I love cemeteries. Not the modern kind with flat name plates that allow lawn mowers to move easily over them, but the old, gothic ones with ornate monuments and marble mausoleums, all shaded by huge oak trees. So the first place I headed on a recent trip to Atlanta was to Historic Oakland Cemetery. Ornate monuments: check. Marble mausoleums: check. Huge oak trees: check.
In 1850, Oakland was six acres carved out of farmland at the edge of Atlanta, to serve as the town cemetery. What was then the edge of town is now squarely mid-town, five blocks from the State Capitol, and the six acres has grown to 48. It’s where Margaret Mitchell and Maynard Jackson come together in eternal rest.
Oakland was the only place in Atlanta where African-Americans could buy a bural plot before legal segregation ended in 1963. Pre-1960s, everyone was buried amongst their own kind, and Oatlands has an African-American section, a Jewish section, a Confederate section, and a Potter’s Field.
There’s also a Union section — 16 Union soldiers who died at local hospitals — but that isn’t mentioned in the official Historic Oakland Cemetery tour and map pamplet. This may be the New South, but it’s still the South. They’re clustered together in the military section, next to the Confederates.
Even though the pamplet doesn’t mention the Union, it’s still worth getting. The first thing to do after you arrive at the cemetary is head straight down the road on which you enter, to the Visitors Center. At the Visitors Center, you can buy the map and self-guided tour pamplet for $4.
Touring the cemetery is free, but donations are welcome. The city of Atlanta keeps up the roads, walls and buildings, and the plot owners are suppose to keep up the graves. But since descendants have died away and many of the plots are not maintained, the private nonprofit Historic Oakland Foundation was created to raise money to keep up the graves. There’s a collection jar at the Visitors Center. There also also guided daytime tours ($10 for adults/$5 for children/seniors/students) and themed guided twilight tours.
Special note for dogs and runners: The cemetery is dog-friendly and a well-known Atlanta dog walking spot. It also hosts, around Halloween, a 5K run to raise funds for the Historic Oakland Foundation. Called “Run Like Hell,” it’s on October 20 this year (2012).