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Archeologists Find 29 Grave Shafts in North Greenwood Cemetery

Archeologists looking at a former Clearwater cemetery said that they have found a total of 29 grave shafts during the excavation process.

Archeologists looking at a “forgotten” Clearwater cemetery say that they have found almost 30 grave shafts.

Archaeologists from the Florida Public Archaeology Network, based out of the University of South Florida, and Tampa engineering firm, Cardno Inc., provided a final update on the North Greenwood Cemetery excavation Friday.

The process was done to verify the location of unmarked graves in the African-America cemetery that were identified previously.

“We've located a total of 29 graves, and that confirms the data of the results of the ground-penetrating radar survey that was conducted last year, in February and August,” said USF archeologist Jeff Moates.

The archaeologists opened three large areas for excavation, and, in addition to the graves, found a number of artifacts, including two dimes from 1942 and a penny from 1940.

READ MORE: See WUSF's coverage of Tampa's "lost cemeteries"

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the North Greenwood Cemetery was in operation between 1940 and 1954, explaining the coins from that time period.

The land was sold to make room for Pinellas High School and a city pool. The remains of 350 people were moved to Parklawn Memorial Cemetery in Dunedin, but nearby residents of the Clearwater Heights neighborhood felt that the bodies in unmarked graves were left behind.

The excavation revealed that may indeed be the case.

“We've uncovered material that you would expect to be associated with graves,” said Moates. “There's evidence of coffin hardware, decayed remains of coffins, concrete vaults, associated gravestone or headstone materials that are in a kind of a disturbed state.”

“We found an intact aluminum grave marker in the name of the deceased individual, Mr. William Ridley, who was buried in 1951,” Moates added.

Once the community knew that the excavation process was happening, people like O’Neill Larkin, 81, wanted to share their memories of North Greenwood.

“He remembers playing on this cemetery as a boy, there was a popular swimming hole located nearby and Stevenson Creek,” said Moates. “But he remembers coming through here and hunting rabbits and quail and pigeon with his friends. He also had a friend who was a Boy Scout, who unfortunately died on a Boy Scout trip, and was buried in the cemetery.

“And so it's just stories like that, that the community were able to come by and connect, share with us connecting the memories of this place to the actual physical remains of what they remember to be here.”

North Greenwood is just the latest in a number of forgotten Black cemeteries around the region and state that are being investigated following the discovery of the Zion Cemetery in Tampa in 2019.

Archaeologists will conduct a further study of the recovered objects and share their findings with the City of Clearwater and the local chapter of the NAACP.

Leali Shalabi is a WUSF/ USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for the spring of 2021.