Oakland Cemetery

Along with besties C, E and N, last weekend I took a walking tour of Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta’s Grant Park.  Founded in 1850 and the first public burial ground in the city, the sprawling forty acre cemetery is a historic Atlanta landmark and the magnificent final resting place of more than seventy thousand souls.

The garden cemetery is resplendent with ancient oaks and magnolias, juxtaposed just under the bustling city skyline.  For years after it opened it’s gates, the cemetery was a popular destination for Sunday carriage rides and picnics and served as somewhat of an art museum for the city’s residents.

We strolled tree lined paths with our small tour group, remembering some of the city’s best known sons and daughters and those that helped to shape Atlanta into the great city that it is today.

The grave of Margaret Mitchell, author of only the most popular novel ever written and hands-down my all time favorite read, Gone With the Wind.
The Rich brothers, founders of Rich Dry Goods (later known as Rich’s before being bought by Macy’s) which became one of the largest department store chains in the South.  I recall Mother travelling to Rich’s in Atlanta for party and picture attire.
Proprietor of Jacob’s Pharmacy, where Coca-Cola was first sold to the public in the store’s soda fountain in 1886.
Golf legend, Georgia Tech alum and Honey’s fraternity brother, Bobby Jones.

In addition to it’s famous (and infamous) residents, Oakland houses stunning examples of funerary art, of the likes of which, sadly, are scarce today.

Monuments are steeped in a symbolism and captivating in a way that just left me speechless at every turn of the winding bricked paths.

The Neal family – wife and daughter hold a laurel wreath, one looks up towards heaven and the other down from heaven.  
A son lost too soon – the tree trunk symbolizes a life cut short, the rocks a solid family foundation, the ivy for friendship and the anchor for hope.  Just remarkable.
The pillow denotes a resting place.

Most striking of the handsome headstones all about Oakland were the ones that told stories of grief and tragedy so substantial that I could hardly bear to read the inscriptions.

The Bloomfield family lost four daughters, aged two, four, six and eight, all within two weeks of each other, likely to something like dysentery that would be a mild inconvenience today.  The horror.
Brother and sister lost as children are depicted as angels, with the faces made from casts of their sweet, innocent faces after death.

The stones in Oakland tell the story of our city’s history – whites are buried apart from blacks and Christians apart from the Jewish.  Some are remembered in extravagant expression with others left nameless in Potter’s Field.  A handful of Union Soldiers rest amongst a bevy of Confederate brothers and those that were undoubtedly unique in life also seem characters in death.

Lavish Gothic Revival Masoleum
Confederate dead
Atlanta’s Lion sits over a trench of over three thousand more Confederate soldiers
Potter’s Field
Jewish gravesites
One of few remaining cast iron markers – many were melted down as bullets during the war.
A family’s pet bird buried in their plot, but marked with a sheep statue.
Oakland’s first resident, Dr. James Nissen, was a doctor visiting Atlanta in 1850 when he fell ill.  Fearing being buried alive, he cut his own jugular vein to ensure he didn’t wake up while in the ground.
Jasper Smith, a notorious Atlanta character, rests under a life sized statue of himself looking towards the gates of Oakland so that he can monitor those that come and go.

Since I was a child I have been intrigued with cemeteries (I was the weird student that used to do school projects on Savannah burial grounds.)  I am drawn to touch the headstones and find my mind wondering at not only the people buried in them, but at the throngs of loved ones that come back to remember – or don’t.  Hence, this Sunday morning stroll was a much anticipated and highly pleasurable outing.

And, in keeping with the theme of the day, after our tour we headed just across the street to Six Feet Under for a delectable seafood lunch (get the pun?) and loads of our customary girly gossip.


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