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The search for early Pensacolians at Miraflores Park

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Jennie McKeon
/
WUWF Public Media
The Boy Scouts building at Miraflores Park where remains were found in June 2021.

About a year and a half after the discovery of human remains at Miraflores Park in Pensacola, the city is moving forward to see just who, or what is also there.

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In June of 2021, the remains were discovered by Boy Scouts in a crawl space under the Boy Scout building at the park. Mayor D.C. Reeves says an investigation revealed the remains were part of a historic gravesite that was likely disturbed when the building went up in 1934.

“Biological anthropologists from the University of West Florida conducted a skeletal analysis that indicated there were two individuals present, one female and likely one male,” he said. “Ancestry is difficult to determine what partial skeletal remains, but features of the female individuals suggested that there are traits that align with the various known populations in historic Pensacola, such as African, Creole, and European.”

Reeves adds that the city of Pensacola has jurisdiction moving forward.

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“With that, I'll be creating a Community Advisory Group to assist in the assessment and future commemoration of Mirror Florist Park,” Reeves said. “My office and city staff will be working with the Community Advisory Group partners and community stakeholders. As the study and research continue, we will announce that group on Tuesday, January 17.”

The Community Advisory Group will gather feedback on how to interpret the data and the reinternment of the two individuals. Public meetings are planned to that end.

“This type of analysis is lengthy, and it requires utmost care, attention to detail, and respect as we look at each skeletal fragment individually,” said the mayor.

Adrian Walker, an archeologist who is the city’s Cultural Resources Coordinator, says an analysis found more than 100 co-mingled skeletal fragments.

“The analysis provided information regarding biological profiles,” said Walker. “The female individual was estimated to be of 35 to 44 years of age. And the second individual, who is likely male, was estimated to be 40 to 47 years of age.”

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City of Pensacola
Miraflores Park

At this point, there do not appear to be any plans to excavate the park for additional burial sites. Walker says that’s where 21st-century technology takes over with ground penetrating radar, or GPR, a non-invasive technique. But she adds there are drawbacks.

“GPR does have the potential to be inconclusive when there is a large amount of ground disturbance, such as utility construction or development, or even root systems from large trees,” Walker said. “Fortunately, mirror florist park is relatively undeveloped, so we are hopeful that the GPR survey will provide favorable results.”

In Pensacola, which was incorporated in 1698, Walker says the park has been relatively undeveloped, plus there’s a preservation atmosphere that a lot of other cities are lacking.

“Areas in Clearwater, in Tampa,” she said. “Other areas in the Southeast have found African American unmarked burial grounds because a parking lot was put on them in the 50s or 60s or buildings were built. And now those are being raised or altered, and that's when they're finding out that people are still there.”

As far as deciding whether to begin the work at Miraflores Park, Mayor D.C. Reeves says it’s actually a non-decision.

“We're a city that prides itself on its history,” said Reeves. “And in opportunities like this, we get a chance to learn from our past. These were people. They were part of a community. These people could be ancestors of current Pensacolians. There are stories to be told here, and I believe that the future of this park, how this study proceeds, and how its story unfolds should be handled delicately and respectfully.”

Updates about the Miraflores Park Burial Ground Study will be posted on the City of Pensacola's website.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.