We’ve just come back from Atlanta, where we had a great time at the Oakland Cemetery! Yes, that’s right, a good time in a cemetery! You see, the Oakland Cemetery is celebrated with several nights of Capturing the Spirit! The adventure is meant to enlighten, not frighten! So join us as we meet a few of Oakland’s residents! If you have not read my previous posts on Oakland, you may want to start HERE first. Or HERE, so you know the background of Oakland.
We’ve met up at the appropriate time; small groups will be making their way through the cemetery with a guide at the front of us and a guide at the tail end of us. We have been instructed to stay on the lighted paths, so we will not get lost! These guides are residents (the folks, who are buried here are referred to as residents) and are dressed in appropriate clothing at the time of their deaths. Let’s walk on! First stop, is a Fortune Teller! Many folks stopped, but I kept on going. I’m too old to know my future now! Ha ha!
The first resident we met was Julia Gatins Murphy Hungerford. She was born in 1897 and died in 1935. Julia came from a very wealthy family (her father was a banker in Atlanta) and Julia spent her childhood between homes in Atlanta, Palm Beach, New York and Paris! She was rather a wild child, who from her early teens liked to drink, and party. She also had many, many male friends. Her mother highly disapproved of all three. She was well known in her circle of friends as a rich socialite. In 1922, she married Coca-Cola bottling heir, Conkey Whitehead. Following their marriage they spent 10 years in Europe on their honeymoon and when they finally returned to Atlanta, Conkey had built the Villa Jaunita for Julia. The large mansion was built on 7 acres of wooded property and had all the amenities of the day. If you would like to see the mansion today look HERE. During the “Roaring Twenties,” Julia and Conkey hosted wild parties at the villa and they boasted of skinny dipping with their guests in their 70 foot pool until the wee hours of the morning and sleeping all day afterwards. That all ended when Conkey ran off to Cuba with a dancer and a Julia filed for divorce amid a very public scandal! Getting to keep the Villa Juanita, Julia married Robert Hungerford in 1932 and maintained her lifestyle, hosting lavish parties until her death at 38 in 1935. In 1938, when Julia’s mother died, she left Katie, Julia’s only surviving sibling, over two million dollars! That is a ton of money for those days! As you can see from our photos, the props at each gravesite make the venue so interesting and the volunteers from the Historic Oakland Foundation play the parts of the residents splendidly! It was all so interesting!
Next, we are meeting Henry Rucker. He was born in 1852 and died in 1924. Henry was the seventh of fourteen children of Edward and Betsey Rucker. Born into slavery and living on the plantation of the King family of Athens, Georgia, following emancipation the Rucker family moved to Atlanta. In Atlanta, Henry worked with his father as a plasterer and attended Storrs Night School and then continued his education at the Atlanta University Academy. Saving his money from years of working odd jobs, he purchased a house for his family and opened a barbershop. In 1880, he decided to run for office. And he won. And he won again. And he won again. He held the position of Head of the Revenue Collection in Georgia during Reconstruction and kept the position three times longer than any white collector, becoming a powerful political boss in the Republican Party. He appointed many blacks to key positions, irking many whites in Atlanta, but he was fair. In 1906, he initiated construction of the Rucker Building in Atlanta, which became the central feature of the black central business district. Henry continued to serve as revenue collector until 1911 and by the time of his death in 1924 was one of the wealthiest blacks in America.
Marie Woolfolk Taylor, (1893-1960) was the daughter of two Atlanta University professors and was a champion for the education and rights of black women. She also attended the Storrs School, one of the academic schools established in Atlanta for Freedmen by missionaries from New England, after the Civil War. Next, she attended Howard University, where she was heavily involved in the planning and one of the founding members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and later served as Secretary in the Atlanta Chapter. Graduating from Howard, magna cum laude, with honors in Latin and history, she enrolled at Cleveland Ohio’s, Schauffler Training School for Social Service, where she majored in religion and was the only African-American student. She was among the first in her generation to be a social worker, as the new field was called. Social work developed as a progressive movement to help with massive changes resulting from increased migration into the cities from the South to the North. She also served as a probation officer, working with delinquent girls for the City of Atlanta. In 1919, she married Dr. Alfred G. Taylor and was involved in a range of civic-related activities, one of which was the Community Chest Program, which became the United Way Program. She was also an active member in the NAACP and the First Congressional Church. She was a very attractive woman, as was the woman who played her spirit at Oakland!
Dr, Jennie Newman Norris (1861-1938) was one of Atlanta’s first female physicians. She was there for the delivery of thousands of births and provided care for over 150,000 cases during her career. She was prevented from pursuing her dream as an artist, when her eyesight failed. So, instead she decided to enter into the medical field and graduated from Grady School of Nursing and then was in the first graduating class of the Woman’s Medical College of Georgia. She married twice and her second husband, who never attended medical school, assisted her in her practice. This set up was accepted because most medical doctors were men at the time, not women, and could get away with it. She always believed that more women should be in practice, especially in the field of obstetrics. In 1918, the couple was arrested for practicing an “illegal operation” on a patient to save her life. They were cleared of all charges and she returned to her practice in her home on Oakland Avenue, until her death. My gut reaction was she and her husband had performed an abortion, but I can’t find any information that states the reason for their arrests. The plot thickens!
Stephen B. Oatman was born in Vermont in 1815, and followed his brother to Tennessee in the 1840’s, where he found work in a marble factory. In the 1850’s he moved to Atlanta and started his own marble company manufacturing marble tombstones and monuments. As we come upon Stephen in the cemetery, he is chiseling marble. During the Civil War he defied his family and joined the rebel cause, fighting in the fire battalion that surrounded Atlanta in 1864. After the War, there was no shortage of work for him. He married late in life and had no children. He passed away penniless in 1903, pre-deceased by his wife and all five of his siblings.
My, what do we have here? A horse in Oakland?
Richard Peters, born in Pennsylvania in 1858, was a dynamic real estate developer in the South in the 19th century. He began as a rodman or surveyor, working for $1.50 day and by 1854 he was offered the job as chief engineer for $1000 a year for the construction of the new Georgia Railroad. It took eight years to complete it from Augusta, to the new town of Marthasville, Georgia. However, by 1845, he was the superintendent of the railroad and heard many complaints about the name Marthasville, which people thought was too long to write in log books and freight records. On deciding on the name, Atlanta, he began distributing thousands of circulars from Augusta to Tennessee advertising the new name.
He started the Southern Stage Coach Line between Atlanta and Montgomery, Alabama, hence we have the horse here tonight in Oakland. He also built Atlanta’s first steam powered factory, a flour mill, along the Georgia Railroad and because the mill lacked a water source it had to be powered by wood. He purchased 405 acres for $2,000 to use the pine wood lumber for fuel, in what would eventually become Midtown Atlanta, and this development proved to be the key to his future wealth.
In 1861, he sold the steam engine from his mill for $12,000, to be used in the Powderworks at Augusta. He contracted with the blockade, supplying cotton by rail in exchange for foodstuffs. During the Civil War he remained in Atlanta until a few days before the invasion of General Sherman. By the time of the Battle of Atlanta, he and his family had moved to Augusta and stayed there until 1865. Then he immediately set out to repair the 24 miles of destroyed Atlanta and Westpoint Railroad and by the end of the War the rail service was restored to Atlanta.
In 1871, he built Atlanta’s first street railway, the Atlanta Street Railway Company. People were flocking to Atlanta and he began subdividing his north Atlanta land, by first laying out roads. The North/South Streets were named for trees (Myrtle, Juniper, Apple, etc.) to match Peachtree Street. He also added Penn to honor his Pennsylvania roots. The east/west streets were numbered, starting with 3rd Street, and ended at the extent of his property line on 8th Street. In 1884, he sold 180 acres of land, at $1000 an acre, for the development of Peters Park, but that eventually failed, for lack of development. In 1887, he sold the remaining 5 acres of his estate for $10,000 and donated another four acres to help found the Georgia School of Technology.
If, all that wasn’t enough, he was also an avid livestock breeder, once paying $12,000 for a Saint Bernard dog to be brought to Atlanta to breed. In 1854, he established the first nursery in Atlanta! The only controversial subject I could discover about Richard Peters was the fact that his many business opportunities were built with slave labor, including the Georgia Railroad, and he also had slave labor at his plantation in Calhoun, Georgia.
Peters died on February 6, 1889, leaving a million-dollar estate. His son, Edward, stayed on in Atlanta and built Ivy Hall, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. His son, Ralph, moved to New York and became President of the Long Island Railroad.
Last, on our Spirit Tour of Oakland, we find, Lewis Redwine. What a character he was! He was the youngest son of a prominent Atlanta doctor, who just could not understand him. Lewis was a spoiled brat that was loved by everyone! Born in 1858, his main occupation in life was belonging to the Cotillion Club, although it was said he didn’t dance, and belonging to the Piedmont Driving Club, although he didn’t drive! He was young, good looking, affluent, and loved by all the ladies! Partying was his thing! Sounds a lot like the previous Julia! In 1881, his father pulled some strings and Lewis took a position at the Gate City Bank, where he was well liked and trusted, rising through the ranks. When a bank examiner found discrepancies in his account, Lewis fled and hid in a boarding house in Atlanta. A city-wide manhunt ensued that implicated some of Atlanta’s famous socialites for helping him evade capture. Eventually, his landlady turned him in to the authorities. He was convicted and sent to prison in Columbus, Ohio, for embezzling over a million dollars in today’s money! In 1897, President William McKinley pardoned him. After his release, he was followed and watched for many years by detectives, but being the true Southern Gentleman he was, he never revealed where the money was or if any one else had been involved in the crime with him. He died in 1900 in New Orleans and his body was brought back to Atlanta for burial in Oakland Cemetery.
My, what we have learned about just a few of the residents in Oakland! The tour was very entertaining and educational!
Leaving our tour of the cemetery we had the opportunity to enjoy some wine or other beverages, shop in the gift shop, or enjoy our new-found friends we met on the tour………..
Our friends in Atlanta, volunteer many of the nights that the Capture the Spirit Program takes place in October. Tickets for the event go on sale in July for the members of Friends of Oakland, of which we are members. After that, they are offered to the general public and sell out very quickly! Our friends represent Mollie and Thomas Neal, residents of Oakland, and here is a photo of them in their costumes getting ready for a tour! Aren’t they something! We had so much fun!
The Historic Oakland Foundation partners with the City of Atlanta to preserve, restore, enhance and share Oakland Cemetery with the public, as an important cultural resource in the heart of Atlanta! Volunteers man all the events, which are held on a regular basis and are themed for the seasons. For a full viewing of the events held at Oakland look HERE! Every year you are introduced to different residents and don’t worry there are plenty to be found here!
I have a few more posts about our Autumn Adventure in Atlanta, that I will be sharing over the next few days! Stay in touch!
PS All photos were taken on our IPhone!