14 Cordova St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
Smack dab in the middle of St. Augustine’s Cordova Street stands the hair-raising Tolomato Cemetery. Home to bishops, slaves, and a handful of convicted murderers, this graveyard has left even the gutsiest ghost hunters shell-shocked. Are you prepared to face the ghosts of Tolomato Cemetery?
Tolomato contains the remains of approximately one thousand St. Augustinians. People from all walks of life were put to rest here - particularly, convicts. Criminals are not only buried within the cemetery, but they’re also attracted to it.
The earliest recorded Tolomato burial was fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Forrester (1783-1798). Though she died young, her cause of death isn’t what’s alarming, but rather what happened after. Graverobbers broke into the vault she was placed in and desecrated her remains. Her body was stripped, and her clothes were treated as resale items.
This is only one of the many vile and unspeakable crimes in this cemetery. All of these have only fueled the anger of those who want nothing but to rest in peace.
As an attendee of a holy (and prominent) 19th-century funeral, you have certain expectations.
You expect to have the opportunity to pay your respects. You expect the body has been prepared with care. And most importantly, you expect that the funeral will go as smoothly, - and well, sanitarily - as possible.
The funeral for Bishop Verot unfortunately did not meet guests’ expectations.
It was mid-June, and Florida was scorching. To keep the Bishop’s cool enough for mourners to visit, a pit was made. The cavity was lined with sawdust and ice, before the Bishop’s body was inserted.
His custom-made casket was built of iron, with a glass top that would allow for effortless viewing of the body. Only best for Florida’s first bishop.
Before being put in the pit, the coffin was hermetically sealed. Perhaps too much so.
The humid southern heat and the gases Bishop Verot’s corpse was expelling began to interact. Warmth continued to penetrate the casket, but with no ventilation, the coffin began to rattle violently.
No one could’ve predicted what happened next.
Before anyone could react, Bishop Verot’s body exploded, the eruption shattering the casket’s glass top. Everyone was hit by a storm of decomposing flesh.
Struck with horror, attendees rushed his body to the small white chapel located opposite the cemetery entrance and buried along with Father Varela - a prospective saint from Cuba.
But everyone could still feel the dead Bishop on their skin.
Perhaps it was the ghastly dramatics taken place at his funeral that crippled the Bishop’s passage to heaven. Luckily for us, he’s still around, haunting the old cemetery.
He’s not alone, though. Accompanying the late Bishop is Father Varela, who - before being transferred to Cuba - was buried with Verot in the chapel.
Those who have come across the two figures claim they saw two men dressed in vestments inside the cemetery. They didn’t think much of it until they found out more about the place’s history.
Those who’ve heard the stories will know...these ain’t your typical clergymen.
Just beyond the cemetery gates lies a centuries-old Live Oak.
Five-year-old James P. Morgan spent many days climbing his favorite tree and resting in the crest of its thick, Y-shaped branches.
One fateful day in late November of 1877, James climbed the towering oak, lost his grip, and came crashing down, landing sharply on the consecrated soil of Tolomato Cemetery.
His neck snapped, and he died instantly, only ten days after his 5th birthday.
James lived right across the street from the cemetery. His mother, who asked him to be home by 5:30, looked out her window to see what was taking him so long. Horrified, she witnessed her child’s lifeless body lying face-down on the ground.
Immediately, she began to seek out permission from the local priest to allow her son to be buried in the exact spot he met his death.
Since his passing, James' mother swore she could see her son sitting in the oak, dressed in the white shirt and linen overalls he was wearing when he fell.
This was hard to believe coming from a grief-stricken mother. But a handful of locals had no choice but to trust her claims after they too saw the apparition.
A controversial photo being passed around the web shows what looks to be a young boy sitting in the oak tree's crest. Opinions on this photograph are split, some think it was a trick of the lens, but believers feel that the picture captured the spirit of the young boy.
As the oldest cemetery in the country, this graveyard appeals to history buffs and paranormal enthusiasts. Visit Tolomato Cemetery for an up-close and personal ghostly encounter that will shake you to the core.
Unlike most U.S. graveyards, Tolomato Cemetery is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Ghost hunts are encouraged but always respect the dead.