Despite the 9,000 degree heat outside and the holiday traffic, I made my way to Oakland Cemetery this afternoon where I got a personal tour by an old friend, David Moore, who is Executive Director of the Historic Oakland Foundation. The tour was loads of fun...
Oakland is not the final resting place of my ancestors, as far as I know, and I wasn't there for somebody's funeral, so there was no emotional involvement there, just a tour of one of the oldest cemeteries in the south. Lots of cool stories there.
I know what you're thinking. How does Dee know David and why did he agree to an interview and a tour?
Many years ago, David was a colleague of my dad's, in Knoxville.
We lost touch a while back, after Dad died and life got very busy, but I've been chatting with David for a few weeks now about an article I am writing about him. Hopefully I can find a publisher for it. The angle is that David's family has been in Atlanta for many generations and his dad was a well-known local historian, as a hobby. His grandfather was a local judge, a very colorful guy, who worked [as a young law clerk] for some of the lawyers in a very famous case.
His grandfather was the "Moore" of Moore's Mill Road.
But back to Oakland.
I learned a lot this afternoon, in my golf cart ride.
I saw the grave of Margaret Mitchell. As a teen and a young woman I was a devoted fan of Gone With the Wind, a book which I read and re-read many times growing up. The grave is plain and I wouldn't have noticed it particularly, except that David showed it to me.
GWTW won the Pulitzer Prize and was one of the most commercially successful novels ever published. In recent years it has become the target of politically correct folks because it denigrated African Americans. I cannot defend the book against those accusations but I can say that Mitchell was a product of a very different time in the south. It's not fair to judge her from the standpoint of today's mindset.
I like what Pat Conroy said to NPR about it being a brilliant and well-written novel. Mitchell has a lot in there about the Civil War and you can learn a lot about history by reading it. She researched carefully.
But back to my afternoon...
I also saw the graves of other famous folks - Bobby Jones, Maynard Jackson, Governor Joseph Brown, Ivan Allen, Jr.
There are separate sections of Oakland for Jewish people and African Americans; you have to recall it was planned in 1850, though.
I was struck by how peaceful the place is. David did an awesome job explaining to me about how the cemetery was planned out and the Victorian ideas about it being a place of rest or repose. Some of the graves had footboards like a bed. There were lots of benches and big shady trees. There was a hitching post for horses.
David has an amazing knowledge of the symbolism of all the statuary. Some figures are seated with books open on their laps symbolizing knowledge available now in heaven. Two children's graves are adorned with figures with faces based on the actual children's faces.
There are golf balls and other golf memorabilia left on the grave of Bobby Jones.
Lots of stories about folks there, from a man who is dedicated to Oakland and clearly has a fondness for the place that goes beyond the bounds of it as a job.
Some other interesting facts:
- the cemetery is also a city park
- there are 20,000 children buried there
- there's a huge section with the graves of Confederate soldiers
- there's a beautiful section of unmarked graves, a "potter's field" that is a great spot for picnics
- sometimes there are weddings in the cemetery
- there are all sorts of events at the cemetery, like the upcoming Tunes from the Tombs
- there's a restaurant across the street from Oakland, 6 Feet Under
I put some shots below of the cemetery. It's a fascinating place to visit. [click to enlarge them]