Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery

Some people may find this odd but I like to visit cemeteries. On a personal level, one of my fondest memories with cemeteries was discovering the graves of my paternal great-grandparents. One time, my dad and I along with his sister went to the cemetery where my aunt believed my great-grandparents were buried (she couldn’t remember the name of it, she just knew that it was a Ukrainian cemetery and its approximate location). Thankfully we did succeed in finding the cemetery as well as their graves (just like with the Philadelphia phone book, my great-grandparents appeared to be the only ones in the St. Josaphat Cemetery with the Tulba surname.

So yes, I enjoy visiting cemeteries for family connections but I also like going to those that I have no ties to. As you know I am a history lover and there is no better place to “see the past” than at a historic cemetery, one whose origins go back centuries. Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery can definitely be included in this.

Oakland Cemetery

As was the case with many cities during this time, Oakland Cemetery came about because by the mid-19th century, the city of Atlanta had outgrown its downtown municipal cemetery. (Remember, at this time mortality rates were significantly higher than they are today so the dying business was always a busy one.) Oakland was created to take that place, and in 1850, six acres of farmland on the edge of the city were purchased. Oakland grew to what it is today (48 acres) after Atlanta became THE economic powerhouse of the South in addition to needing to bury the remains of thousands of soldiers from the Civil War.

Oakland Cemetery

What makes Oakland Cemetery so unique is that it is one of the rare “rural garden cemeteries,” a style that was “in” during the Victorian era and was marked by elaborate mausoleums, striking monuments, and a garden landscape that looks straight out of a Renoir painting. But as I would learn, Oakland Cemetery wasn’t just home to the well-off demographic, it was also the final resting place for indigent people.

Oakland Cemetery

Oakland Cemetery

And even a cemetery was not exempt” from the evils of segregation. Until 1963, the only area African Americans could be buried in Oakland was in the African American burial ground. According to cemetery records, it’s believed that 12,000 African Americans are buried in Oakland since its founding in 1850.

 Oakland Cemetery Oakland2

Another thing I found particularly fascinating about Oakland was that it is also home to a Jewish section. Seeing graves with Hebrew lettering right in the thick of one of the American South’s most famous cemeteries was a sight I wouldn’t think one would see too often.

Oakland Cemetery oakland2

 You can also find the grave of the woman who wrote that epic novel that only a few people ever read…

 Oakland Cemetery oakland2

(Surprisingly, there was nothing on her grave. I thought for sure there would be something left behind by an ardent fan.)

And one of the main reasons I wanted to go was for its Civil War ties. It’s home to 7,000 soldiers that died in the Civil War as well as some notable generals. I was more interested in paying my respects to the row after row of “average” soldiers, those who didn’t have a prestigious family name or extreme wealth, they just fought for their country because that’s what they believed in, a trait that has been the case since the beginning of mankind.

Oakland Cemetery oakland2

Oakland Cemetery oakland2

Oakland Cemetery

I’ve been to some pretty well-known cemeteries over the years but this might just be my favorite one. It was a beautiful place to explore, a neat way to learn about history, and the perfect spot for a peaceful outing.

Oakland Cemetery oakland2

Oakland Cemetery oakland2

Oakland Cemetery oakland2 oakland3

Oakland Cemetery oakland2 oakland3 oakland4

Oakland Cemetery

Tips for visiting!

Open: From dawn until dusk, 365 days a year

248 Oakland Avenue, SEAtlanta, GA 30312

Pubic transportation: Take the MARTA (the blue or green line) to the King Memorial station. It’s a five minute walk to the cemetery then.

Bring water and be sure to apply sunblock before going (there are plenty of shady areas

but there are also many areas where there is no protection from the sun).

I recommend purchasing the $4 Self-Guided Tour and Map from the Visitor’s Center. It was invaluable in locating certain graves and sections.

More in this series!

Atlanta-a photo essay

Margaret Mitchell House

Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park

Mary Mac’s Tearoom (restaurant review)

SkyView Atlanta

Martin Luther King’s Atlanta

Alma Cocina

World of Coca Cola

Turner Field

Hotel Review: Atlanta Courtyard by Marriott Downtown

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  • Reply
    Jo Ann M. (@JoAnn0924)
    June 8, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Old cemeteries, like old buildings and neighborhoods are filled with history, character and even beauty! They seem to have a special serenity about them.

    The photo of the African American burial ground is very sad. How outrageous that there was segregation even after death and as late as 1963!

    Love the mausoleum with the pyramid on top. How old is it? I also love the two figures with the cross. Gorgeous!

    What is the story of the building with the figure seated on the roof?

    I really enjoyed this post! You are so good at capturing small details that others might overlook.

    • Reply
      June 10, 2014 at 8:40 am

      I do find cemeteries so peaceful and serene (well, as they should be). We did a lot of touristy things in Atlanta, many of which were mobbed with people, so it was great to escape the crowds and just be able to stroll without noise and people all around you.

      The segregation parts were very sad. The Jewish burial grounds were also separate-I was wondering if that was done due to de facto segregation or something the Jewish religion would have required?

      I’m not sure about the age of some of the very opulent and unique tombs. Many looked to be from the Victorian era when that style seemed to be popular. As for the mausoleum, I have no idea about the story. I just saw it and immediately had to take a picture of it for how different it was. I’m guessing that whomever was buried inside of it was probably either a very colorful character or someone who just always had to be able to see what was going on.

      It was a really spectacular place! We had reservations for brunch or I would have stayed more time!

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