Miami’s forefathers — and mothers — need help cleaning up their graves

Julia Tuttle and William Burdine are turning in their graves.

Their final resting place, the Miami City Cemetery, is still filled with branches from toppled trees and debris from the day that Hurricane Irma blew through town.

“We want families and visitors to be able to come safely into the cemetery and we want to restore it to its pre-storm beauty,” said Lara De Souza, deputy director of the city’s parks and recreation department, which maintains the grounds of the site at 1800 NE Second Ave.

City crews have been able to remove some of the larger trees, but much work remains.

“We can’t go in there with heavy machinery because the graves have to be treated with care,” De Souza said. “For the intricate manual work, all hands are welcome.”

The Dade Heritage Trust is organizing a cleanup project on Saturday, Oct. 28, from 8 a.m. to noon. Tasks will include trash pickup, raking, clearing, planting and mowing, and volunteers are encouraged to bring garden tools such as rakes, clippers and weed whackers.

The cemetery, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates to the first burial in 1897. There have been about 9,000 burials since, including those of Tuttle, the “Mother of Miami;” Burdine, founder of the department store chain; Dr. James Jackson, the city’s first resident physician, and the pioneering Peacock family. The cemetery also has sections devoted to veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

The plots are owned by family deed holders, and to be buried there you must be a deed holder or related to one.

“It’s a really cool place and it tells the story of Miami,” De Souza said. “It’s a valuable piece of history.”

Gravestone maintenance is the responsibility of the owner, so upkeep is inconsistent, but the Trust would like to make it a priority.

“Typically you walk into a cemetery with a sense of respect for a lovely place,” said Trust executive director Christine Rupp. “But here we have some markers covered with weeds or fallen over. In a perfect world there would be a cemetery foundation, but God bless parks and recreation for taking responsibility to maintain it. Our long-term goal is to acquire grants to fund conservation efforts, install proper interpretation and signage and enhance it so that it can be like cemeteries in other cities that are historic tourist attractions.

“After all, people are dying to get in there.”

De Souza is encouraging residents to participate and learn about their heritage.

“It makes sense when we have partners and volunteers willing to help to take advantage and allow a community event to happen,” she said.

Contact Hannah Bernat at the City of Miami Parks and Recreation Department with any questions at 305-416-1361 or hbernat@miamigov.com. Volunteers can pre-register at eventbrite.com.