At least 145 unidentified graves in a forgotten “paupers cemetery” have been rediscovered beneath a Florida High School.
The grounds are believed to be home to the small one-acre Ridgewood Cemetery, an African American burial ground dating back to the 1940s. Historical records indicate that this cemetery had between 250 and 268 individuals buried here. In 1957, the City of Tampa sold a 40-acre lot that includes the cemetery to a private company, which was subsequently sold to the school district two years later. The cemetery is noted in the deed, but the Tampa Bay Times reports that it has been forgotten over time.
After receiving a tip last month, geophysical technicians mapped and scanned two areas of the high school grounds with ground-penetrating radar to find “clear evidence of burials,” said the school district in a statement. In all, approximately 145 coffins were spotted buried between 1 and 1.5 meters (3 and 5 feet) deep.
It is unclear where the remaining 100 or so remains may be buried, but experts have several working theories. Many of those buried on the grounds, perhaps up to 77, were infants or small children whose smaller coffins can be more difficult to locate using radar technology. It is also possible that some of the adult coffins have decayed or been relocated in the 75 years since their burial. Additionally, some graves may be located on-site under an agricultural lab facility that was built in the 1970s. Hillsborough Public School District officials say they are now working to remove the building.
This is the second time since August that a once lost cemetery has been found in the Tampa Bay area, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Archaeologists found almost 130 caskets from an “all-black, segregation-era” cemetery under a housing facility. Rediscovering forgotten cemeteries is not that uncommon. Last year, construction crews operating in Texas unearthed the graves of nearly 100 people believed to have been black prisoners forced into labor more than a century ago.
The school district says that it "remains committed to respecting the individuals who are buried there, and their families." They have since cordoned off the area. Under Florida law, findings now sit at the offices of the Medical Examiner and State Archaeologist, who have 30 days to decide whether to keep the land or give it back to the school district.