Nestled between the Grant Park and Cabbagetown neighborhoods, Oakland Cemetery is Atlanta’s oldest and largest public cemetery. Founded in 1850, it was designed to be a park and place of respite for the living as well making it a dead on spot to pack a picnic. With massive oaks, magnolias and walking trails, it’s the perfect place to bring Atlanta’s history to life.
Still an active cemetery, Oakland spans over 160 years of Atlanta history. It’s a showplace of sculpture and architecture with beautiful carved tombstones and mausoleums representing Victorian, Gothic and Greek Revival styles. It’s also the final resting place of author Margaret Mitchell, golfer Bobby Jones, six Georgia governors and Atlanta mayors Ivan Allen, Jr. and Maynard Jackson. The Historic Oakland Foundation is actively engaged in educational programs, fundraising and preservation efforts. They offer guided tours and special seasonal tours like the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tours that allow you the rare opportunity to visit at night. Throughout the year there are also family-friendly festivals like Sunday in the Park and Tunes from the Tombs. Each October, Oakland features the aptly named Run Like Hell 5K and Run Like Heck Fun Run.
Hands on History
Oakland is beautiful and picturesque, but also an excellent place to offer your child a hands-on history lesson. The cemetery’s large Confederate military section is home to 7,000 graves – some 3,000 unmarked. It’s a great launching point to discuss the Civil War and how the nation was torn apart in this very sad and violent time in our history.
Oakland’s African American Section represents a time when the “color line” was defined in both life and death. In the cemetery’s earliest days, slaves were buried in this section. Up until the mid 20th century, the cemetery was segregated – just as the rest of the South. Informational graphics highlight the history of this section and point out the graves of prominent African American leaders like Carrie Steele Logan and Reverend Frank Quarles. If you have an i-Phone, you can download a free app that will lead you on a self-guided tour of Oakland’s African American history.
The second oldest Jewish burial ground in the state is found at Oakland. It is part of the cemetery’s original six-acre footprint. There is a second Jewish section founded in 1878 that reflects Orthodox burial traditions. Of course, Christian symbols and iconography can also be found throughout the cemetery. Angels and biblical figures figure prominently. You may find that your kids will enjoy going on a “scavenger hunt” looking for the dozens of beautiful statuary angels that dot Oakland’s landscape.
Start your visit at the historic bell tower inside the cemetery. Here, you’ll find a visitor center and gift shop that is open year-round, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily (with extended hours on the weekends and in summer months). For a more in-depth self-guided experience, you can purchase a self-guided tour of the cemetery for $4. Led by highly trained volunteers, guided tours are available year-round on the weekends. Times and themes vary based on the season, so call before you go if you have your heart set on a guided tour. Tours cost $10 for adults, $5 for students, children, and seniors.
The gates to the cemetery are open each day from roughly dawn to dusk. Oakland is located along Memorial Drive in very close proximity to the King Memorial MARTA station. The official address is 248 Oakland Avenue SE, Atlanta, Ga 30312.
Has your family made a trip to Oakland? Or, wouldn’t be caught dead in a cemetery? Tell us about it below. We promise to take it to the grave!
Photos courtesy of the author and Historic Oakland Cemetery via Facebook