Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia: A Victorian Garden

When we decided to go to Atlanta to explore gardens, Oakland Cemetery came up on the radar as 48 acres of garden splendor.  Hmm…… I was not so sure of this, but we decided to investigate.  Oakland Cemetery is named on the National Register of Historic Places, which made it very interesting for us, with just that one note. Originally, known as Atlanta Cemetery, Oakland is also Atlanta’s oldest public cemetery and first public park.  However, I was to learn this cemetery is so much more! Today it continues to be a public park, a garden, a burial ground, and a place for entertaining and educational events.  It is well loved by the citizens of Atlanta. Oakland is maintained by the city of Atlanta, the Oakland Foundation and a plethora of volunteers, who love it and want to keep up this beautiful cemetery. Behind the stone and brick walls lie the history of the city and its people.

Looking at the Oakland Cemetery website we decided to attend one of the “Illumine” nights. There were six sections of the cemetery to be highlighted. (literally shed light on) They would be sharing the untold stories and the beauty of the garden of Oakland Cemetery.  So, let’s go in………there is a drizzle of rain, but it just adds to the effect, I think!

In 1850 there was…….just six acres………the city had outgrown the cemetery at Peachtree Street and was looking for more ground outside the city. Six acres of rolling vista was purchased and a municipal cemetery was started. When the Atlanta Cemetery, as it was first named, opened, the coffins were removed from the Peachtree Cemetery and brought here.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

My first thought was that I had never been in a cemetery such as this! It was a very extensive, well-kept garden on many levels. ( literally) There were huge trees, many terraced lots filled with plants, that had been here for many years and outstanding grave markers and mausoleums. This is the way every cemetery should be! Since I’m from the Jones family one of the first markers I looked at was this one……….I will have to investigate, since I don’t know of any actual ancestors here. But, then Jones IS a very common name.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

Walking along the one mile, self-guided trail of wide, lighted pathways, it was easy to stop and admire all the greenery and the way the cemetery was laid out. The paths now are bricked or paved. Originally, the main avenues in the cemetery were wide dirt paths that had to be wide enough for a carriage to pass.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

It was interesting to me that the graves were so well preserved and the different sections or particular family plots were all on raised beds. This has meant a lot of work leveling sunken graves and repairing damaged stone markers and monuments. This was not the case in the beginning. The original plots were just holes in bare earth and caskets were laid in them head to foot, according to the dates of their deaths. In times of rampant illness, many people from the same family might have died, but not on the same day. The bodies would have been placed in the cemetery as they were brought there. Bodies were buried next to whoever died next on the calendar. Records of burials were not as good as they could have been. At that time, all grave markers were provided by the family, if they could make one or afford to have one made. Most of the markers at this time were wooden crosses. There would not have been identifying markers, as to who was buried where, on any of these graves. It did not take the city long to run out of space in this area either. But, to see it now……

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

When additional acreage was purchased,  the “Rural, Garden-Park Movement” was the mindset. Trying to escape the poorly planned, over crowed and neglected cemetery properties, this movement was taking hold. These planned “rural cemetery parks” were composed of lawns, shade trees, lush landscaping, meandering paths and picturesque places for quiet strolls and contemplation. This appealed to families, who wanted to express their wealth in death as much as they did in life. Twenty two years after the cemetery’s establishment, it became a park-like setting with  the erection of monuments and the growth of the oak trees.  It made way for the cemetery to be renamed, Oakland. However, rich or poor, black or white, indigent or wealthy, all could be laid to rest here.

“In Blessed Sleep,” is the term used for the interred in Oakland.  Some families wanted graves which were made to look like beds, with a headboard, side and foot boards made of stone. Flowers were planted inside the stones.  Today, many of these stone markers are filled with  foliage, which is easier to maintain.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

Oakland now represents a blend of rural garden cemetery styles. One style is the gardenesque………This involves the use of terracing and woodland gardens marked by particular use of rhododendrons, azaleas, boxwood, camellias and magnolias. There were many places to sit and rest in the individual plots and along the walks.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

The first illuminated area of “Blessed Sleep” was for Martha Lumpkin Compton. Atlanta, the sprawling railroad town, was first known as Terminus, named for all the railroad junctions here. In 1843, the name was changed to Marthasville, named after the daughter of the state’s  first Governor, Wilson Lumpkin. Then in 1845, the city’s name was changed once again, this time to Atlanta, the feminized version of Atlantic. (from the Western and Atlantic Railroad)

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia
Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

We walked past the Watch House……which was built in 1901 in the style of the entrance gate and walls. This too had “illumines” pointing out places of interest in the gardens.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

And we also could see signs pointing to some of the famous people, who are buried here. But, we would save that walk for another day.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

The cords on the perimeter of the plots were for the lights which would come on as the evening grew darker. The lighted paths kept us from wandering into sections that were not on this tour.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia
Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

These are the unmarked graves of the “North Public” Grounds.  This was Oakland’s first pauper burial ground for white residents. It was set aside in 1852, when the graveyard was finally properly surveyed. A system of selling lots for city revenue was planned, as well as ground providing for the town’s poor, indigent and enslaved. The cemetery was divided into many sections, called neighborhoods, which were as different as their neighborhoods in life. There are 70,000 people laid to rest in Oakland and only 40,000 have markers.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

This section also has a view of downtown Atlanta today!

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

as well as this one……

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

Through here we got a glimpse of one of the 52 mausoleums and vaults………..

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

as well as here……..

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

and again the variation in markers……

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

In my next post I will go over the symbols and the iconography to be found here. We were so impressed with Oakland, we joined the foundation, signed up for a private tour during the day and learned much more about it! That tall white structure is the Bell Tower, another section of the cemetery. The bell is still rung when there is a funeral and the family requests it.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

Some of the displays for Illumine, featured lifeless trees that had been painted white and were decorated with lanterns that would light up this part of the tour.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

There was more than one grouping around like this that focused on a particular marker.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

There were many flowers and plants surrounding the markers, all with significant meaning in the garden cemetery. Boxwood for stoicism, bouquets for condolences, lilies for sympathy, cedar trees for long life, clematis for beauty, daffodils for regard, daisies for innocence, roses for love, beauty and grace, just to name a few. All intertwined with loads of ivy, a symbol of fidelity and eternal friendship.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia
Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

This Gothic Revival mausoleum was built for the Austell Family. Alfred Austell was a railroad builder and banker. He served as the president of the post war (the Civil War) Atlanta National Bank, which became Wells Fargo. There are many architectural styes to be found in Oakland.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

and this one in Classical Revival from the Haden Family. You can see it is getting dark enough to show off the light boxes………..

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

Not far into the tour we had decided to dig deeper into Oakland Cemetery! We wanted to know more!

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

Drinks and sodas were served at the Bell Tower, which now serves as the Sexton’s office, Historic Oakland’s Office and gift shop. While sipping and chatting away with some of the other guests, I admired the rosy colored heuchera in the iron planter.  Was that a piece of funerary the plants were in?  Symbols were used in the cemetery to tell something about the deceased. I see a cherub, a messenger from God, representing spirituality and protection.   Circles represent eternity.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

The Grant Mausoleum is in the Eclectic style, another architectura style found in the cemetery. John T Grant made his fortune in the railroad business and his descendants gave Georgia Tech the money for the construction of the football stadium there.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

The “Out in the Rain” Fountain was certainly appropriate for the Illumine Tour! This fountain was purchased in 1913 for one hundred dollars. It is a replica of the fountain on display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. It was relocated in Oakland and restored in 2008.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

We can see big globes lighting our way through the cemetery now………

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

Here is the tomb of Atlanta’s first mayor, Moses Formwalt. An Atlanta pioneer, he was a copper and tinsmith. In 1848, he was elected mayor and after his term he served as a DeKalb County sheriff’s deputy. In 1852, he was stabbed to death while transferring a prisoner. He has the title of the first mayor and the only one to die by violence.  His body was interred on the Original Six Acres in an unmarked grave. In 1916, his remains were identified and relocated to this site and monument.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

These photos show the different levels of the garden cemetery and the park-like setting!

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

and the paved paths and the wide brick paths too, meandering all about………..

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

and the spacious gardens……….

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

The next section we toured was Greenhouse Valley. Over the years there have been three different greenhouses on the property. The newest greenhouse was donated by the Buckhead Men’s Garden Club and fit perfectly in the dimensions of the previous greenhouse! In the 1870’s, delicate plants were dug up and brought to the greenhouse, where they were housed over the winter and then replanted in the Spring.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

Near the greenhouse were the maintenance building and the old horse stables …………….

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

And the passion flower vine was rampant on the wall.

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

There is a garden setting  at the greenhouse also………

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

I found the moonflowers opening up as the evening grew darker…….

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

and here was a glow from one of the light displays……….

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

and the big orbs…….

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia
Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

one last look at one of the lit displays as we leave Oakland………….

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

and it’s fitting that some of the unmarked graves are lit as well……..

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta. Georgia

I hope you have enjoyed our Illumine Tour in Oakland as much as we did. If you are interested  in history, art, culture, architecture, gardens or nature, this is the place to be. As I said, we were so enchanted with everything about Oakland that we joined the Friends of Oakland Foundation. Please follow along as we tour the cemetery in the day light hours as we explore more of the 48 acres! Or better still, check out all the events at the Oakland Cemetery! We’ll see you there!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m so glad you two did visit the Oakland Cemetery, not only for your own pleasure but for us to “tagged” along via these stunning photographs. You’re right that cemeteries should look like this one. Far more restful than expansive lawns with rows of markers. When I lived in Tallahassee long ago, I used to enjoy a Sunday afternoon strolling through the Old City Cemetery where Napoleon’s nephew Murat is buried. This cemetery, almost much smaller than Oakland, is a park — or was back then. No telling what modernity may have done to it by now. On the other hand, Tallahassee is quite historic minded, so the cemetery probably is well preserved. I’ll have to check it out on Google.

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    1. Yes, it would be interesting to know how the Tallahassee cemetery is doing……..I have never been in a cemetery like this. it was just phenomenal! There are oodles and oodles and oodles of folks working to keep Oakland pristine!

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, “blessed sleep” what a comforting thought

    Liked by 1 person

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