Unspeakable Times
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Thanks To Archaeology, We Finally Know What Really Happened At The Florida School For Boys

Updated June 26, 2020 689.2k views8 items

The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, also known as the Florida School for Boys, was located in Marianna, FL. The reform school for troubled men, from toddlers to 21-year-olds, was open from 1900 to 2011, and had a reputation for horrific abuse. The many allegations paint a vivid picture of the school, but until 2012, there was no physical proof behind any of the claims. After the closure of the property, forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle decided to take on the challenge of excavating the grounds of the school.

A grim reminder of the past, the school's grounds contained at least one known graveyard, with the state of Florida acknowledging the existence of 31 young men buried there. Kimmerle spent four years deciphering the identities of the victims.  She analyzed the remains she and her team found, and finally began to piece together a clearer picture. Surprisingly, there were more than 31 bodies found, and nearly all of them were subjected to neglect and abuse. Kimmerle has since delivered her findings from the dig to the public, in hopes it would shed some light on what happened at the Florida School for Boys.

  • Deaths Once Thought To Have Been Natural Are Now Suspected To Have Been Caused By Neglect Or Abuse

    Some reports surfaced of boys dying during outbreaks of the flu in 1918 and 1934, and several students and staff perished in a dormitory fire in 1914. These were both well known prior to the archaeological dig, so it wasn't a surprise when human remains were found at the sight of the fire, and from around the time period of the epidemic. However, Erin Kimmerle's team reported:

    [The] investigation indicates that the children who died in the fire were locked in their rooms with no means of escape, while those who died in the flu epidemic were abandoned by the staff without food or medicine. 

  • The Objects Found With The Bodies Helped Construct A Timeline

    The dig team didn't just bring bones to the surface, they found many artifacts. Coffin pieces, parts of clothing like buttons and buckles, a small bottle of embalming fluid, pennies, and a marble were all found at the site.

    The surviving coffin remnants, (such as the handles) were compared to historical catalogues to get an idea of when the boys died. Belt buckles and buttons from clothing also provided some insight when it came to dating the remains. 

  • No One Kept Records Of The Graveyard Layout

    According to Erin Kimmerle, the school didn't actually keep a record of where all of the graves were, or even who belonged in each grave. Also, the parents of the victims were not always told the full story. When they came to visit the graves, they weren't given the exact location of the burial plot, or details about the death. 

    Some of the remains were returned home, but the bodies buried at the school received little to no care and upkeep. Since the school didn't have a policy for taking care of the cemetery, these bodies didn't receive the proper preservation they needed in order to quickly identify them. It could take years to identify these unfortunate young men.

  • At Least Seven Boys Died While Trying To Escape

    Photo: State of Florida / Wikipedia / Public Domain

    When Erin Kimmerle went to Pennsylvania to exhume the remains of Thomas Curry, all she found was an empty coffin. There was actually no evidence a body had ever been in the coffin at all. Curry died in 1925, after trying to escape from the school. The school told his family he had been hit by a train before sealing his body in a coffin and sending it home. However, the death certificate in Florida says his skull was crushed by an unknown force.

    Based on the lack of remains in the coffin, Kimmerle believes Curry's body might actually be among the boys in the unmarked graves.