Nothing gets me ready for Halloween like a cemetery stroll. Especially one through 48 acres of the oldest cemetery in Atlanta, Historic Oakland Cemetery. Enter if you dare to see what lies beneath this expansive burial ground.
Historic Oakland Cemetery
Oakland Cemetery was founded in 1850 on 6 acres of land, though at that time it was known as “Atlanta’s Cemetery”. Twelve years later, the cemetery had been renamed “Oakland” because of the number of oak trees in the area and it had grown to its current 48 acres of land. By 1884, all of the traditional plots of the cemetery had been sold, meaning that the only option to be buried here was to buy a plot from a private owner or to be buried in Potter’s Field.
Oakland is a notable example of a garden cemetery, which was a popular movement during the Victorian era. This movement promoted larger, park-like public spaces. Traditionally, families would tend to the gardens of their family plot, and families would take outings to the cemetery as popular social activities. The first greenhouse in Atlanta was built to grow flowers for the cemetery, and the Victorians used the language of flowers in the gardens to express their mourning of deceased loved ones.
Oakland’s first resident since being established as a cemetery is Dr. James Nissen, a medical doctor visiting Atlanta who fell ill and died in 1850. Dr. Nissen shared a common fear of the day of being buried alive. Before his death he asked that the neck of his corpse be cut before he was buried to ensure he was truly dead and did not wake up later 6 feet under.
Bobby Jones, an Atlanta-native amateur golfer known for being the only person to win the Grand Slam of four major golfing titles in one year (1930) and the founder of the Augusta National Golf Club and of the Masters Tournament, is buried in the original 6 acres of Oakland Cemetery.
27 former Atlanta mayors are buried in Oakland, including Atlanta’s first mayor Moses Formwalt and Atlanta’s first African-American mayor Maynard Jackson.
Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind, is buried with her husband John Marsh.
The mausoleum of Jasper Smith, a real estate investor who financed buildings downtown, has sitting on top of it a striking life-sized statues of Smith. He was known to refuse wearing neckties due to a bad experience as a child, so his statue is carved without a necktie. However, his burial clothes reportedly do include a necktie.
Sunday in the Park
For 37 years, Oakland Cemetery has hosted Sunday in the Park in early October. This event is a Victorian street festival where guests are encouraged to dress in Victorian and steam-punk costume and participate in the costume contest. Events include story tellers, historic walking tours, carriage rides, live music, an artists’ market, Teddy Bear Tea, and food trucks.
Sunday in the Park is a good way to get out, experience some history, and enjoy the gardens of the cemetery the way the Victorians intended.
What gets you into the Halloween spirit? Let me know in the comments!