Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dozier School's "Mystery Graves"

I have received many questions this week about the supposed "mystery graves" at Dozier School in Marianna. Allegations have been made that these burials might result from cases of abuse at the school for juvenile offenders.

While I have no knowledge one way or the other about the abuse claims, I do know that most if not all of the graves in the little cemetery at the school can be explained.

Ten of them date from a tragic fire that broke out in the main dormitory of the school (then the Florida Reform School) in November of 1914. An oil lamp exploded starting an accidental fire from which eight students and two employees were unable to escape. A number of other individuals, including the superintendent of the school, were injured trying to rescue them.

Twelve more graves date from the great influenza epidemic of 1918. The flu epidemic that year is believed to have been the worst outbreak in American history. An estimated 500,000 people lost their lives, including at least eleven students and one staff member at the school.

These two events, then, account for more than two-thirds of the graves in the school's little cemetery. The others are thought to be those of several boys that died between 1918 and 1949. Among these was a youth who died from illness, a 13-year-old student who was murdered by another student and a 14-year-old who died from exposure in the woods after escaping.

The cemetery is also said to contain the remains of two pet dogs and a pet peacock named Sue. They were buried there by students from the school.

The real history of the little burial ground is undeniably tragic, but at least 28 of the 31 or so graves long predate the recent allegations made by former students of the school.

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