Secrets of Boothill…Visiting Dozier: Pt 1 – Finding Our Way

 

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  For the better part of a year now, my biggest goal was to find a way to visit the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL. I spent months pouring through every article, website & any other piece of info I could find on the place. In August of this year, I came across an article saying that USF had finally concluded their investigation of the site & the excavation of Boothill, a small impromptu cemetery between the buildings & the heavily wooded area that were all owned by the State of Florida. This was the graveyard where approximately 55 boys were found buried, most without even a record of their death. A couple of weeks following that article, I found another reporting that a decision would be made in January of 2016 on what the fate of the Dozier School & surrounding property would be…Most likely demolition would be in its future. That gave me a very small window of opportunity to fulfill this really big & really important goal of mine & without any doubt, I had to find a way to make it happen! I knew that getting there was going to be the first major challenge! Dozier sits very close to the Florida Panhandle, a 5 hour drive from where I live, so I knew that there was no way that this would be a short little day trip where I would be back in time for dinner…It would require a bit more planning as it would have to be an overnight trip. Secondly, I wouldn’t be able to do this alone, nor did I want to! So, I told my best friend that she could give me this trip as a birthday present & she readily agreed! We started planning & fast forward to Sunday, November 8th…We were on the road to Marianna!

 We arrived in Marianna on a wet, dreary, chilly Sunday evening & though we both knew that there wouldn’t be any exploring that night, we both agreed that it would be best to at least try to find the school to save time the following day. It took several tries, but we finally found it! We pulled into what we soon figured out was the back of the property, the buildings that housed 100’s OR more boys since it opened in 1900 until it was finally closed down in 2011 for the horrendous acts of abuse & torture of its charges. We sat there in the car, in the rain, the headlights shining through the tall barbed wire fence, lighting the ghostly shells of building after building, threatening to expose the secrets that had been absorbed into each wall, each piece of broken furniture or each possession that had been left behind…My adrenaline faded & the emotions began to emerge…We got out of the car & stood there in the rain just looking through the fence. As we shivered in the cold, the only thing that would come out of my mouth was “Oh my God, We actually DID IT!” It was really hard to turn my back & get back in the car to leave but we both knew there was nothing more we could see or do that night…BUT there was plenty we could do the following day…

  On Monday, November 9th, we found the opening in the woods where we could slip in off the main road & drove back into the woods until we were certain the car wouldn’t be easily spotted…We also reached a dead end which housed a series of dilapidated cabins that we believed were used as staff quarters throughout the years that the school was in operation. Unfortunately for us, the easiest & most direct path to get to the main property was through one of those cabins…I didn’t hesitate to go right inside! The entire house was dark & torn apart. The furniture & carpet looked like they hadn’t been updated since the ’70s…It almost looked like time had just stopped one day & everything was left in its spot to decay until nothing was left. As we approached the back door, I noticed a water logged student dictionary & a piece of child’s artwork that had been left behind. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had made mental note to go back to it later. A couple more steps & we were standing outside, in grass as tall as our waists, staring out at the entire property that was the notorious Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys! The emotions that hit were overwhelming…Awe, sadness & a huge feeling of grief & loss. Gone was the earlier adrenaline & excitement that we had felt knowing that we had finally made it there. The emotions were so strong that more than a few tears were shed that day….

Doing our best to push emotion & nerves aside, we set out to photograph the school & property, try to find a way inside the barbed wire fence & to find the infamous Boothill. We began searching & quickly realized we needed to watch every step we took due to the many deep holes that were disguised by thick grass. It was only about 20 minutes into our visit that we made our 1st startling discovery…

TO BE CONTINUED….

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Our 1st Encounter with Dozier

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