Historic Oakland Cemetery – Atlanta, GA

October 6, 2014 – After saying goodbye to my 88 year old mom last week for what I imagine to be the last time given her worsening condition, I’m having a hard time getting back into happy travel mode.  Even though no physical condition at the moment is life-threatening, the doctors say there’s really no predicting when her end will come – could be today, could be a year from now.  It’s important that I continue on to Austin for a variety of reasons now, so I can’t allow myself the luxury of a full-on immobilizing black cloud depression session.

Oakland - entrance

Part of me just wants to curl up in a ball and cry, so it seemed fitting for me to make a tour of the historic Oakland Cemetery my first stop while in Atlanta.  I’ve had a fascination with old cemeteries since I was a child and my parents would take us to the old cemeteries in New Orleans.  I thought the statues were beautiful and the stories told by the headstones fascinating even though incredibly sad.

Oakland Cemetery was founded in 1850 to replace Atlanta’s outgrown downtown municipal cemetery.  Many original interments were moved here and expansion continued when 7,000 Civil War soldiers were laid to rest here.

Oakland - Bell Tower

The Bell Tower, built in 1899 as a chapel, is now the Visitor’s Center.  The ladies I met here were very helpful, so definitely stop and pick up a $4 map for a self-guided tour.  Guided tours in golf carts by knowledgeable volunteers are available for $10.

Oakland - Garden 1

During the Victorian period, Oakland was developed into a “rural garden cemetery” – this style is rare and distinguished by elaborate monuments amid a garden-like setting.

Oakland - Angel Trumpets

I thought this large bush of Angel Trumpets was quite beautiful and appropriate for the setting.

Oakland - tree

Large trees with interesting shaped limbs provide shady rest for some.  There are some massive Magnolias scattered about, too.

Oakland - Road

Befitting the times when built, the roads are narrow, but you can drive through and around the perimeter.  You can park alongside the road as long as there’s room for another car to pass around.  Since the property now encompasses 48 acres, it’s pretty tiring trying to walk around the entire grounds.  But since you can’t drive on the more narrow cobblestone paths, you’ll miss a lot if you don’t get out of the car.

Oakland - Neal

This is the front view of the plot coming up on the road in the picture above this one.  It felt like I should wave to these people like they were sitting on their front porch watching the cars go by.  This is the Neal Monument erected by Thomas Neal in memory of his wife and daughter.

Oakland - Snyder

This is William and Dora Snyder side by side forever, despite their 24 year age difference.  Born in 1887, William was 95 when he died.  Dora, born in 1863, was just 54 when she died in 1917.

Oakland - Smith

Smith Mausoleum was built under the direction of Jasper Smith (1833-1918) and his statue faces the entrance, allowing him to “watch” all comings and goings.

Oakland - Niobe

This is a statue of Niobe from Greek mythology.  All of her children were murdered after she bragged on them to jealous gods, so she particularly personifies grief.

Oakland - Austell

The Gothic Revival style Austell Mausoleum was built by prominent banker Alfred Austell (1814-1881) who founded what is now Wells Fargo Bank.  It sits on the highest spot in Oakland and it cost $16,000 to build in 1883, the most expensive at the time.

Oakland - Potters

But Oakland also had a “Potters Field” with unmarked graves, as well as some private lots that are not as well marked or maintained once descendents died.  The Historic Oakland Foundation is working to rescue these.

Oakland - fountain

“Out in the Rain” is a replica of a fountain unveiled in 1876.  In 1913, the city paid about $100 for it – a recent renovation cost $10,000, proving that inflation never dies.

Oakland - City

I also found the blending of the old monuments and the new buildings an interesting sight when viewing the modern skyline of Atlanta in the background.

Oakland - City 2

And the old statues overseeing the landscape and watching the changes take place.

Oakland - Confederate grounds

The Confederate Obelisk honors all Confederate soldiers.  The base was dedicated on the day of Robert E. Lee’s funeral in 1870.  The 65′ Stone Mountain granite obelisk was the tallest structure in Atlanta when it was dedicated on Confederate Memorial Day in 1874.

Oakland - Confederate graves

Looking at the number of gravestones and the size of the Confederate Memorial Grounds is sobering.  Headstones mark 3,900 soldiers.

Oakland - Lion of Atlanta

Another 3,000 unknown soldiers are buried in the open area guarded by the Lion of Atlanta.

Oakland - Union soldiers

At a respectable distance, even 16 Union soldiers are buried here.

Oakland - Richards

The Richards Mausoleum also marks the spot where Confederate General John Hood watched the Battle of Atlanta in July 1864.

Oakland - lamp

This is the Garrett Gas Lamp and its scars are said to have been caused by shrapnel during the siege of Atlanta.

Oakland - African American burial

The African American Burial Ground

In 1866 the City of Atlanta set aside this 5-acre portion of land as an African American burial ground to separate the grave sites of African Americans and whites.  Before 1866 African Americans were buried in an area called Slave Square on the northeastern corner of Oakland Cemetery’s original 6 acres.  Until the legal segregation of public facilities in Atlanta ended in 1963, the African American burial ground remained the only place in Oakland County where African Americans were permitted to buy burial plots.  According to cemetery records, more than 12,000 African Americans have been buried at Oakland Cemetery since its founding in 1850.

Oakland - Mitchell

As a lifelong Gone With the Wind fan, I naturally wanted to see Margaret Mitchell’s grave site.  I learned that leaving pennies on gravestones can have varying meanings, but basically denotes respect and indicates their memory has value to you, so I’m glad I left mine.

Oakland - Jones

Bobby Jones was “the greatest amateur golfer of all time” and was co-designer of the Augusta National Golf Club (site of annual Masters Tournament), so his fans leave golf balls.

Oakland - Tweet

Oakland is also pet friendly, and Tweet the Mockingbird who died in 1874 is just one of several beloved family pets buried here.  A lamb was used for the headstone because the carver could not do a mockingbird.

Oakland - Bowers

I had to laugh at this example of having the last word on a gravestone:

The stone on the left side is for Julia Bowers who died in 1966.  The tablet in front of hers says:

She burned her candle at both ends.  But it made a lovely light.

The stone on the right is of her husband, Tete Bowers, who died in 1979.  His tablet says:

He was a fool.  But Julia loved him.

I couldn’t help but wonder who commissioned these opinions forever captured in stone!

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More than simply a cemetery to memorialize the departed, Oakland is a very pleasant park for the people who come here to picnic, jog, walk their dogs or bike the scenic paths.  Others come to do historical, architectural or genealogical research.  I enjoyed the hours I spent here and highly recommend it as a stroll through Atlanta history.

  • Susan

    It was nice visiting with you there. It is a great place to just go visit if one is in Atlanta. Best of luck in your travels. -Susan

    • Susan, thanks so much! I totally agree it is a “must-see” when in Atlanta. Fascinating and beautiful place!

  • I got this email about this post, so thought I’d share it here:

    How did you know I enjoyed going to cemeteries Malia? I enjoy going to look and see the names and wonder who they were, What kind of life they had. Did they leave children behind? Does anyone remember them today and keep their resting place free from weeds and such? How, when times were so poor, did they find the money to build such a beautiful tribute.? Did the mothers of children who died early suffer with the loss? Why did they have to die so early? So many questions..My son in law spent some time in an Atlanta cemetery several years ago. he took some wonderful pics that he had framed. They are of angels and such. So beautiful in the memory and workmanship. Thanks for sharing. I wish I could have been with you. Pat