Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Voices from the Past; Cemetery Tour Describes Leaders

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Voices from the Past; Cemetery Tour Describes Leaders

Article excerpt

Byline: David Johnson, Times-Union staff writer

Physician Otis J. Johnson drove his car back on the ferry after returning from a day at the beach with his family in May 1915. Tragically, it would be their last day together.

After arriving at the Main Street ferry slip, Johnson got out to crank the car, but it was already in gear. The car broke the restraints and plunged into the St. Johns River, killing Johnson's wife Bessie and their three young children.

They rest at the Evergreen Cemetery in North Jacksonville along with many others who were prominent in Jacksonville's history.

For the fifth straight year, and third at Evergreen, Port of Jacksonville Pilot Club members brought their stories to life during the "Tales of Our City" cemetery tour last weekend.

This year, the pilot club received a rare treat when Otis "Buddy" Johnson Jr. decided to travel from Wilmington, N.C., to honor their relatives at the tour.

The older Johnson left Jacksonville immediately after the tragedy and raised a second family. He did not share the tragedy with his son Buddy until the boy was 9 or 10 years old.

The younger Johnson visited the cemetery 18 years ago and placed a grave marker at the family's resting place.

"At the time of the accident he was so distraught, he just had to leave," said his son, now 82. "That's why a marker was never placed."

Visitors walked past that marker during day and night tours that had somewhat different tones, according to organizers.

Louise Stanton Warren, who wrote the script for the tour, said the day tour was historical, but the night tour had a spookier feel.

During the early tour, guides led visitors through the cemetery, stopping at more than 15 selected graves to recount stories of past Jacksonville citizens. Volunteer dramatists were stationed at various graves to portray some of the citizens.

The tour also included the story of George M. Nolan, former mayor and father of Claude Nolan, who opened a Cadillac dealership in 1907. The tour guides also shared the stories of former U.S. Sen. Duncan U. Fletcher and Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, a former governor of Florida. …

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