Oakland Cemetery

We like cemeteries. We all like them for different reasons, but the things we all like about them are how quiet and beautiful they can be. How the history sort of engulfs you. And Atlanta happens to have two of the oldest, most beautiful, historical cemeteries in the Southern US region. Last year we visited the Westview Cemetery and it did not disappoint. But it was is the smaller, less significant of the two well-known cemeteries here in Atlanta. A couple of weeks ago we finally made it to the other one, Oakland Cemetery.

According to Oakland’s website, this cemetery (less than a mile from Downtown) is Atlanta’s oldest public park, and the final resting spot of some of Atlanta’s most notable figures. The cemetery spans 48 acres, and includes a garden and a Visitors’ Center with a Museum Shop. They have full and part-time staff running around the clock to keep up with the gardens, the landmarks, the burial grounds, and shop and museum. It’s truly a remarkable place and you should visit if you ever find yourself in The ATL. Now you know me, I’m ’bout to dig into the history for y’all, so if you are not inclined to read about how the cemetery came to be, go ahead and skip to the bottom for pictures from the day we visited because we are going back, y’all.. Way back…

In 1850 Atlanta bought six acres of land and named it the Atlanta Graveyard. Charming. The land was sandwiched between what is now Decatur St. and Memorial Drive. We took the MARTA to King Memorial Station, hopped off, walked one block and found the front entrance. It’s a great stop if you ever find yourself on the MARTA headed into Downtown. It stops in Sweet Auburn, if you get off and walk north you’ll hit Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.’s home and memorial, walk straight to the Georgia Capital, and walk south and there you have Oakland.

Oakland is considered one of Atlanta’s oldest plots of land because the city itself was set ablaze in 1864 by the Union soldiers during the Atlanta Campaign, but Oakland was spared. The city fell to Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman on September 2nd, which if your memory serves, was the beginning of the end for the Confederate Army, as Sherman managed his way to Savannah in December (wherein Maj. Gen. Sherman wrote to President Lincoln to offer up a Christmas gift: The City of Savannah) and then on to the sea. How nice of him. (Savannah was spared as well, on account of its beauty.)

Getting off track.

There is an estimated 70,000 people interred at Oakland and even though the last plots were sold in 1884, there are still regular burials there today, mainly on family-owned plots or plots that Atlanta owns, of which they still own many. In addition to the monuments and mausolea, there are plots of land that were strictly dedicated to certain groups of people, which was customary in the South at that time. There is a section for Jewish people, a section for Black people, a section for Confederate soldiers, and there is a Potter’s Field aka a Popper’s Grave, a section for those who did not have the money to be buried.

Of course all of this happened after the expansions. The original six acres is most famously the home to Martha Lumpkin Compton (what a name!) she was the daughter of Governor Wilson Lumpkin and Atlanta was actually known as “Marthasville” after her between 1843 and 1845.

There is also a famous golfer in the original six acres, his name was Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones, and I have no idea about him, but I do know that people love to visit his grave and leave golf balls for luck on the links, I suppose.

The grave I was most excited to pay homage to was Margaret Mitchell Marsh, the author of Gone With the Wind. It took a bit of meandering, don’t worry they have an app, but we eventually found her and I sacrificed a penny like many other writers before me. Voodoo? Nah. You want to know about real voodoo, you should probably read my four-part series on my Mardi Gras experience, including how I didn’t leave a sacrifice at Marie Laveau II’s grave. (Shudder). I have since repented, leaving a sacrifice at her home on St. Ann St. last summer.

We didn’t spend too much time at the cemetery, not as much as we’d like anyway, so we plan to go back in the summer when everything is in full bloom, but we walk the original six acres and visit the Bell Tower where the Visitors’ Center and Museum Shop are located. And bathroom. There are bathroom.

If you plan right, you could spend a whole afternoon, if not longer, at Oakland. It’s 48 acres is sure to inspire you. It will also scare you, surprise you, and if you’re lucky, wrap its arms around you and pull you down, deep down, into its Souther roots. I say let it.

M.

Westview Cemetery

We’re fans of cemeteries. Maybe that’s odd, probably that’s odd, but we don’t mind being odd. We enjoy strolling through the grassy slopes, reading the names, honoring the deceased. We all have our thing. Jackson likes to look for the “cool” statues and the “cool” people buried there, he’s also always on the hunt for a ghost wandering the grounds (he’s read too much Harry Potter and is expecting a Nearly-Headless Nick). Jerimiah and I like the architecture. We like the mausoleums and the crypts. I secretly like to wonder about the people buried in them. I read a name and envision their story, their life, that’s the writer in me. I wonder about the people who still come to visit their lost loves, that’s the empath in me. Or maybe it’s the romantic in me. Either way, I hope people come to visit their lost loves.

We’ve visited a couple of really unique cemeteries in the last few years. We were accidentally locked in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va for a few minutes, when we stopped for the scenic views and to pay our respects to Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler. Luckily the man closing the gates came back.

At Arlington we talked with Jackson about generals and presidents. About politicians and war heroes. We stood at the Eternal Flame and let him take it all in, even though we know it is way above his head. For now.

We visited St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans this summer. We walked along the catacombs, and admired the restorations. We met some locals who told us how tourists tend to disrespect their hallowed grounds. We apologized on behalf of those people, though there is no way to make amends.

Life has settled back into a routine around here over the last couple of weeks, so we have finally started to explore our new-to-us city, Atlanta. So it should be no surprise a cemetery was on our list of places to see. This time it was Westview Cemetery.

Westview is the largest cemetery in the southeast United States and it’s about 20 minutes from our house. It is home to war heroes, confederate generals, rappers, politicians, ministers, and businessmen. The founder of Coca-Cola, Asa Candler, is buried there and Jackson was very interested in visiting his memorial. I think he was secretly hoping it was shaped like a giant bottle of Coke (spoiler: it is not).

Along with Westview being the largest cemetery in the Southeast (600 acres, over 100,000 people buried there), it also has a couple other unique characteristics. For one, the Civil War Battle of Ezra Church happened on that land in 1864. Twenty years later the cemetery was opened after Oakland Cemetery, the more famous of the two, filled up. Then there’s the four structures at the cemetery. There’s a Confederate Memorial, a Water Tower (which is often mistaken for a Civil War-era look-out tower, or the place where Rapunzel let down her hair), a Receiving Tomb (which housed excess bodies during the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918), and lastly, the stunning Westview Abby, which is home to a chapel and a mausoleum. Westview Abby was built in 1943 and houses 11,444 entombments. It is the largest structure of its kind ever built under one roof, and it is a sight to behold.

The day we wandered into the cemetery a storm was just about to blow through Atlanta. In fact, it started right as we were leaving and it ended up being quite a storm, sending lightening down in many spots. Several people were injured at the PGA Tour Championship just a few miles down the road, when a tree was struck by lightening, and some lost power in their homes for a better part of the day. But it didn’t rain while we were there, which means I was able to snap some pictures, and I’m sharing them here with you today. If you ever get the chance to visit Atlanta, make sure to stop by and pay your respects. And if cemeteries are not your thing, that’s okay. But remember, you might end up in one someday, so maybe start checking them out. 🙂

M.

Throughout the mausoleum there are several stained glass panels depicting Jesus Christ’s life from nativity through crucifixion and resurrection.
Explaining entombments