As thunder and lightning raged in Gulfport Monday night, a giant laurel oak surrendered its secrets in Lincoln Cemetery. Tuesday morning, city workers and the mayor noticed something protruding from inside the trunk: a headstone dating from the late 1940s.
After enhancing the photo with imaging software, it appears the first worn line of the stone – which is not marble – reads simply “At Rest”, while the second line identifies “Pinkey Brady”. The most obscured line, the third, shows a birthdate in the late 1880s and a date of death of 1948 or 1947.
The Gabber consulted with Toffer Ross, a Gulfport-based landscape designer who has experience with forensic landscaping. She estimated the tree’s age at at 60 years, the average lifespan of a laurel oak. She pointed out a lightning strike from several years ago and predicted Tropical Storm Andrea weakened the tree and Monday night’s storm felled it.
“It started as a volunteer seedling,” she said Tuesday “possibly the family left it because it was a nice little oak tree.”
In time, the “nice little oak tree” swallowed the headstone. Toffer called this chain of events “not uncommon” although she added, “it’s the first time I’ve seen one.”
Lincoln Cemetery, on the south side of the old railroad tracks (now the Pinellas Trail) served as a final resting place for black people in Jim Crow Pinellas.
Sarlie McKinnon owns the cemetery, but the Gabber could not find a valid phone number for Mr. McKinnon, who is believed to have records for the gravestones (The Lincoln Cemetery has $9,000 in code liens, owed to the City of Gulfport for maintaining the grass).
Online listings of the cemetery do not show a Pinkey Brady interred there. Alumni from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Florida Studies program have started researching records in hopes of locating her descendants.
Anyone with information about Pinkey Brady should contact CathySalustri@theGabber.com.