Saving a Cemetery

Restoring a Century-Old Cemetery Where Many of the Workers who Built Coral Gables are Buried

Summer 2018

“I felt something hard under my foot and I was standing on a vertebra,” says John Allen, executive director of the Coral Gables Museum, recalling the first time he visited Lincoln Memorial Park.  

Coral Gables Museum is playing a major role in cleaning up the historic Miami cemetery, which is less than 4 miles north of the city. Their work will be on display at the museum in the “Sacred Grounds” exhibit starting August 2. Allen, a genealogist by hobby, became invested in the project when Malcolm Lauredo (above right), the museum’s resident historian, brought him to the grounds last winter.  

“This is a big part of Miami’s history, of Coral Gables’ history, and we’re trying to pay homage to it,” says Lauredo. Much the work is restoring and cleaning crypts that have been smashed and broken into – by brujeria religious cults in search of human bones – or are so dirty the names can’t be read. “One person came up to the caretaker and offered him $1,000 if he would just give him a skull,” Allen said. 

Since the museum’s presenceat Lincoln Memorial Park, the number of graves desecrated has decreased drastically. 

When Lauredo and Allen first visited the 25-acre plot in December, there were still fallen trees from Hurricane Irma, and when their clean-up efforts began the following month, they had about two dozen volunteers. Now around 100 people are at Lincoln every month lending a hand. 

The cemetery is the final resting place for some of Miami’s most famous black leaders, such as D.A. Dorsey, Miami’s first black millionaire who sold Fisher Island to Carl Fisher. Many of the workers who helped build Coral Gables in the 1920s are buried at Lincoln, including Bahamians housed by George Merrick in what is now known as the McFarlane area. Many of those buried inside are unknown. “There’s a number of very, very prominent black people buried there, right next to anonymous souls,” Allen said. “There’s a certain equality in death.” 

– Lizzie Wilcox