For the past century, many secrets have remained buried in Marianna, Florida. They are soon to be unearthed. The Florida State Reform School opened on Jan. 1, 1900, on a sprawling estate in Marianna, that looked both picturesque and serene. For survivors of the school, their experiences were hardly easy-going. Over the years, the school’s name as well as oversight changed, but one thing remained the same: stories of abuse told by those who endured them.
In 1914, the Florida Reform School would change its name to the Florida Industrial School for Boys. Another name change occurred in 1957 when it was renamed the Florida School for Boys. As the school expanded, a second school in Okeechobee opened, also named the Florida School for Boys. Choosing to name the Marianna school in honor of a former superintendent, the Marianna campus became the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in 1967. The school retained that name until it closed on June 30, 2011.
Florida has remained silent regarding the dark past and abuses that occurred at the school, but that will soon change, as USF anthropologists are actively exhuming bones from the adjacent Boot Hill cemetery. There is great discrepancy between the number of reported deaths that occurred at the school, and the number of graves reported on the burial grounds. USF anthropology professor Erin Kimmerle is leading the exhumation of bones at the site and forensic examination and autopsies are anticipated to reveal a great deal regarding how the children died.
Will the bones reveal that the children and teens died of natural causes or that they suffered horrific, torturous deaths as described by survivors who have recounted their stories of terror?
There are currently 31 unmarked graves in the cemetery and ground-penetrating radar techniques used under Kimmerle’s supervision revealed 18 bodies. As many of the children and teens buried at Boot Hill cemetery never received proper burial, family members are anxious to lay their loved ones to rest in a decent manner. Many would also like to know the truth of what happened to their loved ones. DNA has been submitted making identification of the bodies recovered easier.
You may see a photo slideshow from the Florida School for Boys/Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, including the “White House” in the slideshow.
Click here for videos about the Dozier School for Boys, interviews with victims, and video footage from the USF archaeological dig at the Boot Hill cemetery.