Popular Events at Oakland Cemetery

Regular events are being held at Oakland Cemetery to give visitors a glimpse into the graveyard’s history well as learn more about the politicians and luminaries buried here. The most popular event held at the cemetery is none other than the annual “Capturing the Spirit of Oakland” Halloween tours. The event first started in 2007 as a way to get locals acquainted with the graveyard’s famous residents who have made an impact in Atlanta community.

Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Tour | Image credits: Oakland Cemetery

Throughout the hour-long night tour, visitors get to watch costumed actors recount the stories of the notable Oakland residents who have contributed to the prosperity of Atlanta. Some of the people portrayed include Andre Steiner, a Jewish architect who used his network to protect thousands of Jews from concentration camps; Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With The Wind” and winner of the Pulitzer Prize; and Bobby Tyre Jones, an amateur golfer who founded the Masters Tournament. Visitors can also participate in the annual “Run Like Hell” race which also happens on Halloween weekend.

Apart from the Halloween-themed events, visitors can also sign up for a host of other events that happens throughout the year, including the “Sights, Symbols, and Stories Overview” tour, the “The Jewish Grounds of Oakland” tour, and the “Oakland’s All-Stars: Sports Legends of Atlanta” tour.

All proceeds from the event go towards the Historic Oakland Foundation, a not-for-profit organization which runs and maintains the preservation of Oakland Cemeteries. To sign up for the events organized by the foundation, visit here.

Haunted History of Oakland Cemetery

Established in 1850 as Atlanta Cemetery, the then six-acre cemetery was one of the city’s first cemeteries. Built in a Victorian-style, the cemetery was renamed to Oakland Cemetery in 1872 to reflect the numerous oak and magnolia trees that grow in the vicinity. The graveyard have also grown progressively over the years to accommodate the increasing number of burials in the city. Today, the cemetery spans 48 acres and houses an estimated 70,000 interments.

In 1977, Oakland Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places to recognize its historical significance. Short after its listing, the Historic Oakland Foundation was established. With funding from donations, government grants, and annual events, the foundation was able to oversee the restoration of the numerous headstones and monuments in the cemetery that have been badly damaged from the ravages of time.

Like the historic Union Cemetery and Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, Oakland Cemetery is said to be haunted by resident ghosts who have called this place home. Some of the paranormal hauntings reported by visitors include marching sounds and sightings of uniformed soldiers hanging off the trees at the Confederate section.

Gates of Oakland Cemetery | Image credits: Discover Dunwoody

In 1934 article, San Fransisco Examiner released an article detailing the haunted experience of policemen who were assigned to patrol the grounds of the cemetery. In one incident, patrolman Ed Cason was patrolling the cemetery on a bicycle when a ghostly apparition floated towards him from afar. Terrified, Cason raced towards the front gates of Oakland Cemetery but was followed by the mysterious figure. Cason hurled himself to the gate and fell to the ground before losing consciousness. He woke up just before sunrise, and the apparition was long gone.

It is no wonder that Thrillist have voted Oakland Cemetery as one of the most haunted place in Georgia.

Who Is Buried at Oakland Cemetery?

One of the famous burials is former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson. Apart from pushing for various public-works projects to improve the city’s infrastructure, the attorney-turned politician was known for his support for the the minority and women-owned businesses. In recognition of his efforts to expand the Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, the new terminal was named Maynard H. Jackson International terminal while the airport was renamed to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Jackson passed away on June 23, 2003 after suffering a heart attack at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. In total, there are 27 former Atlanta mayors (including Ivan Allen, Jr, Moses Formwalt, S. B. Spencer) and 6 former Georgia governors (including Joseph E. Brown, Hoke Smith, John Marshall Slaton, William J. Northern, John B. Gordon, Joseph Macky Brown) buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Also interred at the cemetery is Jasper Newton Smith, a businessman from Walton County. In spite of his eccentric behavior, Smith was highly respected in the Atlanta community for his keen sense of business. He had started a brickyard after the Burning of Atlanta and made his fortunes in the late 1800s in the real estate industry. Smith was particularly known for his phobia of neckties due to a strangulation incident when he was young. Smith died on August 16, 1918. Today, a life-sized granite statue of him can be found atop his mausoleum at the cemetery. His striking statue built on the original 6 acres of cemetery land have also earned him the title “Mayor of Oakland”.

Jasper Newton SMith | Image credits: Alexandra Kathryn Mosca

Another legendary figure is Bobby Tyre Jones Jr, an amateur golfer who grew to become one of the most influential figure in the sport. Other than his wins in every major amateur competitions, Jones is well known for his ‘Grand Slam” in 1930, the winning of the open and amateur championships in both the United States and the United Kingdom. After his retirement from golf, he helped found Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. In 1948, Jones was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a disorder in which a cavity forms in the spinal cord. After years of physical incapacitation, Jones passed away on December 18,1971.

Bobby Jones | Image credits: Jay Revell

One of the most recognized Atlanta writer laid to rest in Oakland Cemetery is none other than Margaret Mitchell. Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, her only novel published in her lifetime, won the National Book Award for the Most Distinguished Novel in 1936 and subsequently the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. Mitchell passed away on August 16, 1949 after being hit by a drunk driver at Peachtree Street in Atlanta.

Margaret Mitchell | Image credits: Britannica

The Confederate section, which is marked by the 65-feet tall Confederate Obelisk, houses approximately 6,900 burials, of which 16 are the marked graves of Union soldiers while over 3,000 of the remaining are unmarked headstones belonging to Confederate troops. The large number of burials is due to the cemetery’s proximity to several military hospitals. The Lion of the Confederacy (also known as the Lion of Atlanta) was previously housed in the Confederate section to guard the remains of the unmarked graves. Commissioned by the Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association in 1894, it was constructed out of a single, large piece of marble and was modeled after the famous Lion of Lucerne monument in Lucerne, Switzerland. On August 18, 2021, in response to the multiple cases of vandalism, the City of Atlanta unamiously voted to approve the removal of the iconic sculpture from the cemetery. The Confederate Obelisk, which was erected on April 26, 1864 to commemorate the anniversary of Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to WIlliam Sherman, was also subjected to continued vandalism due to its connection to the Confederate States of America. However, it was not removed.

Lion of Atlanta | Image credits: CNN

Located near the New Jewish Section is Potter’s Field, a 7.5-acre large plot of land designated for the paupers who could not afford a traditional burial. An estimated 17,000 graves can be found in Potter’s Field. However, most of the grave markers were either removed or rotten beyond recognition as they were mostly made from wood and other cheaper material.

The black section, which is adjoined to Potter’s Field, houses the segregated black population. Similarly, a large number of the black section are unmarked as the grave markers have succumbed to the passing of time.

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