It is only fitting that the next garden that we visit in our Mastering Gardens Blog is the Grand Old Dame herself – Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. Located in east Atlanta between Grant Park and Inman Park, this urban garden cemetery is a must-see destination for anyone interested in history, funeral imagery and architecture, and garden landscapes.
Established in 1850 by the Atlanta City Council four years after Atlanta’s incorporation as a city, Oakland Cemetery's original 6 Acres began as a municipal cemetery to fund the rapidly growing city. After the Civil War, the cemetery became the principal place for mourning and memorialization of those who died defending the Confederacy. By 1872, the cemetery was renamed Oakland and became a garden cemetery with artistic monuments and mausoleums. During the nineteenth century, attitudes toward death changed and cemeteries became destinations for Sunday drives and picnics and Oakland Cemetery served as both a burial ground and community garden park for the City of Atlanta.
Bordered by Boulevard, Memorial Drive, Oakland Avenue and the CSX Rail Line, Oakland Cemetery today encompasses 48 acres and is the resting place for over 70,000 people. The Historic Oakland Foundation has worked closely with the City of Atlanta and the local community to preserve and restore the grounds and monuments. Oakland Cemetery is free to visit. Guided tours are available for a small fee and are on various topics. Our tour was called History, Mystery and Mayhem and was fascinating. You are guaranteed to leave with a new appreciation of Atlanta, her storied past and her present obligation to honor what went before.
From the Original 6 Acres to the 6,900 soldiers graves in the Confederate Memorial Grounds, closely spaced markers in the Jewish section, and African American Grounds, there are 9 distinct geographic sections of the cemetery. Much like neighborhoods, each have their own vibe and feel in the landscaped grounds, funerary art and architecture, and poignant epitaphs and ornate and elegant mausoleums and monuments.
Seven Governors, 6 members of Congress, 5 Confederate Generals and 27 Mayors of Atlanta are buried here, including the first Mayor of Atlanta, Moses Formwalt, the first African American Mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson, and most recently, Sam Massell in 2022.
Most fascinating to all of us was the funerary art and architecture. Especially notable was the design and style of mausoleums, from simple brick to soaring marble structures with stained glass windows. More than 5 dozen vaults or mausoleums are on display with each depicting that family's place in society.
Monuments contain multiple symbols that reflect their story. For example, a stump symbolizes a life cut short, drapery represents sorrow and grief, and palms signify the promise of resurrection. It was interesting to try to "read" each gravestone for their meaning.
Notable people who are buried here include Kenny Rogers, Margaret Mitchell, Franklin Garrett, and Bobby Jones. Prominent family names such as Winship, Rich, Grant, Inman, Grady, Austell, Calhoun, Cone, Woodward and Collier are seen throughout the cemetery.
All in all, it was a fun field trip and we learned a lot! Afterward, we all lunched across the street at Six Feet Under. If you go, be sure to take good comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a water bottle. Tours last approximately 1 to 1/2 hours and there is a lot of walking! Luckily for us, three people in our group were able to take a separate tour in a golf cart. When we all met for lunch, it was interesting to share what they saw with what we saw. I know I will definitely be back!
Where will we go next? We shall see...but rest assured that we will learn something new!
Thanks for joining us on our journey through Mastering Gardens!
"old Oakland is Atlanta's most tangible link between the past and present."
Franklin Garrett, Atlanta Historian