In re­tire­ment, his­tory work will con­tinue

Ceme­tery sex­ton wrap­ping up 31-year Or­lando ca­reer

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Gille­spie Or­lando Sentinel

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.

RI­CARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA/OR­LANDO SENTINEL

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.

RI­CARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA/OR­LANDO SENTINEL

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.

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