OAKLAND CEMETERY, bounded by Oakland Ave., Memorial Drive, Boulevard, and the Georgia Railroad line, lies peaceful and quiet within the brick walls that separate it from a busy industrial section. In this old cemetery, owned and well cared for by the city, the weathered tombs and monuments are crowded close together, the somber whiteness of their irregular shapes accentuated against the dark green of the shrubbery and the magnificent old magnolia and oak trees.
Atlanta's first cemetery was a small plot at the corner of Peachtree and Baker Streets. As early as October of 1849, however, the little town of Atlanta had grown to such an extent that it became necessary to find a cemetery site farther removed from town and consolidate the public and private burial plots. Several "graveyard committees" were appointed by the city council to find a suitable location, and on June 6, 1850, six acres of wooded land were purchased in what is now the southwest corner of the cemetery. Additional tracts were bought from time to time until the area covered 85 acres.
Promptly after the purchase of the first six acres the bodies were removed from the old plots to the new cemetery. On February 21, 1851, the city council elected a sexton and instructed a surveyor to lay off lots and build a suitable enclosure around the grounds. One of the items listed in the city treasurer's report on January I, 1853, was a hearse purchased by the city for $129.50. In 1896 the ground was enclosed by a red-brick wall, and the gates were built at the Oakland Avenue and Fair Street (Memorial Drive) entrances. From 1907 until 1932, when Oakland was placed under the direction of the park board, the affairs of the cemetery were regulated by a committee of five lot owners elected by the city council. This committee published a book of rules, among other things prohibiting the burial of animals in the cemetery, the erection of fences around lots, and the decoration of graves with shells and other small ornaments.
Since no more lots are available, the cemetery is considered full and only a few interments are made in spaces reserved in old family lots and mausoleums or where an exhumation has been made. In the northeastern corner, across from the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills, an apparently vacant grassy area of about two acres is filled with unmarked graves. Now that there is no longer any income from the sale of lots, the maintenance of the cemetery is provided entirely by an annual city appropriation.
Many mausoleums and monuments bear the names of pioneer settlers of Marthasville and Atlanta and citizens who have figured prominently in the history of the State. A large block of native granite marks the grave of Martha Lumpkin Compton, daughter of Governor Wilson Lumpkin, in whose honor Atlanta was once called Marthasville. In the northwest corner is the grave of Julia Carlisle Withers, who was the first baby born in the little settlement, and in another part of the cemetery is buried Benjamin Franklin Bomar, Atlanta's second mayor. Near the sexton's office stands a granite monument erected by the cemetery commission in 1916 as a memorial to Atlanta's first mayor, Moses W. Formwalt, who took office in 1848. Near by is the grave of James Russell Barrick, Atlanta's first poet and first editor of the Atlanta Constitution.
Near the geographical center of the cemetery, in a section set aside for Confederate soldiers, rises a 65-foot shaft of granite blocks erected in memory of the Confederate dead in 1873 by the Ladies' Memorial Association. Also prominent among the low headstones is the Lion of Atlanta, which was unveiled on April 26, 1894, by the same organization to honor the unknown soldiers who fell fighting. The figure of the dying lion reclining upon broken guns and a furled Confederate flag was inspired by the famous Lion of Lucerne and carved from a single block of Georgia marble by T.M. Brady, of Canton, Georgia.
Not far away from the Confederate shaft are the graves of General Clement A. Evans and General John B. Gordon. Other prominent men buried in Oakland Cemetery include Benjamin H. Hill, William J. Northen, Hoke Smith, General William A. Wright, and Captain William Allen Fuller, who led the party that pursued and overtook the engine General when it was stolen by Andrews and his Union raiders. Seven of Andrews' men, who were hanged as spies in Atlanta in June 1863, were first buried in Oakland and later removed to the national cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States, was interred here in 1883, but his body was later moved to his old home at Crawfordville.
Many of the monuments are interesting because of their eloquent inscriptions or unusual design. Besides the conventional carved pillows and draperies, there are many stone lambs, cherubim, and angelic heralds, and several mausoleums look like miniature cathedrals, with their spires and pointed stained-glass windows. Among the oddities is a statue of Jasper N. Smith seated above the door of his mausoleum. Because he never wore a collar or tie, Smith had these omitted from the statue, which he ordered carved and placed on the mausoleum some time before his death. When a vine grew up and entwined the neck of the statue concealing its bareness, he forthwith ordered it cut. The smallest plot in the cemetery contains the grave of "Tweet," a pet mocking bird that died in 1874. As the stonecutter was unable to carve the figure of a mocking bird, Tweet's mistress had to content herself with a lamb on the tiny monument.
Like most old cemeteries, Oakland has its share of graveyard legends concerning nocturnal phenomena weird drum beats heard in the Confederate section, sobbing, harsh metallic gratings like vault doors opening, and mysterious knockings. Perhaps some of the stories were inspired by a sensational occurrence at the first burial service held in the cemetery, that of James Nissen in the fall of 1850. Obsessed with the fear of burial alive, Nissen had requested his surgeon friend, Dr. Charles D'Alvigny, to sever his jugular vein just before his body was lowered into the grave, and this service was performed, to the horror of witnesses.
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