Google+ Georgia On My Mind: Living Among the Dead

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Living Among the Dead

Oakland Cemetery---one of the quietest spots in downtown Atlanta yet full of living people during waking hours. During non-waking hours, well, who knows......

Six acres was set aside in 1850 for a quiet resting place for Atlantans known then as City Burial Place. Today the cemetery consists of 88 acres, and it is estimated over 70,000 people have been buried there. It is considered to be one of Atlanta’s largest greenspace areas, and green it is. In keeping with the characteristics of a Victorian cemetery the original citizens who owned plots and regularly visited deceased family members took great care to contruct a beautiful garden setting that is maintained today mainly by volunteer efforts.

The original six acres is very important to the city because it is the one spot in Atlanta that basically has not changed since the city burned in 1864.

This past Sunday Oakland held one of its annual events---a Victorian Street Festival. The festival is a fitting activity for Oakland because during the Victorian Era cemeteries were looked on as places that should be enjoyed by the living.

People used to take carriage rides and picnic among the gravestones and mausoleums and walk among the fancy ironwork fences so popular in Victorian Era cemeteries. However, you won’t find the ironwork at Oakland even though at one time there was quite a bit. It seems that during World War I, in a show of patriotism, the city of Atlanta removed all of the ironwork and donated it for the war effort.

Today people still visit for picnics, photography opportunities, and maybe even a game of Frisbee in Potter’s Field where there are no headstones to trip you up.

Looking at the layout of the cemetery it is easy to formulate facts and opinions regarding the evolution of Atlanta’s social history. There are distinct Caucasion, Jewish, and African American sections.

The Jewish section has been added onto like some of the other sections over the years and each section has its own little tale to tell. One part of the Jewish section dates from a time when Atlanta had a high number of Jewish immigrants. Due to their circumstances in their original country they wanted to preserve each inch of the land they could so this is why today you will find a part of the Jewish section with no walkways. The headstones are so close together there is simply no room to walk.

Another section, Potter’s Field, possible contains the remains of more than 17,000 people. Traditionally with a name like Potter’s Field you would expect to have only indigent people buried there. However, once all the lots were gone Atlantans still wanted to be buried at Oakland, and were willing to go to an unmarked grave by choice simply to have the privilege of resting within its confines.

The Confederate Section contains over 7,000 soldiers----3,000 of them are unknown and are guarded by the "Lion of Atlanta" marker. Seven members of Andrew’s Raiders made famous due to the Great Locamotive Chase rested for a time at Oakland, but were eventually removed to National Cemetary in Chattanooga Tennessee. During the Battle of Atlanta John B. Hood actually stood on one of the high hills within Oakland’s walls and observed the battle on July 22, 1864.

One section is titled Knit Mill simply because a hosiery factory was built nearby.

Oakland is known for having some of the most unique markers and mausoleum of any cemetery in the United States. The marker for one Jasper Newton Smith is particularly unique in that it contains a life size statue of Mr. Smith. During his life Mr. Smith was a real estate investor. Have you ever been to the Peachtree MARTA station? Go to the Carnegie Way entrace and look for a cornerstone. The cornerstone is from one of the buildings Mr. Smith owned. He had directed that the cornerstone never be removed from the spot. It wasn’t even though the building known as “The House that Jack Built” was finally taken down.

The mausoleum that contains Alfred Austell, founder of the Atlanta National Bank, is known today for the expense incurred in the 1880s compared to today……One source stated the structure cost $90,000 originally while this book stated it was $16,000. Either way that is a large sum of money for the 1880s. The first source stated the structure would cost around $3 million today.

The only mausoleum found in the African American section belongs to Antoine Graves.
One of the most amazing things about Oakland is that there have been recent burials there even though the last available plot was sold in 1884. It would seem many Atlanta families have held onto their prime real estate for quiet some time. The city also retained some ownership of various plots and occaisionally allows someone to be buried at Oakland. Maynard Jackson, former mayor of Atlanta, was one of those exceptions. He is actually buried within the original six acres which is quite a testament to how Atlanta has evolved with regards to race relations. Mayor Jackson is not the only mayor interred at Oakland. He joins 23 other mayors of Atlanta and 6 different state governors.

Find out more about Oakland Cemetery here, and discover other famous Georgians who are buried there.


Anonymous said...


Great article on Oakland, I enjoyed reading it and linked to it here:

Bye for now....

Sara Ashes said...

This is wonderful! Thank you so much for putting it all down- what a great read. My favorite place is Potters Field- there's a spot in the middle with some stacked bricks and a little tree that is perfect for sitting and writing, painting, drinking champagne.

Do you know anything about the headless woman at the corner of the Jewish section? I have always loved her, and I know there are others that do too: occasionally I walk by here and she'll hhave a bouquet of flowers, or be wearing mardi gras beads.

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