Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pirate Graves!

Okay, so after not being able to find the blasted pirate grave everyone photographs in Tampa's (Florida), oldest cemetery, "Oaklawn," this past weekend, I head over to the Italian Club Cemetery in Ybor City. It promises more white marble than any of the other possible local choices. Ybor is slightly east of Tampa and is more residential and industrial than Tampa. Like most interesting cemeteries, The Italian Club Cemetery is in a kind of run down section of town. Great BBQ place nearby, tho--"Nephew's Auto Detailing and BBQ."

Driving over here with the air conditioning on my rental car, I was not prepared for the heat-- 96 degrees with 85% relative humidity, which made the "Real Feel" temperature 104 degrees! With the clear sky, I was sunburned within 15 minutes! Crazy weather--the forecast for later that evening: "Gusty winds 35 to 45 mph will occur. Frequent lightning is expected. To be safe go indoors immediately. If caught outside... find a low spot... and stay away from tall objects." Good thing there are no tall obelisk grave monuments hereabouts.

The Italian Club Cemetery is similar in layout to The Italian Cemetery in Colma, CA, (tho smaller) which is to say unlike any other Italian cemeteries I've ever seen. The photo at right shows the neat and orderly, ultra planned rows of glossy marble slabs with their intricate headstones. Beautifully detailed mausoleums border this extremely well-preserved cemetery. The unusual thing about many of the memorials here (and what differentiates it from the cemetery in Colma) is the plentiful mosaic tile inlaid into the tombs and headstones (note top photo). Apparently this is unique to Tampa cemeteries. Very beautiful, and certainly gives one a feeling of celebrating life. That is, until you kneel on one baking in the sun with your bare knees! At that point you end up inventing new curse words and alarming the passersby.

To be truthful, there are no passersby. No resident in his right mind seems to venture outdoors here in the summer. You see very few pedestrians in Tampa and Ybor City. In this weather, people leave their air-conditioned homes (no matter how humble), get into their air-conditioned cars, shop in air-conditioned stores, then return home. Here's a picture of me recuperating in my air-conditioned rental car after half an hour in the cemetery. Great art comes from great pain! After cooling down a bit, I tooled over to Nephew's BBQ and had this delicious smoked sausage dinner for only $5!

While there were no large cemetery angels here for me to photograph, I was intrigued by the multi-colored tile inlays. Each tile is about a square inch. The ornamentation was supposedly the invention of Sicilian immigrant Francesco Constantino, founder of the Constantino Monument Co. in 1906.
The family story is that Francesco had decorated many Ybor homes and gardens with his mosaic tiles. After a child's death, a client asked him to fashion a pretty tile gravestone. More soon followed. To read more about this and other actual historic information on the Italian Club Cemetery (as oppposed to my subjective ramblings), do click here.

Cemetery Book Recommendation!