Having written about Orlando’s historic Greenwood Cemetery in the past, I was familiar with the layout of the property but, during a recent Moonlight Walking Tour, I found out there is much more to this treasure than acreage. (I’ll get to the fake news part later.) Owned and operated by the City of Orlando, the cemetery was developed in the 1880’s by residents with familiar names like Boone, Livingston, Delaney and Robinson. Throughout the tour we were introduced to burial sites with names of just about every major, and not so major, street and avenue in the city.
Don Price, the cemetery Sexton, has been with Greenwood for 30 years and is a walking encyclopedia of historical facts (and maybe some stuff he made up!) of the who’s who in the early days of a city that was originally just one mile square. Born, raised and still living in Winter Garden, Don’s entertaining enthusiasm for every inch of the 120 acres that make up Greenwood, will leave you wanting more. We only covered 20% of the property in a little over 2 hours.
As with most cities, Orlando has a dark history involving racism. A portion of the cemetery was set aside for African Americans, not integrated into white society, even in death, until 1967. July Perry, of Ocoee, was finally given a proper headstone at Greenwood in 2002, when citizens of Ocoee raised funds to cover the cost. An advocate for civil rights, Mr. Perry was shot, stabbed and lynched by an angry KKK mob, in 1920, all because he was working to recruit African Americans to register to vote. There is a lot more to this story than I have room for here, but worth researching as Orlando has not always been the happy land of Minnie and Mickey…we have many skeletons in the closet, so to speak.
Most of the city’s mayors are buried here, one of the most prominent is Carl Langford, whose gravesite is the first one facing the original main entrance on Gore Street. An animated man with a great sense of humor, Mayor Langford was given a full Amish ceremony with glass enclosed, horse-drawn hearse, leading to his distinguished spot in the cemetery. (Ask Don about the “upside-down” tree the Mayor wanted to have planted on his eternal resting place.)
And now to Greenwood’s connection to fake news. Walter Duranty, a Moscow Bureau chief for the New York Times, wrote a series of reports about the Soviet Union, in the early 1930’s, downplaying the slaughter of Ukrainian farmers resulting in a devastating famine during Stalin’s regime. Duranty never went into the field but relied on nefarious government sources to incorrectly report on a tyrant who ultimately killed millions. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the series of columns, which were later proven false and many attempts at, posthumously, stripping Duranty of his award have been unsuccessful. Rick Brunson, Associate Instructor at UCF Nicholson School of Communication, Writing Coach at WFTV Channel 9 and Desk Editor at the Orlando Sentinel states, “In a post-truth world of ‘alternative facts,’ Walter Duranty’s story is worth remembering. He’s buried right here in Orlando. But he buried the lead on the most important story of his life.” His grave “lies” in a section of the cemetery next to his wife’s Enwright family plot.
Though the Moonlight Walk is not officially touted as a “ghost tour,” one senses the spirits of those who helped make up the charm, eccentricities and personality of a city we all call home. You can find Don’s schedule on the Greenwood Cemetery website. My advice, sign up as soon as the date becomes available and get on the wait list if you’re too late. You won’t be disappointed!