In retirement, history work will continue
Cemetery sexton wrapping up 31-year Orlando career
Don Price has many stories to tell. Like an almanac of Orlando’s historic families, he rattles off tale after tale of the city’s founding and development.
The list includes the Bumbys, the Delaneys and Dr. John McEwan, who always brought his mechanic with him on house calls in the early 1900s because he didn’t trust the newly invented automobile. They’re buried together at Greenwood Cemetery.
Price, 51, is retiring from his job as sexton of the sprawling 100-plus acre cemetery, wrapping up a 31-year career in Orlando’s records department. His popular tours of the grounds, ripe with tales of Orlando’s past, will continue.
“The whole goal was to make these stories alive,” said Price, whose last day of work is Halloween. “There’s a really old saying that says everybody dies twice. You die when you take your last breath and then you die when they mention your name for the last time. And so my whole goal through all this is to keep their names being mentioned.”
Price started his career at 19 managing the city’s records department. He jokes he was the second choice for the position but was hired after the first choice turned down the offer.
He was attracted to the job for the education
“It’s all just telling stories, and that’s the beauty of it.” Don Price, Retiring sexton at Greenwood Cemetery
reimbursement but soon it was Orlando’s history that captivated him.
Early documents and minutes from the city’s founding in 1875 were only on paper, and when Orlando moved its archives digital in the 1990s Price was among those who read the handwritten information into a tape recorder.
“I got to read out loud from 1875 when we became a city … all the way up to 1913 when we went to typewriters,” Price said. “You just fell in love with the history of our town.”
In 2003, Price, a father of four, also became the cemetery sexton.
Mayor Buddy Dyer said the city was losing Price’s vast knowledge of both the cemetery and Orlando history, noting the sexton was especially helpful in planning burials for four victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre at Greenwood and in the relocation last year of the “Johnny Reb” Confederate statue.
He also said he and his senior staff went on a nighttime tour of Greenwood led by Price.
“I would say Don is irreplaceable in some regards,” Dyer said.
“I will say this about Don: I’m not sure that 100 percent of what he tells you is absolutely 100 percent accurate. I called him on a couple of things one time,” he said chuckling.
The tours began in 2004 after massive cleanup efforts required when Hurricane Charley toppled scores of trees throughout the cemetery. Many people who had their own mess to clean up also found time to help clean up Greenwood.
As neighbors and residents removed limbs from gravesites, certain names would catch their eye.
“People would go ‘Hey, is that Bumby from Bumby Avenue?’ or ‘Is that Sam Robinson from Robinson Street?’” Price said. “There were questions that Orlando was missing because Orlando had been a transient community.”
So once Greenwood was back in shape, Price offered a walking tour to those who helped and he began sharing the stories.
The tours have continued since and frequently are booked soon after they come available. They’re free and held on the Friday closest to a full moon.
Dyer said he remembered calling Price soon after the Pulse tragedy to ensure the city had enough land to bury the 49 victims together at no cost if any families chose to.
While only four did, Price arranged the burials in the special section set aside for the victims went off without a hitch.
Rumors swirled that protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansasbased group known for its anti-gay positions, would picket the funerals. So Price arranged for the donation of a 15-foot tall fence covered with black draping to line nearby Anderson Street. The city also secured a parade permit allowing it to block off a stretch of Anderson Street and a nearby park.
What retirement holds for Price remains to be seen.
He said he doesn’t yet have a plan but may work part-time jobs to stay active or perhaps find a quiet bar he can work at to share more of his stories.
He’s also talked about doing some writing about Orlando’s history or expanding his tours downtown.
“It’s all just telling stories, and that’s the beauty of it,” Price said. And he’d be OK with it if his headstone described him as a “storyteller.”
The next moonlight walking tour is Nov. 23. Registration is required and opens Nov. 9. Go to cityoforlando.net/greenwood/moonlight-walking-tours.
Don Price, sexton at Orlando’s Greenwood Cemetery, last week. Price, 51, will soon retire from his position with the city, but he will keep offering his nighttime tours of the cemetery.
Don Price will continue his popular nighttime tours of Greenwood Cemetery, where he shares the stories of Orlando’s founding and its notable residents and founders.