© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Historic Gravestones Get Restoration Work In Key West

Nancy Klingener
Sculptor Craig Gray applies epoxy to a gravestone he's restoring at the Key West Cemetery.

The Key West Cemetery dates back to the mid-19th century — and some of the gravestones there have fallen into disrepair.

The plots are all privately owned, so if there are no family members to care for them they don't get maintained. But the Historic Florida Keys Foundation, a local nonprofit, is funding restoration of some of the graves that are in the worst shape or have particular historic significance.

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
Charles DuPont was born a slave — and elected sheriff of Monroe County in 1888. Until recently, his gravestone had been knocked over, face down, so his name was not visible.

Sculptor Craig Gray moved to Key West four years ago. He had spent 25 years in New England, carving and restoring grave markers but planned to focus on his artwork in his new home.

Then a friend in Key West asked him to make a gravestone when her husband died. And he found himself back in the cemetery.

He said  working there has helped him learn more about his new home.

"It's like a history book that's really condensed," Gray said. "When you walk through this cemetery, you can find the history of Key West in almost every stone."

His work will help preserve that history. One of the stones he's repairing is for Charles DuPont. DuPont was born a slave in 1861 — and became Monroe County's first African-American to be elected sheriff, in 1888.

"His stone was granite, so it was very durable," Gray said. "It just, for some reason, it was knocked down. You wouldn't have even known it was him, because of the fact that the stone was face down. The back of it was all you could see."

Now DuPont's stone is back upright so visitors to the cemetery can see his name. Key West is planning a Cemetery Stroll for the morning of Saturday, Feb. 25. Reservations can be made by calling 305-304-1453. A $10 donation to the Historic Florida Keys Foundation is recommended. Proceeds go to support cemetery restoration projects like Gray's.