PRO Team Field Notes: Restoring the McKinley Lot

By Dr. DL Henderson and Ashley Shares

Jacob McKinley’s monument, which is leaning significantly.

The headstone belonging to Jacob McKinley is located in Phase 1 of the African American Grounds restoration project. It is a pedestal-style monument, composed of multiple units of marble “freely” stacked, one on top of another, without any pins or dowels holding them in place.

This monument was leaning at a significant angle and its stabilization with a high priority. The Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team hand-removed the urn and other small elements. We set up scaffolding to dismantle the larger pieces, which were lifted with a trolley and chain hoist attached to an aluminum I-beam. Each piece was braced with a nylon strap and carefully moved several feet away.

The sub-base supports a monument below ground and isn’t intended for viewing. Mr. McKinley’s monument sub-base is composed of brick, slate, and other stones; small marble slabs; and general rubble held together with a soft mortar. Because the monument had been so un-level, we decided to remove the sub-base and create a completely new one. This new sub-base was made from reinforced concrete.

After repair, the monument is properly aligned.

After giving the sub-base 24 hours of dry-time, we poured a soft mortar mix on top and each of the marble blocks were re-stacked. Pieces of angled lead were placed between layers to help space them evenly, and to allow for a “joint” that could later be filled with a soft mortar grout. The purpose of such grout is to prevent water penetration that may lead to stone deterioration.

Jacob McKinley was a formerly enslaved carpenter who amassed a small fortune after his emancipation. He owned several businesses and became one of the wealthiest African American men in Atlanta by the 1890s. When the Atlanta Constitution reported McKinley’s death in January 1896, the obituary described his wealth and philanthropy and lamented the loss of a good citizen.

Born into slavery in Newnan, Georgia circa 1830, McKinley had prospered in post-Civil War Atlanta and gained a reputation among local businessmen for industry and integrity. By his own reckoning, McKinley apparently had a rough upbringing, but at age 16 while still enslaved, he was apprenticed as a carpenter. No doubt because of his outstanding carpentry skills, in 1853, McKinley was sold for $1,550. However, as a freedman his personal worth would quickly eclipse his monetary value as a slave.

After gaining his freedom, McKinley demonstrated that his skills were not limited to manual labor. Over the years, he developed several successful businesses and at times employed over 150 laborers—white and African American. He became a prosperous merchant, real estate owner, and a dealer in wood and coal; he owned a brickyard, a grocery store, and a large amount of real estate. He donated a piece of land to start a Baptist church named in his honor, “McKinley’s Chapel.”

McKinley’s death is noted in the January 24, 1896 Atlanta Constitution

Jacob McKinley extended his investments beyond real estate in 1886 when he joined other African Americans in securing a charter to establish the South-View Cemetery Association. South-View provided an alternative burial ground for African Americans who did not want to be buried in the segregated grounds at Oakland or Westview cemeteries. In 1890 McKinley and Oakland residents Henry Rucker, Thomas Goosby, C. C. Cater, and Nicodemus Holmes, along with other African American investors, established the Georgia Real Estate Loan and Trust Company. The new business offered yet another opportunity for economic advancement for McKinley and the other investors, while providing much needed business financing for their African American customers.

When McKinley’s estate was probated, his worth was estimated at $40,000, which included 12 shares of stock in South-View Cemetery, valued at $900. It may seem ironic to some that McKinley is not buried at South-View, but he had purchased his family lot at Oakland in 1879 to bury 6-month-old Joseph McKinley. The McKinley family apparently was unwilling to disinter the infant and two other previously interred family members to move them to South-View. Like many African American families in Atlanta, the McKinleys continued to use their family lot and buried multiple generations of family members together at Oakland.

Jacob McKinley listed among the founders on a monument at South-View Cemetery.

As HOF begins planning for the African American Grounds hardscape and landscape restoration, 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. Visit our African American Grounds page to learn about this restoration project in-depth.

Dr. DL Henderson is a professional genealogist and Board Trustee at Historic Oakland Foundation.

Ashley Shares is Preservation Manager at Historic Oakland Foundation.

Note: Jacob McKinley’s biographical information is excerpted from Dr. Henderson’s forthcoming book, South-View: An African American City of the Dead. It will be published in January 2018.

Historic Oakland Cemetery focuses on African American Grounds restoration on Georgia Gives Day

Deborah Strahorn portrays Myra Miller at Capturing the Spirit of Oakland 2017

On Tuesday, Nov. 28 Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF) joins non-profit organizations across the state for Georgia Gives Day. On this statewide day of online giving, HOF has a goal to raise $5,000 in support of its ongoing restoration project in the African American Grounds.

The 3.5-acre area in Oakland Cemetery has not undergone a large-scale restoration in more than 100 years. HOF requires approximately $400,000 to fully restore the area, which will undergo both hardscape and landscape repairs. To date HOF has received generous gifts from individuals, foundations, and corporations including Georgia-Pacific Foundation and Georgia Power Foundation, Inc.

The African American Grounds restoration project began this January, six months after HOF completed a ground-penetrating radar survey of the area. Historically, African American burial traditions utilized natural markers like wood, shrubbery, or flowers, which have been lost through the passage of time. Therefore, much of this section of Oakland Cemetery is bereft of headstones or other visual markers.

To determine what lies beneath, HOF partnered with Atlanta-based remote sensing firm Bigman Geophysical for a technologically-advanced survey of the American Grounds. That survey found nearly 900 probable unmarked burials in the area.

During the recent Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tours – held over two weekends in October – HOF raised more than $9,000 for the African American Grounds, thanks to attendees who donated after hearing the story of Oakland resident Myra Miller.

Born a slave in 1811, Miller was among the 10 residents featured on this year’s tours. Miller and her husband moved to Atlanta in the mid-1870s, and she established herself as one of the city’s finest and most sought-after bakers. Miller owned and operated a bakery in downtown Atlanta, and wedding cakes were her specialty.

Capturing the Spirit of Oakland is HOF’s largest annual fundraiser, bringing more than 7,000 visitors through the cemetery’s gates over seven nights. This year’s donations for the African American Grounds broke HOF records.

In 2016 Capturing the Spirit of Oakland attendees donated more than $7,500 to the African American Grounds. The tours featuredDr. Beatrice Thompson, who graduated from medical school in 1901 before setting up a practice in Athens, Ga. During her lifetime Dr. Thompson championed fellow entrepreneurs and invested in Athens’ first black-owned pharmacy.

“Supporting Oakland Cemetery on Georgia Gives Day makes it possible for us to restore and maintain this treasured area, as the families originally intended,” said HOF Executive Director David Moore. “Our Foundation works every day to keep Atlanta’s history alive through a diverse range of programming and projects, and community support is critical to our success.”

PRO Team Field Notes: Stone Benders

By Ashley Shares, Preservation Manager

Headstone before the PRO Team’s work.

When you think of stone, what words come to mind? Strong? Solid? Inflexible? Well, a walk through Oakland Cemetery will show you that these adjectives aren’t always true of headstones. Thin, upright marble tombstones are especially fragile. They are prone to breaking, whether it be from a fallen tree branch, being knocked over by vandalism, or the slow effects of gravity. Sometimes, however, instead of cracking, marble does something incredible: it bends.

Yes, believe it or not, if exposed to the right conditions over a very long period of time, marble can slowly bow. This usually occurs when the stone is in a horizontal position. Examples include a tombstone that has fallen, or a box tomb with a marble ledger stone. In the case of a tombstone, if the ground beneath it is not level, gravity will exert more force on less supported areas, pushing them down, while supported areas will remain in one position. This usually breaks the stone eventually, but in rare instances like one stone the PRO Team just worked on, it bends it instead.

John Butler died in 1882 and is buried in Lot 1, Block 302 in the East Hill area at Oakland. His is not the only burial on the lot, but it is the only one marked. The restoration of Block 302 is part of the PRO Team’s critical restoration efforts this year, due to its extremely deteriorated overall conditions which include entirely tumbled-down walls as well as Butler’s bowed headstone.

In order to re-set the tombstone, it had to be stabilized. When a piece of marble bends in this way, the stone loses its strength in the curved area. If the stone were to stand upright, gravity would put press heavily on the curve, possibly causing a break. Leaving the stone horizontal and building a concrete pad for it to rest on was another option we explored. We ultimately abandoned this option because it would allow water accumulation on the headstone’s face, causing more rapid deterioration of the already-faded carvings. Since an upright position was the best bet for saving stone’s historic elements, what we needed to do was prevent pressure from building on the high point of the curve once the stone was back up.

Lightweight bracing on the headstone.

What we did was design a lightweight brace of stainless steel and aluminum that hugs the monument tightly on the sides, both above and below the high point of the curve. Padding supports the curves and prevents the steel from damaging the monument. First, we dug a nearly 3 foot hole and embedded a hollow squared aluminum pole in a concrete anchor. This part acts as the brace’s “spine”. When the concrete was dry, the pieces of the brace were attached to the frame (“ribs”).  The headstone was carefully lowered into the hole directly in front of the spine and the pieces of the brackets were clamped on the sides above and below the curve. All bolts were tightened and we backfilled the hole with soil. Every few years, the foam will need to be replaced but the brace should last many decades because all materials used are non-rusting.

PRO Team Field Notes: Rubbed the Wrong Way – The Negative Effects of Gravestone Rubbing

By Ashley Shares, Preservation Manager

When I was a child my grandmother and parents used to take me to cemeteries. Not just where my grandfather was buried, but also to burial grounds with no connection to my family. As a little girl the epitaphs, iconography, and different text styles delighted me. I calculated how long people lived, imagined the historic events they experienced, and drew conclusions about familial connections. Imagine my frustration when some stones were too faint to read! The culprit: gravestone rubbing.

Headstone rubbing is banned in many historic cemeteries, including Oakland Cemetery. Image courtesy Peterson AFB

Armed with thin tracing paper and a red crayon, I set out to discover the mysteries that the oldest headstones in Chicago’s Resurrection Cemetery held. This cemetery was one of my favorites growing up, thanks in part to the legend of “Resurrection Mary,” a hitchhiking ghost said to haunt the cemetery and nearby Willowbrook Ballroom. After an afternoon of earnest and hard rubbing, none of my attempts yielded particularly legible words or pictures and I grew quickly bored, as most children would.

Resurrection Cemetery opened in 1904, so there were no stones of considerable ago or fragility. If there had been, my rough work may have resulted in disaster. See, this seemingly innocuous activity beloved by so many children and adults alike can damage headstones. That’s why it is banned at many cemeteries, including Historic Oakland Cemetery.

For example, according to New Hampshire state law:

No person shall make gravestone rubbings in any municipal cemetery or burial ground without first obtaining the written permission of the town selectmen or the mayor of a city or designee. Before granting such permission, the selectmen or mayor will ascertain to the best of their ability that the person making the request knows the proper precautions to be taken and the proper materials to be used for this activity. The town selectmen or city mayor or their designee shall notify the cemetery trustees of the request and its disposition. Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

What makes rubbing dangerous to gravestones? Depending on the material, gravestones deteriorate in different ways. Slate divides in thin sheets, while marble “sugars” or disintegrates. Applying mechanical pressure in the way that rubbing does can exacerbate these issues and result in a loss of historic material. Furthermore, if a stone is unstable, even a small amount of pressure can knock it over and possibly break it.

Slates in various states of delamination. Photo courtesy National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

Another potential pitfall with rubbing is damage from the writing utensil. If the utensil goes through the paper it can at worst scratch the surface and at least discolor it. Crayon wax especially can cause staining that is difficult to remove.

So, is there a safe way to do a rubbing? If care is taken to choose a stone that is sound and only gentle rubbing with a blunt implement is employed, rubbing is harmless. However, often it can be difficult for cemetery visitors to properly judge what “sound” stones look like. Therefore, as a whole, rubbing is not allowed at Oakland.

How can someone read an illegible headstone without doing a rubbing?

Raking Light: Gravestone letters are most easily read on a clear and bright day, when the sun is nearly above the stone. The light is coming from and oblique angle, making shadows deepen. This can be recreated using a mirror if the sun is lower or the stone is turned away from the sun. A flashlight can also be used on cloudy days.

Proper headstone cleaning can help legibility.

Cleaning: Properly cleaning a headstone makes it easier to read by removing growth and staining that obscure the writing. Of course, care must be taken to ensure the stone is a safe candidate for cleaning and that proper cleaner and brushes are used.

Computational Photography: A new field of technology is in development so previously illegible artifacts can be read and deciphered by using different lighting, multiple angles, and “corrected color imagery” photography. To read more about these new techniques, check out Cultural Heritage Imaging.

PRO Team Field Notes: Oakland’s Eastern Greenhouse Wall

by Charlie Paine
Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team Intern

Oakland Cemetery’s Beaumont Allen Greenhouse is located between the historic boiler room and carriage house structure near the cemetery’s northern boundary. These buildings were constructed around the turn of the 20th century and aided facility and lot management at Oakland as the cemetery continued to grow. The original greenhouse has since been removed, but the structure’s supporting walls remain. These walls may not support a greenhouse anymore, but they do support the cemetery’s historic integrity and serve as a symbol of our earliest efforts to make Oakland beautiful.

When a historic brick is covered in Portland cement, the moisture that was supposed to be absorbed and evaporated out, is retained in the wall.

The greenhouse walls were repaired several times in its history, but some repairs caused more issues to arise in the long term. In particular, the easternmost wall seems to have been partially rebuilt near the back top corner without proper bricking into the older wall for support. With parts of the wall not re-tied into the existing structure, the wall had little-to-no lateral support near the top. In addition to the poor re-structuring, the wall was capped, repointed, and in some places stucco’ed-over using Portland cement. Portland cement used as mortar and stucco can be dangerous for historic structures. Mortar is sacrificial and does its duty well only when it’s softer than the masonry it is binding. When a historic brick is covered in Portland cement, the moisture that was supposed to be absorbed and evaporated out, is retained in the wall. This is more degrading to historic bricks, which are more porous and less compressed than modern factory-made bricks.

Since the past repairs, the Beaumont Allen Greenhouse wall was retaining excessive amounts of water and allowed for many weak spots in the structure to develop and worsen to critical condition in recent months. The top of the wall had cracked, separated, and created a hazard for those walking near it.

Excessive amounts of water allowed for many weak spots in the wall.

This May a structural engineer with architectural firm Wiley|Wilson discussed with the PRO Team the Beaumont Allen Greenhouse’s east wall. The engineer addressed possible solutions to save the wall from collapsing. A feasible solution included: removing the cement cap atop the structure, repointing with an appropriate mortar, and inserting steel stitch rods into the wall to re-tie it.

Following the advice of the structural engineer, appropriate repairs have been made to the wall over the past two months, and the work is nearing completion.

Steel stitch rods were embedded every forth course of bricks to add stability to the structure.

Left: Reinforcing steel stitch beams are placed between every fourth row of brick. Right: the beams are supported with mortar.

The remains of the crumbling cement cap were chiseled off and are being recreated with a buff-colored lime mortar cap using the same mortar mixture the wall has been appropriately repointed with. With the wall’s repairs coming to an end, a final brace will be added in coming weeks to adjoin the wall to the carriage structure to ensure the wall’s longevity.

The wall after repairs.

Charlie Paine is a senior at College of Charleston, pursuing his bachelors in historic preservation and community planning and art and architectural history.


Oakland Resident Spotlight: Learning More About the Thompson Lot

By Ashley Shares and Dr. DL Henderson

The new headstone on the Thompson/Henderson lot pays tribute to Dr. Beatrice Blanche Saunders Thompson (d. 1964), a physician and surgeon, and her husband Sidney James Thompson (d. 1945), a Fulton County juvenile probation officer and founder of Atlanta’s oldest boys club.

Dr. Thompson attended Atlanta University and following a short first marriage to Robert Saunders which left her a widow, she continued her education at Walden University in Nashville, Tennessee. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the A.M.E. church was so thoroughly impressed with her diligence and scholarship that he financed her medical education at Meharry Medical College.

Dr. BBS Thompson in Athens Daily Herald, Aug. 13, 1914. (photo courtesy

Dr. BBS Thompson in Athens Daily Herald, Aug. 13, 1914. (photo courtesy

She graduated with honors in 1901 and became the first African American female to practice medicine in Athens, Georgia. She cared for both African American and white patients, and she performed the first surgery by an African American physician in Athens. Dr. Thompson was part owner of the E. D. Harris Drugstore, the first African American owned drugstore in Athens.

In 1909, she opened a practice in Knoxville, Tennessee, and joined the staff of the Knoxville Medical College. Her second husband, Sidney James Thompson, enrolled as a medical student, and Dr. Thompson was one of his instructors. Sidney Thompson apparently did not complete his medical education, and the couple later relocated to Atlanta where he began working as a baker. But his passion led him to start a boys club in Atlanta under the auspices of the Law and Order League of America. This club, established in the early 1930s, was the founding organization of the current George Washington Carver Boys and Girls Club, and the club is now affiliated with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.

Dr. Thompson’s younger sister Estelle Amelia Henderson (d. 1936) passed the Alabama bar in 1919. In Atlanta, attorney Henderson taught at Morris Brown College and served as the college’s financial agent. No record of her passing the bar in Georgia has been found, but she is listed as an attorney at law in the Atlanta City Directory and the Fulton County census records in the 1920s and 1930s.

She practiced from her office in the Odd Fellows building on Auburn Avenue. The 1921 publication of Henderson’s book on race relations, “Is Washington Alive in the Life of the Negro?” was announced in the Atlanta Constitution and endorsed by U. S. President Taft and Vice President Fairbanks. Her husband, Fred R. Henderson (d. 1958), worked as a carpenter. He learned his profession at Tuskegee Institute under Booker T. Washington. After Estelle’s death, he married Pearl Hooks Stewart (d. 1980) who is also buried on the Henderson/Thompson lot. Other family members buried on the lot include Mary Underwood Reed (d. 1933), mother of Dr. Thompson and Estelle Henderson; their stepfather, Daniel W. Reed (d. 1930); their half-brother Henry A. Reed (d. 1926) and his wife, Eloise (d. 1924).

The actresses who portrayed Dr. Thompson during Capturing the Spirit at Dr. Thompson's lot.

The actresses who portrayed Dr. Thompson during Capturing the Spirit at Dr. Thompson’s lot.

In 2016 the restoration of Dr. BBS Thompson’s family lot was made possible by generous donations at Oakland Cemetery’s annual Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tour. In February of this year, Dr. Thompson’s headstone and those of her family members were repaired and re-set by member of Oakland’s Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team.

The work began with repairing the cradlings of Estella and Fred Henderson. Cradling surrounds a single grave and is meant to mimic a bedframe. The broken cradling pieces were repaired using stainless steel pins inserted into holes drilled on the interior of the stone. The pieces were adhered with mason’s epoxy. Next, two small concrete and plaster headstones were carefully repaired using the same epoxy.

These headstones were originally given to the family of the deceased as part of a funeral home’s burial package. All of the larger headstones on the lot were re-set. To do this, the PRO Team removed the headstones and properly leveled and compacted the soil beneath them. Eighty-nine stone, a rough and angular gravel, was added to facilitate drainage. The headstones were placed back and a string line was used to make sure they were in line with one another. Something special that was done on this lot was to provide Dr. Thompson and her husband Sydney with a new granite headstone. Dr. Thompson still has her funeral home marker, but Sydney had none. The style selected in known as a “beveled companion stone” and it marks both of their grave sites. This marker type would have been available during the times of their deaths.

Dr. DL Henderson is a professional genealogist and Board Trustee at Historic Oakland Foundation.

Ashley Shares is Preservation Manager at Historic Oakland Foundation.

As HOF begins planning for the African American Grounds hardscape and landscape restoration, 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. Visit our African American Grounds page to learn about this restoration project in-depth. 







PRO Team Field Notes: Restoration and Preservation for Eliza S. Blake

by Ashley Shares and Dr. DL Henderson

Eliza Street Blake's headstone (center) before restoration. Photo courtesy Linda Ferree and

Eliza Street Blake’s headstone (center) before restoration. Photo courtesy Linda Ferree and

The first phase of the African American Grounds restoration has presented the Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team with many unique challenges and opportunities to hone our conservation skills. When we began working in Block 68, we discovered a brick bedstead bordering a marble monument that was almost entirely overgrown with grass. Most brick cradling is only one horizontal row deep (called a course) and often not mortared together in any way. Once we began carefully digging, we realized quickly that the bricks were cemented together with a high-portland content mortar and embedded in a thick layer of concrete that covered the entire grave space. Portland is what gives a mortar its rigidity, adhesion, and compressive strength. It is easy for us to tell when we encounter a mix that has a high percentage of portland because it cannot be easily scratched with a nail, and dislodging bricks or stone from it is challenging. The bricks in this case were laid three – or in some places – four courses deep so what at first presented itself as an easy project of simply relaying one course of brick turned into a major undertaking.

Because there were several courses and the mortar joints between them were very neatly tooled, the PRO Team determined that the installer had probably intended for more than a small portion of brick to be visible at ground level. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have taken the time to do such neat work. It was decided that the bricks should all be removed and reset at a higher grade. However, although we could remove the top courses, the course embedded in concrete was impossible to chisel out without breaking the bricks. As often happens, the PRO Team had to make a compromise between preservation and restoration.

Preservation is the act of stabilizing and conserving an object with as little intrusion as possible. On the other hand, restoration involves returning an object to the appearance and character it held during a historical “period of significance.” In the case of cemeteries, this means the day that the stone was first laid. At Oakland Cemetery, most of our projects involve a careful balance of both preservation and restoration.

On this particular project, we skewed more towards restoration. In order to ensure that the original top course of bricks was fully exposed above the soil line, we decided to add a course of modern bricks beneath the older ones. This allows the bedstead to appear the way it originally did. The mortar we used has high compressive strength and a similar color to what originally was used to lay them. In the end, we replaced the old gravel that filled the interior with new, fresher-looking 89 stone gravel.

Ribbet collageThe newly restored brick cradle encloses the grave of Eliza Street Blake. She rests among family members, all of whom predeceased her—mother Amanda Blake (d. 1877), uncle Lucien Heard* (d. 1881), grandmother Adrian Heard (d. 1884), and three-year-old Cornelius F. Blake (d. 1886) who lies in an unmarked grave. A 1928 advertisement in the Atlanta Constitution offered the sale of three graves spaces in the “colored section” of Oakland Cemetery. Interested parties were instructed to apply at 264 Ellis Street, Eliza Blake’s residence. Today, three unused spaces still remain on her family lot.

In late March 1936, Eliza Blake took a fall down the steps at her home and fractured her right upper arm. Aged 83, she already suffered from a heart problem, and she was impaired by dementia, or senility, as it was then called. During the week following her fall, Blake developed pneumonia, which further complicated her recovery. She died at William A. Harris Memorial Hospital on March 31, 1936. Her brief obituary noted that she was “a beloved matron” in her community. According to her death certificate she never married, though she was referred to respectfully by the honorific “Mrs.” in both her obituary and in Oakland’s burial records. Her funeral was held at Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she was a member of the Independent Daughters of Bethel. She worked her entire life as a domestic servant, yet Mrs. Blake managed to leave a sizable legacy to her church—a bequest of $1,500.

*primarily documented as Lucius Heard

Dr. DL Henderson is a professional genealogist and Board Trustee at Historic Oakland Foundation.
Ashley Shares is Preservation Manager at Historic Oakland Foundation.

As HOF begins planning for the African American Grounds hardscape and landscape restoration, 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. Visit our African American Grounds page to learn about this restoration project in-depth. 

PRO Team Field Notes: The Flood Family Lot

by Dr. DL Henderson and Ashley Shares

Flood family plot before restoration (top) and after (bottom).

Flood family plot before restoration (top) and after (bottom).

This month the Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team has restored Lot 2 of Block 70 in the African American Grounds. Block 70 is located east of the Confederate Obelisk on the north side of Monument Drive. Work on this lot consisted of: leveling and resetting a medium-sized marble obelisk belonging to Henrietta Flood; a medium marble “cross and base” monument belonging to Samuel Flood; and a small marble marker that bears no inscription but is possibly a headstone belonging to James Flood, who died in 1940. Additionally, the PRO Team reset marble coping on the west and south sides.

To reset the two medium-sized markers, we removed them piece-by-piece using a chain hoist and nylon strapping. The existing below-ground bases (made of brick and concrete, respectively) were intact and nearly level. We reused these pieces, along with a bed of compacted gravel to facilitate drainage away from the markers.

The coping on the west side of the lot had sunken severely. To remedy this, the PRO Team dug out and removed the three differently-sized pieces, then tightly compacted the soil and laid and a bed of gravel. The coping on the south side, which sits on a concrete parged* wall, was loose and out of alignment. A parged wall refers to a wall, in this case brick, where the entire surface of the multi-unit structural system is covered in a smooth layer of cement to mimic the appearance of one solid surface.

We reset the pieces on thin beds of type-N mortar. Type-N mortar is preferred for soft stone masonry because it withstands severe weather conditions and heat. By using this mortar, we’ve ensured that the coping will stay put for years to come.

Flood family plot coping after restoration.

Flood family plot coping after restoration.

In concert with the plot restoration, we delved deeper into the Flood family records to put history behind the names. Only months before his death in September 1905, Samuel Flood wrote his last will and testament. He arranged for payment of all his debts and made specific monetary bequests to relatives. An issue of special importance to Samuel was his grave marker and the care of his cemetery lot. He left explicit instructions in his will to ensure his final wishes were carried out.

Samuel, a carpenter, suffered the loss of his wife Henrietta, in 1881. He buried her at Oakland, and her grave is marked by a marble monument featuring a cross-vaulted top. The couple had no children of their own, but Samuel left his estate to his niece and nephews. He gave the bulk of his assets to his oldest nephew, Charlie Flood. Samuel also bequeathed to Charlie the responsibility of making his funeral arrangements, buying his tombstone, and taking care of the Flood family lot at Oakland.

Samuel was particular about the cost of his grave marker. The will specifically requested that Charlie purchase a tombstone at a cost “not less than $100 and not more than $150.” For this price in 1905, Charlie would have been able to choose from a wide selection of quality gravestones. The marble tombstone over Samuel Flood’s grave bears a cross with the inscription, “In Loving Memory of My Uncle.” In addition, Samuel recognized that his childlessness, and the lack of perpetual care at Oakland, might leave his grave untended. His will also directed Charlie to keep the Flood family lot “in good repairs and condition.”

Samuel Flood marker (detail). Courtesy Linda Ferree, Findagrave

Samuel Flood marker (detail). Courtesy Linda Ferree,

Charlie Flood died in 1925 and was buried in his uncle’s lot, but it is unknown if other family members cared for the lot after his death. For Samuel Flood, the preservation of his cemetery lot was an important family duty, but over the years, as descendants have moved away or lost contact, many lots at Oakland have gone untended. Today, the Flood family lot is being restored to good condition as part of the African American Grounds restoration project.

Dr. DL Henderson is a professional genealogist and Board Trustee at Historic Oakland Foundation.

Ashley Shares is Preservation Manager at Historic Oakland Foundation.


As HOF begins planning for the African American Grounds hardscape and landscape restoration, 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. Visit our African American Grounds page to learn about this restoration project in-depth. 


Restoration work begins in Oakland Cemetery’s African American Grounds

Volunteer LaDoris Davis portrayed Dr. Beatrice Thompson during Capturing the Spirit of Oakland.

Volunteer LaDoris Davis portrayed Dr. Beatrice Thompson during Capturing the Spirit of Oakland.

Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF) has a goal to completely restore Oakland Cemetery’s historic African American Grounds, and is now one step closer. This month HOF will finish a restoration project at the final resting place of one of Georgia’s first black female doctors.

Last October during the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tours, attendees donated a record-breaking $7,500 to help restore the final resting place of Dr. Beatrice Thompson and her sister Estella Henderson. Dr. Thompson graduated from medical school in 1901 before establishing a practice in Athens, Ga., a rare accomplishment at the time for a woman, much less a woman of color. Estella Henderson is buried next to her sister and was similarly accomplished as a lawyer and professor at Morris Brown College.

“This year we begin a concerted focus on restoring the African American Grounds and the work on the Thompson lot is a monumental first step for the Foundation. We want to keep the momentum around this project going and in order to do so, we need support in the form of both community involvement and financial backing from public and private donors,” said David Moore, executive director at HOF.

An additional $300,000 is needed to complete the African American Grounds restoration project.

The Thompson lot contains nine recorded burials, four of which have monuments associated with them. HOF’s Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team restored each of these monuments, which were uneven, broken, and unstable due to the passage of time. HOF’s gardens team will in turn improve the lot with period-appropriate landscaping.

A new headstone will be erected for Dr. Thompson and her husband, Sidney J. Thompson, who was a probation officer with the Fulton County juvenile court and founder of the first Atlanta Boys’ Club. The markers will be laid at a private dedication ceremony in the spring.

On Monday, Jan. 16 HOF commemorates the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service with a volunteer opportunity at Oakland Cemetery. From 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., individual and group volunteers are invited to join the gardens team, which will have a number of landscaping tasks throughout Oakland’s 48 acres, including headstone cleaning in the African American Grounds. All skill levels are welcome, but an RSVP is required in advance. Throughout February, HOF will offer free guided walking tours of the African American Grounds during Black History Month.

Symbolism at Oakland Cemetery: From the Cradle to the Grave

by Ashley Shares, Preservation Specialist

An example of a cradle-style grave at Oakland Cemetery.

An example of a cradle-style grave at Oakland Cemetery.

Bedstead monuments were very popular grave markers in the 19th and early 20th century. A bedstead is composed of a headstone, footstone, and cradling. These elements represent the headboard, footboard, and bed rails on a bedframe. This style of grave marker appealed to Victorian-era sentiments for three reasons.

First, heaven was likened to “returning home,” which was comforting to loved ones left behind because they could hope for a future where they were eternally reunited. A bed is a natural symbol of home. Second, the 19th century witnessed a phenomenon referred to by historians as the “feminization of death.” Public displays of mourning became fashionable, as did more beautiful, peaceful, and pleasant monuments and iconography. The bed is not only a symbol of the home, but of femininity and domesticity.  The third — and the most frequently cited — reason for the bedstead’s popularity is that it likens death to sleep, a notion that undoubtedly eased the sorrows of many mourners.

Bedsteads come in several forms and are made from a variety of materials, depending usually on the purchaser’s economic means, available stone, and current fashions. Headstones may be quite elaborate, often featuring iconography such as lambs or lilies, symbolizing purity and innocence. Most bedsteads at Oakland Cemetery are made of marble, the most popular material for monuments during the Victorian era in Georgia. However, a stroll through the grounds will reveal cast concrete and brick also used to make the cradling portion of a bedstead. 

Recently, Historic Oakland Foundation’s Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team found two very small and unique bedsteads, which were completely buried under six inches of soil in a lot near the cemetery’s pedestrian entrance on Memorial Drive.

The recently-uncovered brick cradles of two unknown infants.

The recently-uncovered brick cradles of two unknown infants.

These two features, which mark the burial location of two unnamed infants, are both made up of small un-engraved marble headstones and footstones and brick cradling. The discovery of these grave markers is very exciting because only a handful of burials at Oakland Cemetery are marked by bricks. Preserving these sites is extremely important because they represent a folk tradition that is rare in Victorian cemeteries.