If the glossy magic and fairy-tale stories of the Orlando theme parks don’t speak to your soul, it’s time to venture beyond those carefully curated worlds. Orlando’s rich history extends way beyond the theme parks and tourist attractions; in fact, it was once the hub of the citrus industry. Local museums, cemeteries, and other historic Orlando sites provide a peek into the multi-layered past of Central Florida. Many of these sites, such as Greenwood Cemetery, offer free tours that are perfect for history buffs on a budget.
Once a month, when the headstones are illuminated by the full moon, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy these free guided tours of Greenwood Cemetery. The eerie song of cicadas from the nearby Greenwood Urban Wetlands and old oak trees draped with Spanish moss provide appropriate atmosphere, yet the tours are more informative than spooky. The tours are led by sexton Don Price who instead of telling ghost stories focuses on the lives and history of those buried at Greenwood Cemetery. The 100-acre cemetery includes sections for veterans from the Civil War, World War I and II, as well as a section honoring victims of lynching, a reminder of Florida’s struggle for justice and equality. Price, who has received awards from the Historical Society of Central Florida for his dedicated work, brings the past to life with his intimate knowledge of the grounds and those buried there. Notable graves you’re likely to visit on your tour include:
- Joe Tinker – A member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Joe Tinker played for the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. In the 1920s, he moved to Florida, where he became owner and manager of the Orlando Tigers of the Florida State League, as well as the founder of a successful real estate firm. He died in Orlando on his birthday in 1948.
- Edna Giles Fuller – The first woman member of Florida Legislature, Edna Giles Fuller was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1928 and again in 1931. She was president of the Florida Suffrage Association as well as a member of the city chamber of commerce. She was buried at Greenwood in 1952, just a few blocks away from her Orlando home.
- July Perry – As a prominent black advocate for civil rights, July Perry championed education and civic engagement. After participating in a voter registration movement in 1920, Perry was killed by a violent mob attack that rampaged his community. A memorial for Perry was erected in 2002 and fresh flowers are still frequently left at his grave.
Your stroll through living history is bound to include these and many others, including some familiar names you might recognize. To book your tour of the historic Greenwood cemetery, visit http://www.cityoforlando.net/greenwood/moonlight-walking-tours/. There is no cost but these popular tours fill up quickly, so be sure to reserve your spot in advance.
Remember to book your Orlando accommodations early as well. The local, independently owned Rosen Inn International is located on International Drive, just off Interstate 4. Hop on the highway and you’ll be at Greenwood Cemetery and other historic Florida sights in no time at all. To book your Orlando stay, call 407-996-1600.