Monday, May 25, 2009

Return to Apalachicola

I didn't have enough time in the town of Apalachicola, Florida, about a year and a half ago (see October 15 & 16, 2007), even though I spent the night there at the time. So I determined to go back and spend a few hours looking around, especially in the Chestnut Street Cemetery.

My photo only hints at the weathered stones and obelisks, rusting ironwork and crumbling fences, or the towering, ancient trees festooned with Spanish moss, or the weedy patches of ground, or the light humid quiet of the late afternoon, when I was at Chestnut Street Cemetery alone, except for the dead. Egbert, Hutchinson, R. Knickmeyer (Co. B, 4th Fla. Inf. CSA), Orman, Wise and Zingarelli were among the names I could read. A lot of names had been almost completely effaced by time.

Atlanta photographer Paul Clark took a lot better images of the place than I ever could, which are here -- but note that entirely fitting background music plays when the page of images opens.

The Florida historical marker at the cemetery says the following: "Chestnut Street Cemetery dates prior to 1831. Interred are some of Apalachicola's founders and molders of her colorful history. Also buried here are many soldiers of the Confederacy and victims of yellow fever and shipwrecks. Seven of the Confederate veterans served with Pickett at Gettysburg in the gallant Florida Brigade. World famed botanist, Dr. Alvin Wentworth Chapman, of Apalachicola died in 1899, and is interred here beside the grave of his wife."

A list of Confederate veterans in the cemetery is here. I didn't see Dr. Chapman's stone at the cemetery -- it would have taken quite a while to find any particular stone without a reference -- but of course I looked him up later, finding this eloquent obituary, which describes him as "the leading authority on the flora of the southern United States." He seems to have achieved that by force of intellect and a passionate interest, not by specialized academic training animated by credentialism.

I spent time among the living of Apalachicola as well, but on a late Friday afternoon there weren't all that many people wandering around the streets near the waterfront. The town fishermen, for one thing, had called it a day by that time, docking their boats within easy viewing distance for any passerby. Reportedly one in ten oysters harvested in U.S. waters comes from the estuary where the Apalachicola River meets the Gulf of Mexico, right offshore from the town.

Across the street (Water Street) from the waterfront is a block of brick structures in various state of repair, many of which had begun their existence as warehouses in the brisk cotton trade that used to be the mainstay of the town's economy. Now much of the block is part of the town's tourist infrastructure, as are other blocks near the water. But unlike some picturesque small towns, the town isn't wholly given over to accommodating visitors with eateries, small non-chain hotels, antique purveyors, galleries, boutiques, gift shops, nicknackeries and so on.

Most of the stores were closed by the time I got there, anyway. But I was glad to see the decades-old Applachicola Seafood Grill open for business. I had a feeling I couldn't go wrong if I had dinner there, and I was right. Best fried oysters I've ever eaten.

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