Oakland Cemetery: Atlanta's Most Historic Resting Place

Oakland Cemetery, the final sanctuary of many of Atlanta's most important figures, is located about one mile east of downtown Atlanta. It can be reached easily from the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector and Interstate 20. Atlanta's rapid transit system, MARTA, has a train station within walking distance, and the cemetery is also served by numerous bus lines. The area is a short ride from all of downtown Atlanta's attractions, as well as Turner Field, Zoo Atlanta and the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum.

Oakland is the oldest major cemetery in the Atlanta area. The first six acres were purchased by the city in 1850, and, by 1867, the cemetery had reached its present size of 48 acres. Over 70,000 people are buried there, including many great figures from Atlanta's history, but also many of the city's poor and unknown. By 1884, all the lots were sold out, although the City of Atlanta and many individual families still have space and continue to use the cemetery. There are several distinct sections in Oakland, including the Jewish sections, the African-American Grounds and the Confederate Memorial Grounds.

Oakland was planned and nurtured in the style of the "rural garden cemetery.'' This movement, begun in the 1830s, was designed to make cemeteries into beautiful areas where visitors could commune with nature in peaceful reflection, rather than the morbid, uninviting "graveyards'' of tradition. After the Civil War, the cemetery became a popular place for Sunday afternoon carriage rides and family picnics. Family plots were tended lovingly and planted with beautiful gardens. In the 20th century, the cemetery was slowly allowed to fall into disrepair. Only in 1976, when Oakland Cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic Oakland Foundation was formed, did the cemetery begin its rehabilitation into a garden and place of repose again.

A list of who is buried in Oakland reads like an Atlanta history book, literally from the beginning. The town was named Marthasville from 1843 to 1845 for a governor's daughter, and Martha Lumpkin Compton, "the'' Martha of Atlanta history, lies in the cemetery. Other notables in Oakland include:

Margaret Mitchell, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Gone With The Wind

Bobby Jones, one of the greatest golfers of all time

Ivan Allen Jr., mayor of Atlanta from 1962 to 1970, who saw Atlanta through much of the social turmoil of the Civil Rights era

Maynard Jackson, the first African American mayor of Atlanta, who oversaw much of the city's modern-era dynamic economic growth

Carrie Steele Logan, an ex-slave who took home African-American orphans from the train station where she worked as a maid and eventually founded one of the first predominantly African-American orphanages in the country

Twenty-three other Atlanta mayors

Six Georgia governors

Approximately 6,900 Confederate soldiers

Approximately 17,000 indigent and other unknown inhabitants

Today, the Historic Oakland Foundation has turned the cemetery's gardens and monuments into a place of recreation again, just as it was originally intended. The cemetery's gates are open year-round during the day, and Atlanta residents use the site as a park - jogging, walking the dog and playing Frisbee. Volunteers provide guided, themed tours on weekends throughout most of the year. Topics of the tours include the history, art and architecture of the cemetery; the cemetery's relationship to the Civil War; the African-American history of the city as seen through the cemetery and a history of disease and death in Atlanta in the 19th century. An annual celebration, Sunday in the Park, brings a Victorian-style street festival to the cemetery grounds. At Halloween, nighttime tours feature actors portraying some of the cemetery's residents and visits inside the elaborate mausoleums. David S. Moore, executive director of the Historic Oakland Foundation, sums up Oakland, saying, "Every great city has great institutions of higher education, great art institutes, important green space - and a great cemetery. This is Atlanta's great cemetery.''

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