ROUGHLY SIX MONTHS & one Category 3 Hurricane (Michael) later, here we were again. As we drove the main stretch of road, toward our hotel, we could only see bits & pieces of our surroundings. It was too dark to see the extent of the damage done to the area, however, in spite of the darkness, a familiar silhouette began to take shape before us. It was the tall brick smokestack of the South Campus & it was still in one piece; In fact, it didn’t appear to be damaged at all! My adrenaline started going but I knew that it was way too late to do anything tonight. Not knowing the conditions we were walking into, we played it safe & skipped our traditional 1st night pic in front of the school. As we pulled into our hotel, it was packed…Work trucks filled the parking lot & there was a ton of activity on the hotel property. Yet another sign that you’re dealing with the aftermath of a major hurricane. We found our room, unloaded & got ready to settle in for the night. Of course, me being me, I opted to spend a few minutes walking around the property to see what, if any damage had been done.
THERE WASN’T A lot to see OR a lot that you actually could see as it was pitch black & many of the streetlights were still busted or missing. It was also freezing cold, so I gave up pretty quick & went back to our room to read some of the Dozier notes I had brought, until I fell asleep.
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SUNDAY ~ DAY 1
AS EAGER AS I had been to get to the school, we spent a majority of our day walking downtown Marianna. I’m not going to really get into that portion of our trip but if anyone is interested, I will post those photos either to the GRAVEAdventuresFL Facebook page (info below) OR as its own photo gallery here on findingflorida. What I will say is that even though our trip had marked about a month since the hurricane, there was still quite a bit of cleanup & rebuilding left to be done. Most of me felt bad. BUT only for the good people of Jackson County. Sadly, those that were the innocent & had absolutely NO knowledge of the evil that had taken place in their beautiful little town got stuck eating the double helping of Karma that those responsible for taking or destroying thousands of lives had coming. We moved through within an hour & were on our way out when E pointed out a church with an old graveyard on the property.
IT HAPPENED TO be the same church & graveyard that I had seen on our way into town. Now one thing about Marianna; There is NO shortage of churches packed into a small radius! They are on every corner, so if a “Come To Jesus” is what you’re needing, you can take your pick of where you want to have it. There was something about this particular church that had us pulling over & within a minute OR two, stepping into what we thought was just a tiny graveyard. It would be anything but ordinary. There was a reason we were compelled to stop & if we couldn’t figure out exactly what that reason was, we would get some unexpected help.
WELCOME TO SAINT LUKES
WE FOLLOWED THE brick path, through the entrance & started looking around. You could tell that the little graveyard had been well cared for, at least prior to the hurricane. Even the oldest headstones looked pretty decent compared to most places I’ve seen in the past. “Fun” Fact about Marianna; Apparently they take way better care of their old graveyards than they did of the children that they used to generate revenue for their little town…Just Sayin’….
WE DIDN’T GET far before our eyes were drawn to a huge tree that was lying across several of the graves. It was massive up close with the base & the roots still attached; It was almost as if a giant had & pulled it out of the ground like an average person pulling a weed. It was insane to see, especially when paired with the visual of the two old headstones broken beneath it. Add the gigantic gaping hole now in the place of a number of the plots, you’ve got yourself quite the disturbing scene.
ONE FOR ALL & ALL FOR…MILTON??
NOW I HAVE been to over 250 cemeteries (the exact number is actually 273 but who’s counting?) just in the State of Florida, taken thousands of pictures hoping to help with preserving their history, so this one wasn’t really anything special in my opinion. I definitely couldn’t figure out why we were wasting what little time we had meandering around an old church graveyard…Until a series of events took place that let both of us know exactly why we had been brought there. Unfortunately, before I can talk about those events, I have to talk about them…
“THEM” WOULD BE the Milton family & anyone who’s been following this blog OR knows the history of how the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys (OR the Florida Industrial School as it was originally known as) came to fruition is aware that it started with a “Milton.” Specifically Senator William H. Milton as he was the catalyst for making sure that Marianna would win the bid to have the reform school built in his hometown & him, along with his grandson W.H. Milton, would campaign to raise the funds to make this happen. In fact, the Milton family as a whole would be staunch supporters of bringing “Reform “ to the panhandle & even donated much of the land & additional funds necessary to make it happen. The Milton’s were in it up to their eyeballs & “Spoiler Alert”…They got their damn “school.” After the opening in 1900, Senator Milton would continue his support by pushing Bills & requests through the Senate, paving the way for the staff to beat, rape, torture & murder ANY boy they chose without ANY consequences. The Milton name remains firmly planted in Marianna to this day, their mark on everything from churches to law firms…But still NO apology note to the Dozier boys OR their families. That is definitely the one & only mark I’d like to see!
THIS SMALL TOWN sure has some kind of sick hero worship thing going on BUT us Non-Stone Age “City Folk” refer to people like the Miltons as child abusing A-Holes! I won’t bore Y’all with Milton Family “Fun Facts”, so let’s just move on.
AN EYE OPENING INCIDENT
ON THE OTHER side of that fallen tree stood the well cared for headstones of the Milton Family. Grandma, Grandpa, their children & grandchildren had been laid to rest peacefully, ALL with lovely little poems & epithets, acknowledging their “accomplishments” & family. I can assure everyone that the Milton Family had a much different farewell than those who had been at the receiving end of their legacy.
I STOOD THERE looking over each marker, stopping in front of W.H. Milton. Now I totally realize just how childish this is going to sound BUT I took a minute to give him a piece of my mind…Actually several minutes. Completely pointless, YES! Totally worth it, Hell Yeah It Was! I was at the end of my internal berating session when I heard it…
”DO YOU SEE IT?”
IT SOUNDED LIKE a woman’s voice, possibly even a child. You could hear the tone as well as the rise & fall of it. As I looked over to my right to say something sarcastic to E (Who was standing only a few feet away) I stopped. She was deep in thought studying one of the grave markers. Instantly I knew…She didn’t say it. She looked over at me & asked me if I said something. “NO! I Thought You Did!” We pretty quickly established that neither one of us had spoken & that we heard the EXACT same thing at the EXACT same time. It was seriously amazing! We both began wandering in different directions trying to figure out What “IT” was that we were supposed to see. It would be E that would actually figure it out & call me over to have a look…
WELL FANCY MEETING you here Mr. Arthur G Dozier…And you brought the fam! All joking aside, it really was a disgusting display of how valued these evil men were over the children that they were supposed to be caring for. To be blunt, The Miltons & The Doziers have a cushy place to spend eternity while the boys that they had been responsible for are buried on the school’s property in unmarked graves. It’s a fact that to this day pisses me off. Maybe the voice we heard didn’t want us to miss this as it knew that it would light a fire under my ass.
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SKULLS IN THE WOODS & A GHOST FROM THE PAST
THE LAST STOP of our 1st full day in Marianna was the North Campus of the school. It was late in the day, leaving us with little time to really accomplish anything but at least we could see a little bit before it was dark. We took the fork to the left, driving up the hill in the direction of the hospital. It was hard to miss the destruction that the hurricane had caused. Approximately 90% of the trees were completely gone OR broken, the remnants were spread out all over the property. It was shocking to me that I could stand on the hill at the North Campus & see almost all of the South Campus. I could actually see more beyond the South Campus fence than I had ever seen before…Which frustrated the Holy Hell out of me because I wanted nothing more than to get inside of that fence!
AS WE PULLED off the path, we walked over in the general direction of where we had used the fallen tree as a bridge to get to the infirmary the last trip. This time we didn’t make it to the infirmary as something caught our eye, diverting our attention away from that area. It was another section of fence that was missing & as a number of trees were gone, you could just make out the outline of something fairly large.
IT WOULD TAKE a bit just to get through the tangle of vines, branches & other debris blocking the way. It also didn’t help that we were nearing dusk & it had started to rain. It wasn’t even 5 minutes into our hike when the words were spoken that NO person trudging through the woods at dusk EVER wants to hear were spoken…”OH MY GOD, THERE’S A SKULL!” I looked over at E, who had actually found it, & started backing myself out of vine Hell! As I walked over to her, she quickly clarified that it definitely wasn’t human. That had me breathing a sigh of relief! The whole mission for this trip was to find proof that there was additional boys still buried on the property & as badly as I wanted to walk out of there with that proof, I didn’t want to find it this way…I’m almost 100% positive that E completely agreed. When I finally got over to where she was, I was a bit creeped out. It was clearly the skull of some type of dog but what kind, we couldn’t be sure. The odd thing about it was that it was lying in the woods in the wet & mud & yet it looked to be in good condition. Not just good but almost bleached. We chalked it up to another sad victim of the storm & started to move forward again…And then I saw the next one & then the 3rd. A few feet away E would find the 4th & 5th.
NOW I AGREE that this could have been caused by the storm OR even other wild animals, however, I highly doubt that in either of those scenarios everything would have been left in a pattern. If anyone missed the final word of the previous sentence, YES, I said pattern. As in a semi circle type placement that almost appeared like they were “guarding” the front of the structure that we had been working to get through. Since they were way too far apart to get a picture of all of them together, I’ll leave you with this visual:
~PICTURE A RITUAL WHERE SALT IS PLACED IN A CIRCLE OR EVEN AT THE THRESHOLD OF A DOOR…OR TRY THIS ONE; AROUND THE PERIMETER OF YOUR HOME…
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A BRAND NEW DISCOVERY
ANIMAL BONES AND thoughts of rituals aside, we had to keep going. After a few more minutes of struggling we finally stepped into a small area that was somewhat clear & stood there, in shock, in the dim light & drizzling rain looking up at it…OH…MY…GOD…
I THINK WE were both in shock. I know I was! I had been in this area 2 other times, literally right next door to the massive brick building that I would later identify as “Washington Cottage” & had absolutely NO clue that it was right next to me. What remained of the once 2 story structure was unbelievable. The entry way had a huge concrete porch framed by 2 massive columns. After climbing the large steps, we were standing on the covered patio, sheltered from the rain. There was so much debris that it took about 10 minutes just to figure out what it all was. To me it looked like it was tons of branches, leaves & mud combined with broken & discarded furniture from inside. There was also pieces of the actual structure that had broken away & fallen onto the patio.
WE DID EVENTUALLY make our way through the front door, which was one of the things lying on the patio, & when we did it was unbelievable! Unlike the dorms that we had previously explored, this one was pretty empty & the fact that we could easily identify the floors as being concrete showed how much cleaner the inside of the Washington Cottage was than damn near every other building we’d ever been in. It was E who pointed out one of the biggest differences…The cottages we had been in on previous occasions were the traditional red brick, inside & out, while the cottage we were currently standing in had tile walls. It was more than a little strange but I also know that when it comes to the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys, absolutely NOTHING shocks me anymore…Well, almost nothing!
AS IT TURNS out, exploring the the Cottage wouldn’t take all that long. The inside was basically a smaller model of the other cottages with the exception of those tile walls. The main room was flanked on either side by similar enclosed stair cases leading up to the now totally collapsed 2nd floor, causing so much debris that even the most skilled explorer would be hard pressed to get up those steps. I know I never even a gave it a thought. For some reason I didn’t feel that there was anything that we needed to see up there anyway. Our time had shrunk to literally minutes. It was almost dark, raining pretty hard & the temperature was quickly plummeting. Since we weren’t able to access the one other room inside of the cottage (OR I should say what was left of it!), there was only one other way to go…Out the back. So that’s what we decided to do. As it turns out, there wasn’t much to see behind the building either. There was a smaller slab of concrete that served as a possible patio & you guessed it…More Woods! The woods were so thick that we had issues just getting around the outskirts of the building, there was NO way in Hell that we would be able to get through that mess at night. It would be yet another task that would have to wait until the following day.
LEAVE THE NOT KNOWING FOR ANOTHER DAY
ON OUR WAY back to the car there were random things just sitting around. Another old filing cabinet rusting out in the open, discarded bottles & other trash, some looked to be more recently discarded than others but all proved that people did still frequent the area. Who knows what evidence of the past had been destroyed while the locals were hanging out, knocking back a few. We had no way of knowing what we were standing only a few feet away from BUT I can assure you that this time we would be leaving with proof in our hands…
TO BE CONTINUED…
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