WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — South Florida officials are considering improvements for a memorial and mass grave for hundreds of victims of the 1928 hurricane, still the deadliest natural disaster in state history.
A fence and marker were installed in 2003 at the West Palm Beach field where 674 victims of the hurricane were buried. Now, though, paint is peeling from those installations and while the city mows the grass every few weeks, the memorial is largely ignored by the public.
“It has never looked this bad in all the 14 years I’ve been on the board,” said City Commissioner Ike Robinson, whose former district included the site.
City Commissioner Sylvia Moffett tells The Palm Beach Post that neighbors aren’t sure whether adding amenities such as an amphitheater or restrooms would attract more park activity or constitute sacrilege.
“Even if it’s not an active park, we owe it to people to maintain it,” Moffett said.
Monday marks the 85th anniversary of the storm. The Category 4 hurricane knocked out the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
At least 2,500 people died in the storm and flooding. Amid health fears, authorities dug mass graves or burned corpses in massive pyres.
Hundreds of black victims were buried in the West Palm Beach field, which was a paupers’ cemetery. For decades, it remained empty and unmarked.
Robert Hazard, an advocate for the memorial site, envisions a park with tables for checkers and chess, space for yoga classes and educational kiosks. He also hopes Florida could make the site a state park.
City parks and recreation director Christine Thrower said the site was designed more as a memorial than as a public park. However, she said she was open to Hazard’s ideas.
“There are many things we could do to honor what the area stands for,” she said.