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  • Writer's pictureMike Fowler

Yeah, we got married in a cemetery.

I always love the reaction I get when I tell people that my husband and I got married in a cemetery. With my job leading tours, I can often work it into the conversation and then I let them soak it in before I get back to it. Often people assume we'd be this goth couple or something out of the Addams Family, but we got engaged in freaking DisneyWorld.

We procrastinated quite a bit leading up to it and didn't even start planning a whole lot until just a few months before. We knew that we wanted to get married on the anniversary of our first date which just happened to fall on a weekend. We had our hearts set on doing a destination wedding in Savannah, Georgia because we had fallen in love with it during numerous visits. In checking hotel after hotel we hit a roadblock because that weekend just happened to fall on a huge marathon weekend and every hotel remotely close was booked.

After the initial disappointment I told Steve to come with me on a little excursion but to keep an open mind......really open mind. Through the years I'd taken my students to Oaklawn Cemetery just outside of the downtown Tampa downtown area. Being an incredible history nerd I was drawn to it because of the rich stories that could be told with the headstones. Within a small space lies a virtual time capsule of Tampa's history all the back to its founding. Another big bonus is the fact that once you enter the cemetery it feels and looks like a beautiful Savannah square. The wide brick paths and trees dripping with Spanish moss provided a perfect setting.

One grave that I've always been drawn to is the gravesite of William and Nancy Ashley. They were an interracial couple who moved from Virginia prior to the Civil War. Some say they felt that they could live more openly this far down in Florida. It's said that their relationship was not much of a secret but definitely not something that was discussed. Eventually Nancy does pop up in census records as simply "cook".

William died in the early 1870's with Nancy following just a year later. Since Oaklawn was technically a segregated cemetery, legally Nancy was not allowed to be laid to rest in a plot next to William. Whether done in the dark of night or secretly during the day, the executor of the estate, John Jackson, opened up Ashleys grave and placed Nancy in with William. Technically by doing so, they were not in violation of the law. Additionally, the Ashleys had arranged for a headstone to be created with the following epitaph;

Here lies Wm and Nancy Ashley

Master and Servant

Faithful to each other in that relation in life,

In death they are not separated.

Stranger consider and be wiser,

In the grave all human distinction

of race or caste mingle together

in one common dust.

Since the stone was erected in 1873, visitors have been charged with the message that all of the barriers we create among each other in life mean nothing because, in the end, we all return to the earth. As a gay couple, we identified with the story since until just a few years ago, we were denied the right to get married.

The setting and the history made a believer of Steve and we set out to create invitations with a written reasoning of why we were getting married in a cemetery. With friends and family gathered round, we exchanged vows. In addition to rings we also gave each other a gift that represented our love. Steve gave me a piece of the Golden Gate Bridge because of a special trip to San Francisco during which he felt a bit unsafe in one area and was actively protecting me from potential harm. I gave Steve the peephole from the door in the apartment I was living in at the time we first met. I have always told people that when I looked through that peephole and saw him for the first time, I knew this was going to be something special. It was a tad awkward going to the current resident and asking for the peephole, but she was completely onboard and had it removed.

As a tribute to the love that William and Nancy shared and the beginning of our own marriage, our guests laid roses at the gravesite to honor them before heading off to the reception WHICH was in a completely normal location.

I'm sitting here writing this on the eve of the 12 year anniversary of our first date and our 2 year wedding anniversary. I can hear Steve snoring in the other room and our "cat children" are nuzzled and purring at my feet. I'm not totally sure how we'll celebrate our day, but we've kicked around some ideas which, being the procrastinators that we are is totally normal. All is well, all is well.

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