I’ve visited several cemeteries in Savannah, Beaufort, and Charleston (many more than once), but today was the first time I visited a reportedly haunted cemetery in my own hometown: Tampa’s Oaklawn Cemetery.
Described as the final resting place for “white and slave, rich and poor,” Oaklawn is Tampa’s oldest cemetery at approximately 164 years old. Several prominent Tampa families rest in the historic cemetery, as do pirates, slaves, soldiers, and victims of yellow fever. Given the cemetery’s age and the stories of its residents, it’s hardly surprising that Oaklawn has a haunted reputation.
Oaklawn Cemetery Ghosts
According to Deborah Frethem, author of Haunted Tampa: Spirits of the Bay, spooky legends surround several of Oaklawn’s dead. A man named Charles Owen was hanged in 1882 after he allegedly broke into a wealthy family’s home and attempted to rape the daughter. Now, Frethem says, the shadow of a man hanging from a noose occasionally appears near Owen’s grave at sunset.
Cigar magnate Vincent Martinez de Ybor is also buried in Oaklawn, though he hoped Cuba would be his final resting place. Legend has it a confused Vincent wanders through the cemetery at night, perhaps searching for signs he is home.
Oaklawn stories posted online contain the usual haunted rhetoric: ominous feelings, the sense of being watched, darting shadows, etc. Some people claim they’ve photographed full-bodied apparitions in the cemetery, though I didn’t find any interesting photos.
William and Nancy Ashley
Though there isn’t a ghost tale about William and Nancy Ashley (that I’ve heard), their story is interesting nonetheless. In 1837, William, a white man from Virginia, arrived in Tampa with Nancy, a black woman he technically owned but considered to be his wife. Though they could never legally wed, William and Nancy lived together in Tampa for over 30 years. William died in 1871 and was buried in an all-white section of Oaklawn. When Nancy died a year later, the executor of William’s estate was unable to buy her a plot next to William due to the cemetery’s racial segregation. So, the executor instead opened William’s grave and put Nancy inside. The epitaph on the Ashley’s joint headstone reads:
Wm. and Nancy Ashley
Master and Servant
Faithful to each other in that relation
In life in death they are not separated
Stranger consider and be wiser
In the grave all human distinction
of race or cast mingle together
in one common dust.”
I sensed nothing remotely paranormal during my time at Oaklawn. However, I was busy taking photos and keeping my two and three-year-old children from tromping over graves.
Are the stories about Oaklawn Cemetery true or nothing more than fanciful tales? If you’re ever in Tampa, stop by and see for yourself.
Know of a haunted cemetery? Send info to firstname.lastname@example.org!