Big Bob, The Legendary Hard-Working Horse, was a cemetery horse in Sanford, Florida.
It is difficult to remember in our present 21st century times that horses, now seldom used for anything other than sport or recreation, were once very much a part of everyday life. Yet horses have been part of our lives throughout history and were once necessary modes of travel and work.
Mass transit included trollies, stagecoaches, and wagons drawn by horses. Agriculture depended on the horse and mule and oxen to plow the fields and pull wagons of field workers, often slaves. Taking a trip meant hitching up the wagon. Even though the Germans invented the automobile around 1885-1886, it was not until Ford started producing for the masses in 1908 that the horse got a break – but it took a while.
Modern Florida is Disney World and the beaches, tourists and cities, retirement villages…all about the sun. Today, Ocala and Marion County are the world’s horse capital due to the thoroughbred industry and a burgeoning recreational horse population, horses of the past were tools, vehicles. Many horses of the past are unfamiliar, even though they were an integral part of our society and its survival. But one horse has received recognition – even if his work was a long time ago.
Big Bob, born in 1877, was a cemetery horse in Sanford, Florida. For 28 years, history shows he pulled a hearse to and from Lakeview Cemetery, carrying the dead’s coffins to their final resting place. Established in 1884, Lakeview Cemetery is now part of five cemeteries incorporated into the current Sanford Municipal Cemetery complex.
Established in 1885 by T.J. Miller, Millers Funeral Home was the local funerary which “employed” Big Bob. The big white horse had several owners before becoming an icon of the Miller business of transportation of the deceased.
28 years is a long time for a horse to work, but apparently, that is precisely the case for this horse, who could find the cemetery with no guidance from a driver. It was his job.
Big Bob lived in Florida at a time that saw it flourish, its roots beginning to spread, including the citrus industry’s roots. This hard-working horse was put out to pasture in 1913 and died in 1914, the year the Pensacola Naval Air Station was established.
They buried Big Bob in the same cemetery he traveled to and from regularly. Aged men, young children or wives or cousins, Big Bob carried them all. Laid to rest in the midst of those he catered to, his neighbors included veterans from the civil war…and like others in residence, they placed a headstone on his grave.
When someone vandalized his headstone, Gene Hunt, owner of a local monument company, replaced the small marble marker with a granite one; the original is on display at the Sanford Museum.
Flowers are routinely placed on his grave, even though the people that knew him are long gone. It is heart-warming to realize that someone –possibly Miller? – recognized this horse’s dedication and memorialized him.
You can visit Big Bob at the Lakeview Cemetery off 46-A in Sanford, located behind the All Souls Catholic Church on W. 25th St in front of the Sanford Municipal Cemetery Complex’s combined cemeteries.
A special thanks to Brigitte Stephenson of the Sanford Museum for supplying us with an actual newspaper clipping and photo of Big Bob!