Green and clean again

12621733299?profile=RESIZE_710xTOP: Evergreen is one of the oldest cemeteries in South Florida. BELOW: Landy Mizell, pastor at Maranatha Bible Church, photographs the Lyman family headstone in April at the cemetery. Photos by Tim Stepien/Coastal Star

12621733687?profile=RESIZE_710xLantana cemetery gets makeover
thanks to the historical society
and a scout on a mission

By Ron Hayes

If cemeteries have a birthday, Lantana’s was probably April 7, 1892, when The Tropical Sun, South Florida’s first newspaper, reported the birth.

“An association to be called the ‘Evergreen Cemetery Co.’ has been formed in this neighborhood. Land purchased of M.B. Lyman on Spruce Ridge one half mile from Lake on township line 44-45 will be immediately improved.”

The first to arrive was Mary Smith, who died of heart disease later that year. She was 17.

“Coming among us a stranger, she was fast making friends in our community, by her gentle and quiet ways,” the newspaper eulogized.

The last was Daniel McCarley, the town’s first police chief, who died on April 15, 1950. He was 78.

In the 58 years between Mary Smith and Dan McCarley, township line 44-45 became the southeast corner of Lantana Road and North Arnold Avenue, and dozens more men, women and children came to rest there, in the shade of a mammoth ficus tree.

Some had been the town’s pioneers. Some were there only because shipwrecks and hurricanes had ended their lives nearby, and some were buried apart, back in the southwest corner.

Another 56 years passed, and by 2006 the cemetery that had been “immediately improved” in 1892 had not been regularly cared for. The grass was overgrown, the gravestones dirty. Sincere but sporadic efforts to rehabilitate Evergreen Cemetery had faltered.

The Lantana Historical Society committed to a beautification project. The cemetery was added to the state’s list of historical sites and the society dreamed of fencing along the east, west and south sides, with ornamental pillars at the four corners.

And then a Boy Scout on a deadline arrived.

12621733861?profile=RESIZE_710xMichael Marrin spent months mapping and supervising the cleaning of grave sites at Evergreen Cemetery as he completed an Eagle Scout project. Tim Stepien/Coastal Star

Young man with a plan
Michael Marrin, who grew up not far from the cemetery, joined Boy Scout Troop 109 when he was 12. On March 23, 2022, he would turn 18 and “age out” of the Boy Scouts.

And he still hadn’t earned his Eagle Scout badge.

Just before then the family was stationed at the Osan Air Base in South Korea, where Michael’s Eagle Scout project was reviving the garden in front of the base’s day care center.

In December 2021, the family returned home to Lantana. The day care’s garden was back in Korea, and Marrin, with only three months until his 18th birthday, was without an Eagle Scout project.

He was granted an extension to complete a project. Now he just needed a project.

Marrin met with longtime Town Council member Lynn “Doc” Moorhouse, who suggested he do something about the cemetery, and Marrin was inspired.

“How do we help someone know what they’re looking at?” he thought.

In November 2022, Marrin set to work, meeting with Rosemary Mouring, president of the historical society, visiting the graves, noting their locations and reading old newspaper reports to create a map, a key to the graves of those known and unknown men, women and children buried there so long ago.

Here’s Morris B. Lyman (1860-1924), deemed the town’s founder and first postmaster, who lived and ran a trading post in what’s now the Old Key Lime House restaurant. Here’s his wife, Mary A. (1863-1928). And here’s their daughter, Bertha Rachel Lyman, who was born March 2, 1893, and died the following December.

Here in the southeast corner are the crew members of the Inchulva, a steamer carrying lumber and cottonseed oil that broke into three pieces off Delray Beach in the hurricane of 1903. Nine drowned, including two black crew members.

Here in the southwest corner are the unmarked graves of several of the town’s first African American families.

And here, beneath the giant ficus, is the mass grave where victims of the 1928 hurricane lie.

“It took two months,” Marrin recalled. “I supervised about 10 or 15 fellow scouts and we cleaned every column and picked up the trash. The stones were moldy and dirty, a little unkept, and there were bags of trash in the tree, from maybe some homeless sleeping under it.”

A rebirth of memory
On the morning of April 10, about 40 men and women gathered by the west gate to rededicate the 132-year-old cemetery.

New fencing enclosed the entire 2 acres, and new columns graced the four corners. The grass had been cut. There was no trash.

“No, no tax money was used to pay for this,” Mouring, the historical society’s president, was quick to note. “It was all paid for by private donations.”

How much did the beautification cost?

“I know,” she said, “but I’m not saying. That’s why the plaque is up there.”

On the pillar to the right of the gate: “In Memory of Dwight M. Bradshaw for his generous contribution of the fencing project. Evergreen Cemetery, Lantana, Florida.”

Bradshaw, who died on Feb. 19, 2021, was a longtime member of the historical society who left a donation to pay for the improvements.

To the left of the gate is a wooden kiosk with a map behind glass. It is a key to the cemetery’s residents, and it is an Eagle Scout project.

Mouring welcomed the crowd, thanked a few notables, and gave a brief history of the place.

Mayor Karen Lythgoe told them she sees the fence as a tribute to Morris B. Lyman, the man who named the town Lantana Point, after the wild plant that grew so abundantly in the area.

After the brief remarks, the cemetery was open for wandering, looking at the graves, pondering the past.

Lythgoe, who grew up in nearby Lantana Heights, remembered cutting through the cemetery as a little girl on her way to Gray’s Market with 25 cents for penny candy.

“I was always touched passing by the children’s graves,” she remembered. And then she smiled.

“For a quarter you could get 25 pieces of penny candy,” she said. “Mrs. Gray always looked at us like we were going to steal something.”

Over by the kiosk, Marrin and Moorhouse were admiring the map.

“I gave Michael an opportunity,” Moorhouse said, “but he’s the one who picked up on it and made it happen.”

When Glenn Ellis, the town’s public services superintendent, joined them, they noted that the fence had not yet been installed when the kiosk was planted in the ground. Now there was less than 3 feet to view it between the new fence and the map.

“Maybe it could be moved back 3 feet or so?” Marrin asked.

“We can make that happen,” Ellis promised.

In December 2022, Marrin met with the board of review — about seven members of the Boys Scouts Gulf Stream Council.

“It was like a job interview,” he explained. “To see if you’d met the requirements to become an Eagle Scout.”

He had, and in June 2023, at a Court of Honor ceremony, he received his Eagle Scout badge and kerchief.

Michael Marrin, 20, will be a junior at Florida Atlantic University, where he is studying mechanical engineering.

Janet DeVries Naughton provided historical research for this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified where the steamer Inchulva sank in 1903. It sank off the coast of what is now Delray Beach. 

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