning at Pinewood Cemetery for Pioneer Day This Saturday.” Miami New Times. 18 March 2011.
- Herrera, Ana I. “Pioneers remembered at Pinewood Cemetery celebration.” GablesHomepage.com. 20 March 2011.
- History of Florida. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 24 March 2011.
- League of Paranormal Investigators, Inc. Investigation Report for Pinewood Cemetery, October 2008. Accessed 25 March 2011.
- McGrory, Kathleen. “Pioneering Spirits.” The Miami Herald. 27 August 2006.
- Miami. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 March 2011.