by Jeff Burlew

Tallahassee Democrat - April 26, 2000

The skull of an eccentric and noted builder who died 81 years ago has been stolen from one of Tallahassee's most unusual mausoleums. Tallahassee Police Investigator Mike Maurer said the grave robbing occurred sometime Monday night or early Tuesday at the onion-domed interment site of Calvin C. Phillips in the Oakland Cemetery. Investigators have not ruled out occult activity in the case, which one historian called "as bizarre as it gets.” I have no idea why anybody would do such a thing," Maurer said, "other than occult-type activity. This definitely isn't your run-of-the-mill case.” Police believe one or more people broke into the crypt and stole the skull from a metal casket. A cemetery caretaker discovered the desecrated crypt about 9 a.m. and called police. Some remains were left in the casket, but police are unsure if more body parts were stolen beyond the skull.” This guy had been dead for 81 years," he said, "so it's difficult to be able to tell exactly what was taken, besides the obvious.” Maurer said police have leads in the case and recovered some physical evidence from the scene, but he declined to elaborate. It’s been tried before. Transients and teen-agers are known to frequent the graveyard on West Brevard Street, which is open during daylight hours. The mausoleum itself also has attracted a number of people since Phillips died, according to police.” They have defaced it and attempted to break into it over a span of many years," Maurer said, "but according to the caretaker, this is the first time someone actually entered the structure.” Police also are trying to determine whether Phillips, who reportedly designed buildings for the 1890 World's Fair in Paris, has any relatives nearby.

Jonathan Lammers, who recently moved to San Francisco, worked for a number of years as a historian for the Florida Division of Historical Resources. He became somewhat fascinated by Phillips after hearing about a home and clock tower he built around 1910 on South Macomb Street. The clock tower, which stretched some 30 feet high, was a local curiosity for years until it was torn down in the late 1970s after a failed preservation effort, according to Lammers. Phillips built his own mausoleum in a mishmash of architectural elements that borrowed from Greek, eastern European and Japanese styles. There are a number of legends surrounding Phillips, including a story about him napping inside the mausoleum one day and startling a passer-by who thought he was dead. Some even claim the spot is haunted.” Anybody who builds a big clock tower in Tallahassee in 1910 is bound to have some rumors about him," Lammers said. "There have always been strange rumors about this man, who was anything but your typical good old boy for early Tallahassee ."Lammers said he hopes the skull of Phillips will be found and returned to the aging mausoleum. "Grave robbers are pretty low on the human charisma scale," he said. "I just hope some freshman didn't take it back to his dorm room so he can put a candle in it. (Phillips) was a truly legendary character from the city's past who deserves better."

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 891-HELP (4357) or891-4331

Skull stolen more than a decade ago still missing

by Karl Etters

Tallahassee Democrat - Oct. 30, 2013

If anything about the life of Calvin C. Phillips is certain, it’s that it ended in Tallahassee in 1919. The answers to why the reclusive architect — obsessed with time — left his family in New York in 1907 to live here alone, and the whereabouts of his skull, drift like a cool mist over Oakland Cemetery on a fall morning. A lichen-swathed, overgrown and crumbling mausoleum in a corner of the city-run cemetery with the name “Phillips” etched in stone above the door appears to be the only earthly thing left of a man honored for his work at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair and the subject of Tallahassee spectral legend. He built the tomb where his body now lies, along with a home and adjacent 30-foot clock tower on South Macomb Street, which were torn down in the early 1980s. Today, his home site is a barren treed lot.

In April 2000, his skull was stolen from the mausoleum in what is still an unsolved case. In a 1985 editorial, “The Tale of a Man Obsessed with Time,” then-retired Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins noted Phillips’ solitary life. “No one recalls ever seeing Philips in a bank, post office, church, school or other place where groups of people normally would gather,” Collins wrote. Indeed, there are few records of Phillips, in Tallahassee or anywhere else it seems. Some think that is no accident. “We know he just showed up in Tallahassee,” said Betty Davis, founder of Big Bend Ghost Trackers. “Nobody was sure who he was.” Her research going back to 1800 turned up no records in New York, nor a reason why he left his wife and children. Leads in census records in other states went nowhere. “I’ve never been able to find anything on his name,” Davis said. Phillips may not have been well known — Phillips may not have even been his real name, Davis said. But she is convinced of his hauntings and believe they stem from secrets he took to the grave.

When Phillips died, the few Tallahasseeans who’d seen him described him as a lean man, with a white beard spiraling below his waist. That gaunt, spindly figure has been reportedly seen perched atop the tomb. Tallahassee Cemetery Supervisor Greg Smith dismisses a ghost-seeker notion that rapping on the mausoleum door may solicit voices from beyond. “There’s nothing to it,” said Smith, who’s worked in city cemeteries for 11 years, Smith has been around Phillips’ tomb many times and said he’s never felt a supernatural presence or seen anything out of the ordinary. “Until I see a ghost and shake its hand, I don’t believe it’s haunted,” he said. Davis has conducted a ghost investigation, seeking out Phillips. She’s never seen his apparition, but has noticed a sudden drop in temperature and quick-draining batteries in equipment around the sight. City officials note city cemeteries are closed on Halloween to deter mischief associated with the holiday.

Dan MacDonald walks for exercise everyday through Oakland Cemetery. He often wonders about the occupant of the eccentric, decaying mausoleum. He too has never seen anything ghoulish associated with the site. “I don’t know if he’s an egotist or not, but his name is real little there, ‘Phillips,’ ” MacDonald said. “You would think if you’re going to build a big gravesite like that, that you’d have a little more fanfare with your name.”

In the months before his death, Phillips labored to build his final resting place, often napping on a cot inside to escape the withering Florida sun. According to Collins, he built his own casket from local cherry wood and instructed undertaker James Victor Culley how to position his body in it when he died. Inside the mausoleum there is room for four caskets, as if Phillips meant for his family to join him. However, he is its sole occupant. Phillips did make arrangements through his lawyer, confidant and one-time owner of Goodwood Plantation, Sen. William C. Hodges, to notify his family, and gave him a key to the tomb. Phillips died shortly after. Hodges himself is buried less than 10 yards to the north of Phillips Davis calls Phillips the unrested dead. She believes he continues to appear periodically, holding onto the secrets of his life inside of the tomb. “I think he was quite a private man and he really didn’t want to be ostentatious or have anyone know much about him,” she said. “In death he is still a private man.”

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