The Old City Cemetery was established in 1829, making it the oldest cemetery in Tallahassee. The cemetery has about 1,540 graves and measures about 10 acres in size.
The location had already been used a burial ground by the local residents prior to becoming an official cemetery.
Many of the early graves were marked with wood headstones which have since deteriorated due to the Florida climate. The oldest stone grave marker in the cemetery is a marble headstone for Daniel Lynes of Connecticut who died on February 3, 1829.
When it was established, the cemetery was segregated. White burials were restricted to the east side of the cemetery and slaves and free people of color were buried on the west side of the cemetery.
In 1865, a number of African-American Union soldiers were buried in the southwest section of the cemetery after they were killed at the Battle of Natural Bridge in March. A handful of Confederate soldiers killed during the Civil War are also buried in the cemetery on the east side.
In 1840, the cemetery was acquired by the city.
In 1889, a young 23-year-old mother named Elizabeth Budd Graham died of heart condition after a brief illness and was buried in the south east quadrant of the cemetery. Her husband marked her grave with a large granite obelisk inscribed with a few lines from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem Lenore:
“Ah! Broken is the golden bowl!
The Spirit flown forever!
Let the bell toll!—A saintly soul
Floats on the Stygian River. . . .
Come, let the burial rite be read,
The Funeral song be sung;
An Anthem for the queenliest dead
That ever died so young,
A dirge for her, the doubly dead—
In that she died so young.”
In the years after Graham’s death, rumors began to spread that Graham was a witch, based on the fact that her headstone faces west instead of east and because of the inscription, which visitors think identifies her as a witch because of the line “queenliest dead.” The grave is now known as “The Witch’s Grave” and is one of the most visited graves in the cemetery.
In 1890, the City Council agreed to set aside a special section of the cemetery for Jewish burials in the northeast quadrant of the cemetery. Many of these burials were later reinterred in Jacksonville.
In 1919, a mysterious casket was dug up while cemetery employees were digging a new grave, according to an old newspaper article in the Tallahassee Democrat. The casket seems to have been buried in an unmarked grave, was made of iron and was shaped like the human form, with only enough space for the body with hands folded over its chest, as if it was made for a mummy.
Although there was a name plate on the casket, no name was inscribed on the plate so it’s not clear who was buried in the coffin. Not knowing what to do with it, the workers reburied it where they found it. The discovery was so interesting that Popular Mechanics even published an article on it, although the article mistakenly identified it as having been discovered in Louisiana, not Florida.
In 1937, due to rising racial tension in the state, the city commission passed an ordinance closing the cemetery to anymore African-American burials. This action led to the establishment of the Greenwood Cemetery, a privately-owned cemetery African-American cemetery, in Tallahassee.
In the 1950s, a hog wire fence was established down the center of the cemetery to distinguish between the white and black sections of the cemetery.
In 1991, the cemetery underwent renovations under the direction of the Historic Preservation Board and a cast iron fence was installed around the cemetery in 1994.
If you want to visit more historic sites in the area, check out this article on historic sites in Tallahassee.
Carlson, Charles. Weird Florida: Your Travel Guide to Florida’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Strerling, 2009.
“The Walking Tour of the Old City Cemetery.” Talgov, talgov.com/Uploads/Public/Documents/realestate/occ_brochure_rotate.pdf
“Mystery of Tallahassee’s Cast Iron Casket was Reburied 20 years ago when coffin shaped like mummy-case was replaced in cemetery.” Tallahassee Democrat,5 Jan. 1940, newspapers.com/clip/13211888/old-city-cemetery-mummy/
Florida’s Historic Cemeteries: A Preservation Handbook. Florida Department of State, 2004, files.floridados.gov/media/31938/floridahistoriccemeteries.pdf
“The Tallahassee Old City Cemetery.” FPAN North Central Blog, flpublicarchaeology.org/blog/ncrc/2012/12/13/the-tallahassee-old-city-cemetery/