New ‘Spirit of Evergreen’ statue now stands in cemetery
Published: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 11:31 a.m.
As rain descended on Evergreen Cemetery last Sunday, Betty O'Byrne made friendly conversation before the unveiling of the new "Spirit of Evergreen" statue, which towered beside a sapling dogwood.
Established in 1856 as a private cemetery. City assumed ownership in 1944.
Approximately 4,000 spaces available for sale
Who’s buried there
Robert Wyche Davis (March 15, 1849-Sept. 15, 1929), U.S. congressman and Gainesville mayor who served in the confederate Army during the Civil War and was elected to represent Florida’s 2nd District in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1905.
Albert Hazen Blanding (Nov. 9, 1876-Dec. 26, 1970), U.S. Army General who graduated in 1894 from East Florida Seminary (now the University of Florida). He became active in the lumber business and later worked in banking and mining.
Dr. Robert Cade (Sept. 26, 1927-Nov. 26, 2007), inventor and professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Florida, where he invented the sports drink Gatorade in 1965.
"I believe that's Maud's new statue," said a woman behind her, pointing to the statue covered with a large white sheet and fastened with a gold rope.
"She was a 19-year-old girl," the woman continued. "When she died, her parents put an angel-looking monument on top of her grave. Then someone stole it, somehow. It was shocking.
"That was her symbol."
O'Byrne, 88, nodded as she listened, pushed her glasses up her nose and folded her hands on her lap.
Leaves tumbled around her, gathering on the grass and scattering beneath the rows of plastic chairs lining the sidewalk.
Somewhere in the palmetto brush, a bagpipe wailed "Amazing Grace," and the 30 to 40 onlookers quieted.
Although the scene resembled a funeral, the unveiling of the "Spirit of Evergreen" on Sunday actually paid homage to Maud Duke. The project was a joint effort between Gainesville's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department and the Evergreen Cemetery Association.
In 1904, at 19, Duke passed away and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, located at 401 SE 21st Ave. Her parents erected a memorial in her honor — a statue of a young girl holding a bouquet of flowers — and for a century she stood, forever young.
In 2007, the monument was stolen. Authorities never caught the thieves and believed machinery was involved in the heist.
As a result, Evergreen lost one of its oldest relics, and for the next six years, Maud's empty pedestal weathered away in southeast Gainesville.
Then, as part of a yearlong project intended to raise awareness for the historic Evergreen Cemetery, Gainesville commissioned a new marble statue and pedestal for Maud. The project also will include a 39-stop cellphone tour through the graveyard and a newly renovated website, said Russell Etling, the program coordinator for the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department.
"This is a moment of great pride for all of us who love Evergreen Cemetery," said Etling, who was involved in the renovation. "She's named the ‘Spirit of Evergreen' because she's a symbol for all those whose heart and soul are twined with this wondrous place."
On Sunday, Etling was there to admire the 9-foot-tall statue.
It was crafted by an Italian sculptor, he said, and now it was home again: near the entrance to the Old Yard, where Evergreen Cemetery was founded in 1856, and just feet from where the original Maud once stood.
Present to unknot the rope, tear down the sheet and reveal the new Maud were Commissioner Susan Bottcher, Cultural Affairs Director Steve Phillips, Evergreen Cemetery Association president Dr. Thomas Fay and Etling.
When the sheet was lifted, O'Byrne smiled from her chair.
"Very, very nice," she said. "I think it's just lovely."
Maud glittered in the sun that broke through the light rain shower. White and red rose petals rest at her feet, and she looks like her predecessor: a young girl clutching a bouquet of flowers. On the stone pedestal in blue letters is the inscription: "Spirit of Evergreen."
"It's much more than new art to us," Etling said, "much more than that."
After the ceremony, he walked to Maud's grave: A crusty tombstone with an opening at its feet where wet leaves collected. An old, grey screw juts out of the pedestal where the previous monument was once attached.
"There's no greater loss than a parent saying goodbye to a child," Etling said, staring at the stone epitaph. "It broke my heart when I found out that she was stolen."
He moved deeper into the trees, reminiscing about Evergreen Cemetery.
It was Fay — whose great-grandfather founded the cemetery — who showed Etling the "treasures and beauties" of the cemetery. The two would occasionally explore the cemetery's 53 acres together, he said.
"One day, he showed me this huge tree," Etling recalled, "and said he remembered when it was a root. His father told him to yank it out, but he pleaded with him and promised that he'd take care of it and water it. Now look at how its grown."
For Fay, 86, Evergreen is a special place.
On Saturdays, he and his father used to maintain the cemetery, "and on Sundays, we would come out and enjoy it," Fay said.
On the unveiling Sunday, he lumbered out to his old tree, which was about a five-minute walk from Maud's grave.
"This is it," Fay said, looking up. "That's my tree."
The brown trunk soared about 30 feet into the sky, and the branches drooped like tired eyes, creating a shady circle around the base.
"I love this place because I grew up in it," Fay continued. "Today was important. It was a good, strong emotion of somehow we'd repaid Maud."
As he trudged slowly toward his family's graves further off in the cemetery, a dirt path lead back to the Old Yard, where O'Byrne was lingering with other members of Evergreen Cemetery Association.
"I like this place," O'Byrne said. "I like the trees. They're old ... and beautiful ... and they give shade."
As she spoke, the young dogwood continued to flutter in the breeze, and stood small — only for now — next to the "Spirit of Evergreen."