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Nurse who died rescuing sufferers in 1953 lastly has a gravestone

Gertrude Warnick died 69 years in the past, hailed, then questioned, then forgotten. Since 1953, her physique de ella has rested in an unmarked grave below patchy grime and creeping weeds at Clearwater Municipal Cemetery.

Till now.

It began on March 30, 1953, when information clips and eyewitness accounts reported Warnick operating out and in of a crumbling constructing, the warmth “so intense it blistered paint on buildings throughout the highway,” whereas rescuing not less than one affected person from a hearth on the Littlefield Nursing Residence in Largo.

In all, 33 individuals died that evening, together with Warnick.

A couple of weeks later, the couple who owned the nursing dwelling testified in a trial about who was at fault. Mrs. Littlefield, one of many house owners, claimed Warnick died in her mattress from her and “may have been below the affect of one thing that evening.”

Warnick was new to the job, an orphan with one sister, no husband and no kids. When the jury dominated the reason for the hearth was undetermined, the nurse and her function de ella had been shortly forgotten.

Many years previous. Clearwater grew. The hearth grew to become a part of historical past.

In 2021, an beginner historian got here throughout Warnick’s identify whereas trying by way of previous information. He began digging. And he believed the eyewitness accounts of her actions from her that day.

In April, the Tampa Bay Occasions shared her story.

In October, Warnick acquired a gravestone.

It reads: “A nurse hero.”

This is the way it occurred.

This paragraph ran in a information story from the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Miss., on March 30, 1953. [ Via newspapers.com ]

If you’re on the bottom…

Craig Siapno climbed off his bike someday and walked by way of an previous cemetery. He noticed the historical past of Clearwater advised one gravestone at a time. Now, a couple of occasions a yr, he walks by way of previous cemeteries, possibly Rousseau or McMullen in Clearwater.

Siapno and his spouse each got here from nice households, “however we had nothing … I will put it this fashion, when the TV broke in 1958, we did not have one other one till 1962.”

He retired as an insurance coverage adjuster after seeing a few of the worst issues individuals face — fires, crashes, dying — and is aware of how simple it’s to lose every thing.

When he examine Warnick, Siapno felt unhappy. Then he despatched an electronic mail.

“Ms. Hare, learn your article a couple of gravestone for Gertrude,” he wrote on the day the story ran. “Should you advise me who to make a cash order to and the place to mail, I’ll ship $50 towards the price. I’m no one, and when my name to the opposite facet comes, my directions are for cremation and (to be) dumped within the Gulf. That stated, I imagine if you’re within the floor, there needs to be a marker.”

He quickly delivered a $100 cash order to the Clearwater Historic Society.

Over the cellphone, he took a protracted pause when requested about it.

“We have simply been so lucky,” he stated.

Then he requested the place he may discover Warnick’s newly marked resting place. He plans to go see her at block 8, lot 8, plot 3 on considered one of his cemetery walks from her.

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From the Tampa Tribune on March 30, 1953.
From the Tampa Tribune on March 30, 1953. [ Via newspapers.com ]

Set in stone

Like his mom and father, Kevin Cantrell works in granite, marble and reminiscence.

In 1985, Will and Doris Cantrell opened a monument firm in Tarpon Springs. Now, the Cycadia Monument Co. is run by Cantrell, his spouse and their two sons.

He heard concerning the nurse within the unmarked grave from the pinnacle of the Dunedin Historic Society. Then he learn her story about her.

Cantrell determined to donate a gravestone, one thing he tries to do when he can. His son de él, KJ, engraved it. They labored out the logistics with the town. He figures it was value about $575. And in October, the sandy patch of unmarked earth the place Warnick rests acquired a marker. Tales like hers matter, Cantrell stated. They’re a part of our historical past.

“Individuals are capable of really feel their roots, hint their roots that means. Individuals really feel a part of the neighborhood that means.”

It is essential that somebody’s identify is everlasting, he stated.

“It is not going to go away with the climate.”

Gertrude Warnick was
Gertrude Warnick was “tall, darkish haired,” “cheerful and really affected person.” She died in a 1953 fireplace and rested in an unmarked grave in Clearwater, pictured right here, till final month. [ Courtesy David Barmore ]

Into the graveyard

After her story was advised, earlier than her identify was etched in stone, Warnick’s identify was plastered on a couple of trolleys. She’s considered one of a number of individuals featured on the Clearwater Jolley Trolley’s Haunted Clearwater Tour.

That tour raised about $5,000, which will likely be given to the Clearwater Historic Society, stated CEO Michael Helmstetter. A few of that cash contains fee for utilizing the historic society’s property as a pickup for the tour.

However the worth of what is occurred because the nurse’s story resurfaced goes past simply her gravestone.

“The entire cemetery is in the course of a serious, well-needed makeover.”

That features removing of an previous fence and lifeless timber. Overgrown bushes acquired trimmed. And a spot that felt uncared for—one that features graves of Clearwater’s founders—acquired new life.

And the individuals who made it occur are usually not accomplished but.

The list of victims from the Littlefield fire ran in the Miami Herald on March 30, 1953. The list includes Carrie Hatcher, who is buried in an unmarked grave next to Gertrude Warnick.
The listing of victims from the Littlefield fireplace ran within the Miami Herald on March 30, 1953. The listing contains Carrie Hatcher, who’s buried in an unmarked grave subsequent to Gertrude Warnick. [ Via newspapers.com ]

A gravestone for Carrie

The person who first found Warnick’s story drove out to see her lately.

“It was neat,” stated David Barmore, who volunteers with the Dunedin Historical past Museum. “It made me really feel that she’s not forgotten anymore.”

In discovering Warnick’s story, Barmore labored with Vinnie Luisi, govt director of the Dunedin Historical past Museum. Luisi hasn’t been out to see Warnick but however he plans to go to this week.

“I am simply grateful that her identify is out within the public now,” he stated. “Individuals are conscious of what she did, and he or she’s acknowledged within the cemetery.”

With the remaining donations, the volunteers plan on getting a gravestone for the girl Warnick reportedly died attempting to avoid wasting. That girl, Carrie Hatcher, rests in an unmarked grave subsequent to Warnick. Her gravestone of hers will go within the subsequent yr.

They are not the one individuals misplaced to historical past and now returned.

reporting from Tampa Bay Occasions‘ Paul Guzzo has discovered whole Black cemeteries which have been erased by growth all throughout the Tampa Bay space. Clearwater’s Whispering Souls African American Cemetery, as soon as deserted, has new caretakers. In Tampa, School Hill Cemetery obtained a historic marker. Archaeologists, researchers and neighborhood members proceed to search out graves and cemeteries. And in Tampa, 112 years after she was buried in Zion Cemetery, Anna Rebecca Wyche was remembered by her great-great-granddaughter of her with a funeral.

Subsequent yr, the Clearwater Historic Society plans to honor Warnick as a part of its Ladies’s Historical past Month celebration, stated president Allison Dolan.

“It is good when you possibly can reverse some adverse historical past,” she stated.

Warnick is remembered now for serving to others when it mattered. In their very own methods, nearly 70 years later, the individuals who helped get her a gravestone did the identical factor.

Join Kristen Hare’s publication and study the tales behind our obituaries

Our weekly publication, How They Lived, is a spot to recollect the buddies, neighbors and Tampa Bay neighborhood members we have misplaced. It is free. Simply click on on the hyperlink to enroll. Know of somebody we should always function? Please electronic mail Kristen at khare@poynter.org.

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