On Thursday, May 7, he spent the blazing day replacing the sign, banishing the weeds and planting cheerful flowers.
The cemetery, reportedly built in 1926, served as a final resting place for African-Americans in Jim Crow Pinellas County; some 6,000 souls are said to be buried there. It lies near the St. Petersburg/Gulfport line and faces 58th Street South at the intersection with 6th Avenue, just south of the Royal Palm Cemetery and the old railroad tracks (now the Pinellas Trail).
“The bottom line is that it just needed to be done, so we did it,” said Hollman, who lives nearby in St. Petersburg.
The “we” he referred to was himself and his partner Bill Sullivan, a Realtor who kept the sweating Hollman supplied with cold beverages, bolts and additional plants in between his showings of properties that day.
“Hopefully, somebody will take the lead and keep doing it,” Hollman added.
While he was fixing up the site and installing the new sign that cost him $125, almost a dozen people stopped by to commiserate about the sad state of the cemetery and thank him for his work, Hollman said.
Hollman, a Michigan native, picked up the reins that have fallen between the cities of Gulfport and St. Petersburg and a cemetery manager who has reportedly moved out of state, leaving a rundown property and a passel of unpaid bills behind.
Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly said the city has liens totaling some $17,000 on the cemetery for mowing and maintaining the nine-acre property in the last several years. The cemetery is owned by Sarlie McKinnon of Atlanta, according to Gulfport officials.
“We mow it and make basic maintenance to keep it safe, as we’re required by state statute,” O’Reilly said.
The goal, however, “is to have a responsible party take care of it in lieu of the city,” he said.
To that end, Ward 4 Councilman Michael Fridovich said the city has spoken with McKinnon “many times over the years” about finding a solution. He said he called McKinnon again several weeks ago and that McKinnon agreed to sign a quit claim deed assigning the property to a local pastor willing to take over the cemetery’s maintenance. However, McKinnon failed to follow through, “which is what he has done over the years,” Fridovich said.
The Gabber called the cell phone number provided for McKinnon by the city and reached a man who confirmed he was McKinnon, but who said he did not own the cemetery. Declining to elaborate, the man who identified himself as McKinnon said he would call back, but as of press time has not done so.
According to a 2010 article by the Tampa Bay Times, McKinnon took over operation of the cemetery in December 2009 under the auspices of the nonprofit Lincoln Cemetery Memorial Park Corp. to rescue it from neglect. Of the $109,000 perpetual-care fund he received from the previous owners, $25,000 remained six months later, with most of the money reportedly going to pay bills and do initial cleanup.
St. Petersburg Councilmember Wengay Newton, who has been active on cemetery matters in the past, had not returned the Gabber’s request for comment by press time.