Oakland Cemetery’s Early Landscapes: Researching and Re-Landscaping the African American Grounds

As part of Historic Oakland Foundation’s Master Plan, an administrative history timeline was researched, which has provided a written backdrop of clues and inferred explanations to Oakland’s landscape tapestry. A series of short articles will trace changes to some of Oakland’s most important elements that shape our experience of the cemetery today.

by Sara Van Beck

One of the past year’s landscape restoration projects at Oakland has been the southern portion of the African American Grounds. As with all restoration projects, garden history research on the area and its families was conducted to guide the design. Historical observations of Oakland’s trees, shrubs, and flowers were relatively infrequent and then short on the sort of specific detail one would like for landscape restoration. A handful of period photographs provide the basis for the majority of the areas of the cemetery where whites are buried. Unfortunately, photographs of the African American Grounds are not to be had. There are more photographs and newspaper articles addressing Potter’s Field and its indigent burials than records addressing the section where wealthier African Americans paid to be buried. Thus, other historical sources must be used to provide inferences for how families landscaped African American Grounds.

Other historic African American cemeteries provide some general landscape data. Turning to Atlanta’s South-View Cemetery for comparison, exceedingly little appears in the local newspapers. Since its 1886 founding until the early 1900s, South-View appears in only one article in The Constitution. Published in 1895, the newspaper article details a cemetery of strong contrasts. Some areas near South-View’s front gates were well-tended by loving hands; loved ones were commemorated by marble markers, but no mention was made of planted shrubs or flowers. However, according to the article, large areas of the cemetery were quite mournful, suggestive of neglect if not abandonment, ornamented only by weeds and decaying floral arrangements.

Dr. W.E.B. DuBois’ photograph of an unidentified Georgia cemetery.

What the “well cared-for” lots marked by handsome marble may have looked like comes by way of an unidentified Georgia cemetery at the close of the 19th century. W.E.B. Du Bois took the photo for his “American Negro” exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Through more than 360 photographs, the exhibit showcased the everyday lives of black Georgians at the turn of the century; Oakland resident Thomas Askew was among the photographers whose work was included in “American Negro.”

Dr. DuBois’ photograph reveals a tidy, small cemetery enclosed by a whitewashed wood fence, with understory trees scattered throughout. A few lots are either bordered by low hedges or ornamented by small shrubs, in keeping with the general landscape aesthetic found at smaller cemeteries of the period.

The first guidepost of information for Oakland’s African American families appears in the new Cemetery Commission’s report to the City Council in 1907. Coming at a time when the newly appointed Commission chair was strongly determined to overhaul the cemetery, he was quite pleased to report that the African American “portion of the cemetery was in a most unsightly condition, but it has been greatly improved and now presents a decent appearance to the great gratification of the families, who are taking an interest in the cemetery for the first time, and are expressing a desire to beautify their ground.”

While seemingly late, this coincides with the rise of a financially well-off black middle class in Atlanta. It may simply have taken this long for families to have the wherewithal to spend money on cemetery plants, or for ornamental gardening to become a pastime in the community. The chairman’s statement and this timeframe of the early 1900s then become the starting point for landscape research on how the African American families at Oakland may have landscaped their lots, their aesthetic tastes and plant preferences.

Regarding landscape preferences in Atlanta’s black community in the early 1900s, tidbits peek from the pages of The Constitution, but the real touchstone comes from a study by Atlanta University students led by W.E.B. Du Bois.

A c. 1899 photograph of Bishop Holsey’s house. Courtesy Library of Congress.

As most of Atlanta’s black community was not well-off, vegetable and ornamental gardening was a luxurious pursuit for the few, or at least not on the minds of many. In 1900 it was estimated that 60 percent of Atlanta’s black community resided in structures without a yard. Yet in 1903, an article in The Constitution penned by Oakland resident and physician Henry Rutherford Butler encouraged the community to do just that, garden: “Let us then dig up our gardens and plant them. Plant flowers in our front yards…. I saw Bishop H. M. Turner working in his garden last Wednesday. Bishop L. H. Holsey, on Auburn avenue [sic], has the finest garden in Atlanta, without any exception. He spends much of his time at home in his garden. The example set by these men should inspire many other men who are younger and who have much more time than they.”

In the Library of Congress’ collection is a circa 1899 photograph of Bishop Holsey’s house. Dominating the small front yard are two ornamental circular flower beds with tall plants in the centers. Three years earlier, Dr. Butler had encouraged South-View lot owners to keep their relatives’ graves “clean and green.” It is tempting to speculate that Dr. Butler may have indulged in ornamental gardening along with Bishop Holsey.

A 1908 photo of a vine-encased family home, taken from Dr. W.E.B. DuBois’ photo survey.

Another set of clues come from two “human interest” pieces on Carrie Steele, locally renowned for her work with Atlanta’s black orphans. An 1888 article describes her domicile:

“There’s a pretty little cottage on the corner of Wheat and Calhoun streets. There are vines around the porch, and even in this December weather a few violets and some late chrysanthemums still linger in the neat little garden.”

Vines were a favorite way for southerners to provide cooling shade, as shade trees were rarely planted close to the house. A number of photographs documenting Atlanta’s slum row houses – with not a tree to be seen – show one or two domiciles with vine-engulfed porches. Too, chrysanthemums were becoming wildly popular in Atlanta by this time. A number of the town’s wealthiest were erecting greenhouses to grow their favorite flower in abundance, with the first chrysanthemum flower show held at the Capitol rotunda in 1889.

In 1890, with donations from many in town, Mrs. Steele leased a parcel of land from the city and erected an orphanage. A second article in 1897 focused more on the orphans themselves and their lives under Mrs. Steele’s wing. The piece mentions the children working in the vegetable garden, “while the majority climb the cherry trees after the luscious fruit or hid in the grape vines…”

Details on how those in the community gardened can be gleaned from a sociological study of Atlanta’s African Americans, conducted by the students of Atlanta University in 1907-1908. Published in 1908, The Negro American Family included a strong component on the city’s housing conditions for blacks, from Atlanta’s very poorest to its wealthiest members. As part of the study, the students engaged in a representative sampling survey of 32 residences and in-depth surveying of eight residences, even noting the condition of the front yards. Of the eight houses, one had flowers, a second had flower beds divided by cleanly swept walks, and a third had a rose bush and a peach tree. The survey is accompanied by 32 photographs by W.E.B. DuBois, depicting houses around town and illustrating everything from row house slums to simple cottages to the grandest house in town. While a number of Dr. DuBois’ photographs illustrate a few houses with front yard gardens, there’s no information recorded as to what these gardeners grew.

To infer what gardeners may have grown, an interesting book provides some hints. The Negro School and its Relation to the Community, published in 1915 by the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, is an amazingly comprehensive reference and guide to building and operating a school where no such community resource exists. Among other topics addressed are how to plant ornamental flower beds, landscape designs for the teacher’s residence, use of spring bulbs to line the school walks, and vines for fences and front porches. Hedges were to divide work and play areas on the school grounds and ornament the teacher’s cottage, although the recommended Chinese privet and Macartney rose are some of the most invasive plants in the south today.

1915 photo of the teacher’s cottage.

The ornamental gardening recommendations were simple. The flower bed was to be circular, set in the front lawn, and composed of two varieties. A tall plant was to dominate the bed for summer flowering, such as cannas or oleanders. A lower flower such as lantana was to edge the bed for contrasting color, as it was noted: “Border planting for flowers is becoming quite popular.” Flower beds could similarly be made of just spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and lilies, while “Vincas are among the best bloomers, and can be used for the entire bed or borders.” Winter flower beds could be planted of pansies, petunias, and creeping phlox. For border beds along fences or open lawn, shasta daisies and bananas were an option. Shrubs were to be planted around the edges of the open lawn or as anchor specimen plants to the teacher’s cottage. Suitable varieties included crepe myrtle, wild crab apple, sweet shrub, azalea, hydrangea, calico bush (a type of mountain laurel), roses, and Grancy Gray Beard. Native trees could be dug from nearby forests such as dogwood and wild plum. Granted, the recommended plants lists are tailored for a warmer climate than Atlanta’s, they nevertheless provide further insight as to how the southern African American community may have been guided in ornamental gardening and what a suitable plant palate would be.

One of the last pieces of evidence to be researched was the 1949 aerial photograph series of the City of Atlanta. Digitized by Georgia State University, this high-resolution image captured a number of trees and shrubs in Oakland’s African American Grounds, and hints at other landscape elements. The lack of large tree cover in the southern portion was particularly fortuitous for not obscuring smaller ornamental plantings. Combined with a bulb survey of Oakland conducted in 2003, which found numerous lots with surviving daffodils delineating lot lines and gracing headstones, an informed rough picture of the family-planted landscape as it appeared in 1949 was reached.

Yet time stands still for no gardener. Additional burials have been added since 1949; some trees grew mightily, casting shade; a few died; and many of the bulbs surviving in 2003 continued to dwindle. Armed with newspaper articles, period photographs, reference books, and surviving family plants, an inspired re-envisioning of the southern area of the African American Ground’s landscape has been embarked upon. While the landscape restoration plan draws upon the available direct evidence and inferred guideposts, long-term maintenance needs and current landscape conditions have tempered the plant variety selections.

Carrie Steele Logan’s grave marker today.

Where possible, original hedge lines shown in the 1949 aerial have been re-created. The design motifs suggested in the Tuskegee Institute’s guide have been incorporated along with some of the suggested plants. Other plants used follow from the surviving plants on the African American Grounds (such as daffodils and glossy abelia shrubs), from other areas of the cemetery (such as boxwood and curly ligustrum for hedges), and  from plants described in newspaper articles.

Thus, Carrie Steele’s old-fashioned yard chrysanthemums are scattered about, either as cradle plantings or as borders. Large circles of daffodils are intermixed with daylilies for spring and summer interest, while annuals such as pansies provide spots of winter color. A nearby weeping cherry keeps Ms. Steele company, daffodils fringe walkways and lots, and hydrangeas flank headstones. Vinca minor, often called “cemetery myrtle,” has been introduced in shaded spots to help control erosion as well as enliven what was once open dirt. Thanks to the numerous volunteers and donors who have contributed their financial resources and hard sweat equity, a new, inspired garden spot is being created for Oakland and its African American families. With continued support to expand restoration efforts, the African American Grounds will bloom for years to come.

Sara Van Beck is a member of Historic Oakland Foundation’s gardens team. She is a leading daffodil authority and author of Daffodils in American Gardens: 1733-1940.

As HOF begins hardscape and landscape restoration in the African American Grounds, community engagement and support is critical. You can make a financial contribution to the restoration project in person at Oakland Cemetery’s Visitors Center & Museum Shop, located at the Bell Tower. Or donate online by clicking here. On the online donation page, be sure to select “African American Section” from the designation drop-down menu.

Learn more about the African American Grounds and much more at Oakland’s guided overview tour, “Sights, Symbols, and Stories of Oakland,” offered every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Throughout February HOF offers free guided tours of the African American Grounds, click here for details.

Oakland Cemetery’s Early Landscapes: The Fence and the Wall

By Sara Van Beck

As part of Historic Oakland Foundation’s Master Plan, an administrative history timeline was researched, which has provided a written backdrop of clues and inferred explanations to Oakland’s landscape tapestry. A series of short articles will trace changes to some of Oakland’s most important elements that shape our experience of the cemetery today.

Very old photographs of familiar places are most intriguing to many people, particularly those with an interest in history. Oakland Cemetery is no exception; old photographs illustrate how Oakland grew, how it changed with decades of improvements, and in some cases what has been lost to the vagaries of time. These early images are quite intriguing as to the landscape and gardening at Oakland, helping to inform staff on appropriate plant selections and landscape motifs with restoration projects.

But photographs only go so far, providing disparate visual mileposts to anchor the understanding of Oakland’s changing landscape.

One of Oakland’s most dominant features is its enclosure. The brick and granite perimeter wall sets Oakland apart from its immediate surroundings, and with the passage of time now signals the venerable age of the landscape within. However, in the beginning, the cemetery’s perimeter enclosure was all about providing basic security (and at a cost the City could afford.) For the first 40 years, numerous wood fences protected the cemetery. In a Southern climate, this proved both short-lived and a regular drain on the City’s budget.

Soon after the City purchased the Original Six Acres for the “City Grave Yard” in 1850, expenditures were requested for building a fence. In March 1851, it was “Resolved that the grave yard be enclosed with post and plank fence, panels to be eight feet in length.” However, it seems the fence wasn’t actually constructed until 1855, based on a terse line in the Annual Report made to the Atlanta City Council for the year: “A contract has been made with D. Demorest, Esq., for the building of a substantial fence around the Yard for the sum of $225.”

It only took three years for the fence to decay and require another infusion of funds. In June of 1858, the City Council’s Committee on Cemetery reported, “that after having taken down the old fence on eastern end of the Cemetery they found that about one half of the material is so rotton [sic] that it is unfit for use, and will have to be replaced by new material.”

No surprise, the Civil War took its toll on the fence as it did on the rest of Atlanta. Letters and military reports lament the Federals’ burning of the fence and palings around graves; lesser offenses like grazing their horses; and acts of vandalism and desecration. The Chairman of the Committee on Cemetery pressed for a new fence as early as practicable, to be constructed “with sound oak posts with base or bottom board 12 inches wide and [four] 6 inch boards above also an upright or joint board to each post. Can be put up for $700.” In 1869 a mention is made that the front gate needed a post (perhaps because of rot) but no mention is made alluding to the gate’s appearance.

The early 1870s mark the evolution of Oakland from a small-town graveyard to the municipal cemetery of a rural landscape design we know today. As the newly acquired land was laid out, surveyed and developed, a new fence was in order to replace the dilapidated old one and enclose the new land. Bids were advertised in the local newspapers in June 1871, and in July J.D. Wofford’s bid was accepted at $8.43 per panel. Wofford’s fence was completed in September.

Interestingly, Wofford’s fence doesn’t seem to have run along the side adjacent to the Georgia Railroad tracks. The following spring of 1872, a new fence was requested to be in the same design as Wofford’s, using the sound timber from the old fence “in strengthening the two ends.” This same year, the City opened up Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), finally constructing a direct street from the main part of town to the cemetery, thus bypassing the old circuitous route families used to visit the cemetery. In response to the new road, new arched gateways were built at the main Hunter Street and secondary Fair Street entrances. And to christen the new look of the transforming cemetery, it was finally bequeathed a name, “Oakland.” On March 22, 1873, the Atlanta Daily Sun reported that a resolution was adopted “to have the proper name of [the] City Cemetery put on each entrance.”

Image from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly 1881 (click to enlarge)

Thus, the general configuration of the fence for the next 25 years is set – two primary gates on the perimeter roads (Hunter Street and Fair Street, now Memorial Drive) and a small third gate for north pedestrian and railroad access. The arched “Oakland Cemetery” gates likely were incorporated into early stylized engravings of Oakland and the Confederate Grounds. Two well-known images, one from Illustrated History of Atlanta (1877) and one from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly (1881), show a simple solid arch set on square pillars. While not completely accurate, the engravings do provide a sense of how Oakland now greeted its visitors.

Six years pass and the wood fence is again in need of repair, and the City earmarked $75 for the job in 1878. However, the fence was still badly decayed in 1880, and by 1882 the repair costs were estimated at $600. The City Council and Board of Aldermen did agree in 1882 to move the north gate to a more accessible convenience location, as the appropriation was only $5. However the Aldermen declined a request to install a small, convenient pedestrian gate on the south fence, deeming it as unnecessary despite its $5 price tag. Mayor Hillyer remarked upon the fence’s sorry state of affairs in his 1885 New Year’s address, acknowledging the cemetery needed a new fence.

The new fence didn’t happen until 1887, but by then it came with a 300-foot rock wall, the impetus for the brick wall we know today. This first rock wall started at the southwest corner of the cemetery (now the corner of Memorial Drive and Oakland Avenue) and extended along Fair Street to the east. The repaired fence was then repainted, so far the only indication that the fence was not just raw wood.

This version of the fence is clearly rendered in the 1892 bird’s eye view of Atlanta, a map of which hangs in the Bell Tower gift shop. The main Hunter Street gate is double-arched, seemingly the more elaborate of the two. The second arched gate on Fair Street is less grand, and a third simple gate is directly behind the Bell Tower. This was reportedly known as Cemetery Crossing. Glimpses of the fence can be caught in the background of a circa 1895 stereoview, looking north near the Governor Brown monument.

A circa 1895 stereoview, looking north near the Governor Brown monument.

A quick inspection of the bird’s eye view map reveals no fence nor wall, but open grass and a meandering creek along the east side of the cemetery. The now iconic granite rock wall, along what was then called South Boulevard street, was constructed in 1892. Financed by the sale of around 70 vacant lots owned by the City, it rendered “that portion of the cemetery more safe and presentable.” Council minutes indicate the ordinance for the project was passed in July 1892, suggesting the map was made prior to the start of construction, and so provides documentation as to Oakland’s changing landscape over its development.

Finally, after decades of fence repairs, the City agreed to and paid for a brick wall. Originally, a rock wall was requested by the Committee on Cemetery in 1894, but it seems brick was deemed more prudent. Proud of the results, the Chairman for the Committee on Cemetery reported in 1896 the cemetery “is now nearly enclosed by a neat and permanent wall, capped with an iron fence. There only remains about 400 feet to be built on the north side, along the Georgia railroad, where a retaining wall is necessary.” The Hunter Street (main) gate was built at the same time for $1,200; Bruce & Morgan Architects designed the gate, while the local firms of Venable & Collins Granite Company (office on Broad Street) provided stonework and Gate City Fence Works on Edgewood Avenue provided the wrought iron fencing. The Hunter Street gate bears a striking resemblance to George Washington’s tomb, constructed in 1831 and doubtless the inspiration for many cemetery gates across the country.

George Washington’s tomb, erected in 1831.

Construction of the brick wall brought a number of changes regarding the secondary gates. The third gate in the wood fence, located directly behind the Sexton’s Office providing access to the train tracks, was moved west to the lowest spot. This made the gate “on grade” to the railroad track bed, obviating the need for steps down to the tracks, and allowed for a drainage system. Happily, the small pedestrian gate deemed unnecessary in 1882 was finally constructed, located at what is now Jewish Hill, halfway between Boulevard and the Fair Street gate. This is almost at the corner of Park Drive, where the old trolleys once turned south to head down to Grant Park. A new, small pedestrian gate was constructed at the northwest corner of the cemetery, close to the MARTA station and designed to provide visitor access for those coming from the north at Young Street across Decatur Street and the railroad tracks. The terra cotta tile coping was installed atop the wall for protection in 1909.

Ivy-covered Fair Street entrance gate

It is not clear when the large Fair Street gate was built, but presumably it was built along with the Hunter Street gate when the brick wall was built in 1896. Its design motif was also popular across the country at the time. A galvanized iron canopy was added in 1910 at a cost of $440, providing shelter for visitors presumably as they waited for the trolley. Most of the gate’s early images show it covered in ivy, a popular romantic motif in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. One rare image of the gate, dating from the middle 20th century, shows the gate fully exposed.

The Hunter Street gate was re-built in 1966 with assistance from the National Park Service as part of their Mission 66 program. Celebrating 50 years of the National Park Service, Mission 66 was tasked with identifying and preserving America’s heritage. For reasons unknown, the gate was not completely rebuilt to its original appearance; two decorative Corinthian inset pieces towards the top of the two main columns were not kept, and were instead replaced with plain brick. It is suspected that the Fair Street gate was disassembled at this time, taken down to the basic columns of today.

A 1902 photo of Oakland’s front gate, taken from Atlanta and Its Builders

The brick wall was restored in 1998 following the original design, but with reinforcing systems, and re-used 30% of the original brick. Barring unforeseen accidents, Oakland’s walls should stand for another 100 years.

Sara Van Beck is a member of Historic Oakland Foundation’s gardens team. She is a leading daffodil authority and author of Daffodils in American Gardens: 1733-1940.

Volunteer Voices: Getting to Know Oakland Volunteer Mary Price

Oakland Cemetery relies on the incredible energy, dedication, and generosity of over two hundred volunteers. Working in the gardens, giving tours, staffing the Visitor Center, or giving countless hours at special and private events, Oakland volunteers never fail to amaze with their passion and commitment. Weve asked some of Oaklands volunteers to share their stories of how they became involved as Oakland volunteers and their experiences here.

Meet Mary Price

Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I am currently a self-contained Special Education teacher at Druid Hills High School. I’ve worked in a number of different jobs as an adult because I’ve never wanted to be tied down in a job to the point of hating the job. I am originally from Quitman in South Georgia. It’s a place of fond memories but not a place to spend a whole life, though I still visit my family there.

How did you get involved in volunteering at Oakland and why do you volunteer here?
I like cemeteries because they are historical goldmines. So much of the social history of a place can be gleaned from a walk through a cemetery like Oakland. So I took a walk here one summer day and decided I’d like to explore the volunteer opportunities. I wasn’t really sure what volunteering in a cemetery would involve, but it sounded promising. I had worked in downtown Atlanta and attended Georgia State University, so I had ridden past Oakland on MARTA for several years. I was intrigued.

What do you do at Oakland and what do you like the most about volunteering at Oakland?
I volunteer in the gardens, in the Visitor Center, and for special events. I enjoy volunteering at Oakland because there is such a variety of interesting people who also volunteer there. I have learned so much about the history of Atlanta and enjoyed the company of other wonderful volunteers during the years I have been a volunteer at Oakland. I have enjoyed being a team leader with the Second Saturday gardening volunteer days, and being a guide for the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween tours. Those are only two of the many volunteer opportunities at Oakland.

What is your favorite Oakland experience or moment?
My favorite moment is when visitors to Oakland admire the beauty of the gardens or remark on how much they enjoyed participating in one of the events, because I know how much everyone works to make the events and the cemetery special. So, knowing that my efforts are appreciated by those who visit is rewarding.

If you are interested in volunteering at Historic Oakland Cemetery, want to be considered for our January 2018 new volunteer orientation, or want to know more about what our volunteers do, please click here to learn more about HOF’s volunteer needs and submit an application.   

Volunteer Voices: Getting to Know Oakland Volunteer Christine Leinbach

Oakland Cemetery relies on the incredible energy, dedication, and generosity of over 200 volunteers. Working in the gardens, giving tours, staffing the Visitors Center & Museum Shop, or giving countless hours at special and private events, Oakland volunteers never fail to amaze with their passion and commitment. Weve asked some of Oaklands volunteers to share their stories of how they became involved as Oakland volunteers and their experiences here.

Meet Christine “Chris” Leinbach

Christine Leinbach

Tell us a little bit about yourself and you came to be involved with Oakland.
Not long after my husband Peter and I moved south to the Atlanta “suburb” of Buford in 2010, we joined the Atlanta History Center. We were new to this area, having moved from Reading, Pennsylvania to be nearer our then only three grandkids, who live in Cumming – we now have two more in California! We wanted to become more familiar with our new home, and thought what better way to do that than to learn its history?

It was through one of the Atlanta History Center’s “Party with The Past” events that we were introduced to Oakland Cemetery. Coming to that event was particularly exciting for us. We have always had an interest in old cemeteries. Living just north of Philadelphia for so many years, we were surrounded by early American history; not to mention Peter’s family had roots in Reading going back to the 1600s.

It wasn’t unusual in the 1970s for me to take my young children on rides around the Reading countryside, checking out old graveyards and churchyards for long lost ancestors, picnicking at the gravesites too, much as I imagine those ancestors did decades earlier! So, we eagerly anticipated partying with the past at Oakland, and it did not disappoint! That was in fall 2012 and in January 2013, we attended a volunteer orientation and the rest is, well, history.

Peter and I started out as garden volunteers. Before long (with encouragement from Mary Woodlan, the director of volunteers at that time) I became a tour guide, which allows me to share Oakland’s wonderful story with people of all walks of life and all ages. And for the last five Halloweens, it has been my great pleasure and honor to portray a resident during the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tours.

Christine in the Victorian spirit during Oakland’s Victorian Holiday event.

Why do you volunteer at Oakland?
As a transplanted “Yankee” I have learned so much and come to appreciate the rich history of my new home through the stories of the residents in this hallowed place. There are over 70,000 souls resting here and each one has a special tale. It is hard for me to choose one favorite experience as a result of my volunteering, however, I think being able to bring some of the residents’ stories back to life, even for a little while, during those last weeks in October is probably the most gratifying for me.

It is humbling to revisit these individuals and peel away some of the layers of their lives. Most moving for me is discovering that they were not really different from you or I, despite the century or more separating us their joys and heartaches, successes and tragedies, dreams and disappointments actually mirror our own. I have a passion to keep those stories alive and remind visitors that the folks buried here are not just names on stones; at one time they were vital individuals. Peter and I can’t imagine not being part of Oakland nor missing out on coming to know the great people, our fellow volunteers and the staff here, who we now call special friends. This is truly our family of “creation.”

Christine during Capturing the Spirit of Oakland

What else should we know about you?
I retired before moving here. I was an activities/art therapist in a psych unit at a major hospital in Pennsylvania. My specialty was geriatrics, using art primarily to calm and help individuals with acute dementia related issues. I continue to use my art background now, painting mostly. My subject matter revolves around my grandkids, dogs and especially the beautiful grounds and gardens at Oakland. My husband Peter and I enjoy spending time gardening (at home and at Oakland!) as well as being with our grandkids on both coasts and relaxing with our three sweet dogs.

If you are interested in volunteering at Historic Oakland Cemetery, want to be considered for our January 2018 new volunteer orientation, or want to know more about what our volunteers do, please click here to learn more about HOF’s volunteer needs and submit an application.   

Third annual A Victorian Holiday at Oakland brings holiday cheer to historic Oakland Cemetery

See Oakland’s mausoleums decked out in holiday splendor!

On Dec. 2, Historic Oakland Cemetery adds some history to the holiday season at the third annual A Victorian Holiday at Oakland.

Held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., A Victorian Holiday at Oakland is the final event of the year for Historic Oakland Foundation, and proceeds benefit HOF’s mission to preserve, restore, enhance, and share Atlanta’s oldest public burial ground.

During A Victorian Holiday at Oakland, visitors can take the Holiday Tour of Eternal Homes, which gives a “behind-the-stones” look at some of Oakland’s magnificent mausoleums. A costumed tour guide shares the histories of the families who lie in rest in each of the structures, which are decorated in holiday splendor.

In addition to the mausoleum tour, A Victorian Holiday at Oakland includes a wide range of activities for all ages. Visitors can take photos with Santa Claus and his sidekick Rudolph while enjoying a reading of A Visit from St. Nicholas. Kids can try their hand at Victorian crafts and ornament-making, and guitarist Matthias Young performs holiday standards throughout the afternoon. Members of HOF’s gardens team will be on hand to demonstrate how to design and decorate with holiday greenery.

The Holiday Market boasts unique gift items made from local artisans, and A Victorian Holiday at Oakland attendees can take advantage of a 10 percent discount on items purchased in Oakland’s Museum Shop. Douglas fir wreaths and bundles made with greenery harvested from Oakland’s gardens will also be available for purchase.

“We are looking forward to celebrating the season in traditional Victorian style, with sights and sounds that are sure to raise everyone’s spirits,” said HOF Executive Director David Moore.

A Victorian Holiday at Oakland is sponsored by Larkin on Memorial. The event is free and open to the public, but Holiday Mausoleum Tour tickets must be purchased in advance. Tickets are available at www.freshtix.com.

Deck Your Halls with Fresh-Cut Fir!

by Sara Henderson, Director of Gardens

The 2017 Holiday Wreath Sale has ended. Please check back in 2018 for updates on upcoming garden sales and events! 

Oakland’s annual wreath and greenery sale returns for 2017 with fresh wreaths, a variety of hand-tied bows, and fresh greenery cut from the grounds. This is a wonderful way to honor family and decorate your home, while supporting Oakland’s gardens.

The bundles of mixed greenery are perfect for enhancing your wreath, decorating your home and mailbox, or giving as gifts. Each bundle will include an assortment of hand-selected evergreens chosen to bring fragrance and colorful cheer to your home.

The wreaths you buy for placement on the grounds will be placed by Dec. 10 if ordered before Dec. 6. Orders received after Dec. 6 will be placed as quickly as possible, usually within two days. These wreaths symbolize the love and respect you feel for departed family members and friends and also bring cheer to those visiting the grounds during the holiday season.

Place commemorative wreaths and ribbons on your family plot.

All proceeds from wreath, ribbon, and garland sales benefit Historic Oakland Foundation’s gardens team. Thank you for your support!

Holiday Wreaths on Sale Now

It’s the most wonderful time of year! Historic Oakland Foundation’s annual wreath sale returns, with the chance to decorate your home or family plot with fragrant balsam fir wreaths. Our handmade wreaths are sourced from a North Carolina farm, and come complete with a lovely red velvet ribbon. For reference, two 12-inch wreaths fit a mausoleum’s double doors.

All proceeds from holiday wreath sales benefit Historic Oakland Foundation’s gardens team.

Orders placed by Nov. 30 will be ready for pickup during the Dec. 2 event, A Victorian Holiday at Oakland, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. During the event, members of Oakland’s gardens team will give demonstrations of ways to embellish wreaths and other decorations with garden greenery.

Those who pick up preordered wreaths during A Victorian Holiday at Oakland will receive a complimentary bundle of decorative mixed greens harvested from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens.

12” balsam wreath with standard red bow $30*
24” balsam wreath with standard red bow $35*
36” balsam wreath $60*
Deluxe hand-tied bow $8*
Oversized red bow suitable for 36” wreath $12
6’ fresh garland $18
Bundle of mixed greens to decorate mantle, wreath, or garland $9*

*All prices include 8.9% sales tax

Historic Oakland Cemetery hosts 40th anniversary, free festival this fall

Sunday in the Park: An event worth waiting 167 years for! (click to enlarge)

Families looking for fall activities need look no further than Historic Oakland Cemetery. On Sunday, Oct. 1, Atlanta’s most tangible link to the past opens its gates for Sunday in the Park, a free festival and celebration of Historic Oakland Foundation’s (HOF) 40th anniversary.

From noon to 6 p.m. Sunday in the Park attendees will find activities for all ages and interests, including: living history demonstrations and presentations on Victorian mourning customs; kid’s crafts and storytelling; a Victorian costume contest; tintype photography booth; and much more. Bands and dancers will perform throughout the day, and Sunday in the Park also includes a market with wares from over 20 local artists.

“What started nearly 40 years ago as a small picnic for Oakland Cemetery’s descendants has evolved into an annual tradition,” said David Moore, HOF executive director. “In thanks to all who’ve supported Oakland over the decades, we’re happy to make Sunday in the Park a free event this year and welcome all to celebrate Oakland’s past, present, and future.”

Oakland Cemetery’s fall event season begins with its Fall Plant Sale, held Sept. 29-30. After Sunday in the Park, the cemetery hosts its 10th annual Run Like Hell 5K on Oct. 14, followed by two weekends of the acclaimed Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tours, which sold out in July.

“All of Oakland Cemetery’s programming and events strive to be educational, entertaining, and enlightening,” said Moore. “The Foundation has grown by leaps and bounds over the past forty years, as has Atlanta. We’ll share some of our ‘greatest hits,’ at Sunday in the Park and shed some light on where we’re going.”

During Sunday in the Park, HOF will close its 40 in 40 fundraising campaign, which launched on Aug. 23 with a goal to raise $40,000 in 40 days, commemorating the organization’s 40th anniversary. Should HOF reach the 40 in 40 goal, its fundraising will be doubled with a $40,000 matching gift generously provided by John R. Moore and Jimmy L. Bryant, The Gertrude and William C. Wardlaw Fund, and anonymous donors.

All event proceeds benefit HOF’s mission to preserve, restore, enhance, and share Oakland Cemetery.

Thank You to Sunday in the Park Sponsors! 


October brings festivities and family-friendly fun to Historic Oakland Cemetery

In 1976, after decades of deterioration, vandalism, and general neglect, Oakland Cemetery found a rebirth of sorts when a small group of concerned and committed Atlantans rallied to restore the cemetery to its former glory. In 1977 the organization became a federally-recognized nonprofit organization, and this October Historic Oakland Foundation celebrates that 40th anniversary with a month full of activities perfect for fall.

On Sunday, Oct. 1 Oakland Cemetery hosts the 39th annual Sunday in the Park fall festival. This year’s Sunday in the Park will be free and open to the public, as HOF’s way of saying thanks to the thousands who have supported Oakland Cemetery over the last four decades.

“The past 40 years have been phenomenal for Oakland Cemetery. This is a crucial time in our organization’s growth, and we’re just as excited for what the future holds for HOF,” said David Moore, executive director of HOF. “We invite everyone to come out to Sunday in the Park, celebrate with us, learn something new, and spend a beautiful fall day in an unforgettable setting.”

During Sunday in the Park the cemetery will feature exhibits chronicling Oakland Cemetery and HOF’s evolution, as well as historical highlights for the city. The festival also includes a Victorian costume contest, living history demonstrations, live performances, kid’s crafts, an artist market, and much more. Sunday in the Park opens at noon and continues through 6 p.m.

Support HOF’s 40 in 40 campaign at Sunday in the Park!

Sunday in the Park caps off HOF’s 40 in 40 campaign, which began Aug. 23 and seeks to raise $40,000 in 40 days in celebration of the organization’s milestone anniversary. Though free to attend Sunday in the Park, donations are welcomed and also count toward the 40 in 40 fundraising goal, which supports a range of preservation, education, and public interest projects at Oakland Cemetery.

Following Sunday in the Park, Oakland is off to the races with the 10th annual Run Like Hell 5K on Oct. 14. This year’s race features a new, faster route spanning the cemetery, Memorial Drive Greenway Project, and Georgia State Capitol. Run Like Hell is a family-friendly race and an AJC Peachtree Road Race qualifier. Run Like Hell includes a Halloween costume contest, post-race activities, and the opportunity for participants to fundraise in support of HOF’s African American Grounds restoration project. Early race registration ends on Sept. 15, and registration closes on Oct. 11. Race details and registration available at www.itsyourrace.com.

Run with Oakland on Oct. 14!

The acclaimed Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tours rounds out the month, with tours held over two weekends on Oct. 20-22 and Oct. 26-29. As one of the only opportunities to visit Oakland Cemetery after dark, Capturing the Spirit resurrects the stories of Oakland residents through vivid historic reenactments. Ticket sales for Capturing the Spirit broke records this year, with all tours selling out within a week of going on sale to the general public in July.

“Everything we do at HOF drives home our mission to uphold this unique historic landmark,” said Moore. “Through educational programming, special events, public outreach, and more, we showcase Oakland Cemetery as a one-stop repository of architecture, botanical gardens, modernity, and history.”

All proceeds from Oakland Cemetery’s special events and tours benefit HOF’s mission is to preserve, restore, enhance, and share Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta’s oldest public burial ground and treasured historic landmark. Event and ticketing details available by clicking here.

Historic Oakland Foundation sprints toward milestone anniversary with fundraising campaign

This October marks the 40th anniversary of Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF) becoming a nationally-recognized nonprofit organization charged with preserving, restoring, enhancing, and sharing historic Oakland Cemetery. In conjunction with this milestone, HOF embarks on a 40-day fundraising campaign to support Atlanta’s oldest public burial ground and a treasured repository of local, state, and national history.

Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 23 and culminating on Sunday, Oct. 1 at HOF’s Sunday in the Park event, the Foundation has a goal to raise $40,000 in 40 days. During that five-week period, every dollar raised will go toward supporting an array of preservation, education, and public interest projects at Oakland Cemetery, including: hardscape and landscape restoration; field trip programs and interpretive signage; tree canopy care and garden maintenance; and more.

“With public and private support, the Foundation has accomplished great things over the past forty years, from fully restoring Georgia’s second oldest Jewish burial ground to making a strong recovery after 2008’s devastating tornado,” said David Moore, executive director at HOF. “We hope all who enjoy Oakland and what it offers will contribute to our campaign to commemorate this significant year.”

Hardscape and landscape projects that this campaign benefits include the first major restoration of Oakland’s African American Grounds in nearly 100 years. Additionally, funds will help complete the restoration work at the final resting place of golf great Bobby Jones and continued maintenance of the historic Jewish burial grounds.

“Oakland Cemetery is many things to many people, and our guided tours, gardens, and even physical landscape reflects that diversity,” Moore said. “As we look to the next forty years and beyond, it is critical that the Foundation has the community’s support to continue our mission of maintaining this rare piece of Atlanta history.”

All donations (excluding HOF memberships) made between Aug. 23 and Oct. 1 will count toward HOF’s fundraising goal. Donations can be sent by mail, on Oakland Cemetery’s website, at the cemetery’s visitor’s center, and through its mobile app, available for iOS and Android devices.