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.

Anthony Elementary School

I Googled my elementary school today. I’m not sure what made me do it. Maybe seeing all the back to school photos of friends’ kids. Maybe dropping my own child at his first day of his last year in elementary school. Maybe I’m feeling sad, nostalgic, old. Either way, I Googled the old girl and was surprised by what I didn’t remember about Anthony Elementary School, and what I did.

Anthony Elementary School in Leavenworth, Kansas was built in 1950*, funded in part, by a grant from the Ford Foundation. It was named after the Daniel Read Anthony family, who first came to Leavenworth from Massachusetts in 1854 with the first Emigrant Aid Company. The First Emigrant Aid Company was responsible for bringing Free State settlers to vote against Kansas becoming a slave state. Daniel R. Anthony may not be as well known outside of Leavenworth, where he was both a conductor of the local Underground Railroad and the owner of the Leavenworth Times (Kansas’ oldest newspaper) but his sister, Susan B. Anthony, might ring a bell. I knew none of this back then. I have a faint memory of learning about Susan B. Anthony and her family. I have an even fainter memory of connecting those dots in my head when I was maybe a second grader. I remember thinking she was pretty and strong. What I did know about my school was that it was a Title I, low-performing elementary school in the 1980s, smack dab in the middle of the “good” side of town and the “not good” side of town, and it brought a lot of different worlds together.

My mother walked me up to the front door of Anthony when I was a very tall five-year-old. Having a September birthday, I would turn six just two weeks after school started, always making me one of the oldest kids in my class. I would be nearly 19 when I graduated high school. But I wasn’t thinking about high school that day, I was thinking about not wrinkling my dress. I was wondering if my mother would stay with me all day. I was sliding around from sweaty feet in slick sandals.

My classroom was brightly colored. It housed a row of cubes where we’d put our Kleenex boxes and paint, wall hooks for backpacks and lunchboxes, and an upright piano. I didn’t have a lunchbox. I was a free-lunch kid. I didn’t know that on my first day of kindergarten, but by middle school this fact would push my head lower and lower down, everyday, as I moved through the hot food line. On my first day of kindergarten, however, my head was high, albeit full of anxiety. I smiled when Mrs. McKim, my very tall, very lovely teacher took my hand and showed me where my desk was. I followed her, looking back a few times to make sure my mom was still there. She was, standing with the other parents at the back of the classroom, much too close to the door for my liking. In my memory this is when things get jumbled, but my mom remembers it pretty clearly. I started to cry. And I didn’t stop crying for three days.

On day two, Mrs. McKim let my mom come inside the classroom again. They tried to console me, to introduce me to new friends, but I couldn’t see anyone through the tears clouding my vision. On day three, Mrs. McKim watched me walk into the classroom, and just when my mom was about to follow, she stopped her, and closed the classroom door. I panicked. I ran to the door to watch the scene unfold. My mother was crying outside the door, I was crying inside the door. Mrs. McKim, her hand on my mother’s shaking shoulder, told her it would be best to leave. Just leave me there, and walk away. I hated Mrs. McKim for this, for much longer than I should have. It wasn’t until my son went to preschool, and his teacher told me to go, while he screamed and groped for me and she held him back, that I realized what Mrs. McKim had done. And how important it was to do.

That day Mrs. McKim switched her tactic with me too. She let me sit at my desk and cry for an hour or so, then she pulled me aside and told me that I was disrupting the class and would have to go sit in the library, right across the hall, all by myself. A few minutes later I was all alone at a desk in the library. The librarian Mrs. Simmons, was busy walking around shelving books, big kids were coming in and out looking oddly at me. I sat, crying, until it felt like I had no more tears to cry. Then Mrs. Simmons walked in with two of my classmates, Robin and Pam. She walked up to my desk and introduced them both. She said they were girls in my class, and that made them my friends. Pam, whose sweet, chubby cheeks shined in the library light, asked me if I would be her friend. I said yes. Then Robin and Pam stood on each side of me and took me back to the classroom, hand in hand. I never cried again in kindergarten.

A few years ago my sweet friend Pam died. An undiagnosed medical condition, if I remember correctly. She never lost her sweetness, though. Not one ounce, even when we drifted apart years later. I can still see her chubby, rosy cheeks. I can still feel her hand in mine. I still remember her earnestness. Her need to be my friend. Her determination to make me feel safe.

It’s been a long time since I stepped foot inside Anthony Elementary School. An even longer time since I have felt that particular pain. The kind that sticks with you. The kind that shapes you. I may have went to a Title I, low-performing school in an economically diverse area of the Midwest, but I never felt underserved or overlooked. I felt lucky. I felt content. And today I am feeling thankful.

Thanks, Anthony Elementary School. For the teachers like Mrs. McKim, Mrs. Coughran, Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Heim. Thanks for Mrs. Albright, and Mrs. Simmons, and Mrs. Parks. For Coach Hendee and Mr. Parks. Thanks for the lifelong friendships. Thanks for the blacktop and Oregon Trail. Thanks for the Halloween parades and the fifth grade talent show. Thanks for being a safe-haven, for a painfully shy little girl who is the woman she is today because of the foundation you gave her.

M.

*It’s important to note that Anthony has been through a few renovations, including a major overhaul in 2010, and has survived in Leavenworth, where many of the other schools have been vacated, or turned into housing or commercial spaces. I’ve included a current picture below to show the progress.