Culture

Atlanta’s Past Lives

Scenes from Atlanta's most famous cemeteries

Oakland

Oakland Cemetery is Atlanta’s oldest public park and arguably its more historic cemetery. On a typical Saturday afternoon in mid-November, it is full of strolling families, dogs, tourists, and guides touting knowledge of its notable interment figures like Margaret Mitchell, Ivan Allen Jr., and Maynard Jackson. Six acres were originally purchased in 1850 with the intention of creating a burial ground for Atlanta, and due to pressures from the Civil War, it eventually increased to forty-eight acres. The graveyard regularly hosts tours and other events like music festivals, pop-up shops, and scavenger hunts. Due to its popularity and idyllic scenery it attracts all sorts, and it is also the site of a few unusual happenstances: Death Cafe Atlanta hosts gatherings with cake where individuals can discuss what they think happens after death, and you may see a man lying in a hole despite the fact that doing such an act in a graveyard is likely to alarm other visitors.

Greenwood

The first cemetery I visited was Greenwood. I parked in the furthest corner I could find and skirted around the group of people in purple t-shirts carrying shovels (I think they were planting flowers). Its hills, concrete paths, and serene nature would make it ideal for a mid-impact cardio workout, and the different Chinese, Greek, and Jewish sections make it a captivating cross sections of Atlanta’s diverse history.

Westview

Westview Cemetery is the largest civilian cemetery in the southeast; it is so large that I walked and drove all over the place for over an hour and still failed to see over half of what the cemetery contains. Near the front entrance is a tall stone tower-looking building that turned out to be a water tower, but looked just like the tower that Rapunzel was hidden in. Westview’s biggest structure is a castle-like mausoleum complete with a chapel and stained glass windows, which remains unlocked during the day, if anyone has a desire to amble around a silent space covered in marble. Besides the mausoleum, there are countless other monuments, statues, and gardens to explores, and with the cemetery’s miles of paves roads and rolling hills, it might make a nice place for a stroll or a bike ride on a sunny day. If you’re more interested in the history contained there, the cemetery also offers self-guided driving and bus tours (but you definitely need a vehicle is you want to see the whole thing).

Arlington Memorial Park

Located north of Atlanta in Sandy Springs, Arlington Memorial Part was created to serve the metro area’s growing population. Rather than rows upon rows of headstones, Arlington has lots of little gardens and columbarium, private family estates and lots, and a large mausoleum, and while most of the memorial park is made up of water features, tasteful landscaping, and marble markers, a pit in the center contains a group of statues recreating Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Similar to Westview Cemetery, if you want to explore all of Arlington, you’ll definitely need a car; I wandered around for close to an hour and failed to see half the cemetery.

South View

South View Cemetery was chartered in 1886 by nine black men who were tired of the disrespect and unequal treatment they experienced when trying to bury their loved ones in post-Civil War Atlanta. The cemetery has since expanded to contain Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was later relocated to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center). It is maintained by the South View Cemetery Association and it still in use today. The cemetery is interesting to walk through because due to restoration and grave-locating projects, the dates of the tombstones’ placement is often very different from the burial date. Some sites were made in haste, or without headstones, and some have been reburied or remarked over the years.

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