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.