Oakland Cemetery Field Trip Report

By Jessica Miller, Publicity Chair

Photos by Margaret Bergeron, Field Trip Coordinator

Clear, cool weather only enhanced our Oakland Cemetery field trip experience on Thursday, October 20, 2011. About 45 of us gathered at Six Feet Under for a warm lunch before our adventure into the beautiful cemetery across the street. The food was excellent, the fellowship even better!

Once we entered Oakland Cemetery, we realized what a wonderful place it was to see some of Atlanta’s finest tree and plant specimens. Magnificent oak, camellia, magnolia, and dogwood complemented the wonderful blooming antique roses, rosemary, chrysanthemums and asters. Magnificent Victorian, Greek Revival, Gothic and Egyptian architecture was to be seen, as well.

Our very knowledgeable tour guide, Brooks Garcia, soon gathered us together and began to lead us on a delightful stroll through Oakland. Brooks’ first-hand knowledge of Oakland’s horticultural importance, as well as his information about the cemetery’s history and his personal stories about the “residents” of Oakland, combined for a superb adventure.

Brooks explained that in 1850 the city fathers of Atlanta established the cemetery on farmland away from the bustling center of Atlanta, and what was an old, weedy cemetery is now a story of historic restoration and landscaping beautification. Today, the cemetery is an oasis of beauty and calm in the midst of a busy urban city.

During the Victorian era, the cemetery was the rural garden for family gatherings. Featuring wide winding paths (accessed by carriages), shade trees, flowers and shrubs, the cemetery was a predecessor of public park development. Sophisticated stained glass mausoleums, sculptures, bronze urns and elaborate grave monuments all reflect an age when bereavement was extravagant.

Brooks enlightened us that his goal, along with the cemetery’s Board and other Trustees, is to maintain the Victorian era’s horticultural style. Weeping specimens were chosen when available because they reflected the sadness of the original families. We found examples in weeping rosemary, catnip, and willows.

There are lavish monuments marking prominent Atlanta families, simple headstones that read “infant,” and a memorial honoring “Our Glorious Confederate Dead.” The Historic Oakland Foundation plays an important role in preserving 19th Century funerary symbolism, and has been awarded the Southeastern Flower Shows prestigious Legacy Garden gift for the cemetery’s horticultural significance.

Residents of Oakland include author Margaret Mitchell, golf great Bobby Jones, twenty-seven mayors, and six Georgia governors. The celebrated and humble rest together; the Christian and Jew, the black and white, the soldier and civilian, the rich and poor are at peace collectively. Beautiful trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs are enriched by seventy thousand souls. And, the best part … Brooks encouraged us to collect seed heads!

Margaret Bergeron has done a wonderful job this year in planning outstanding field trips for the GCMG. I am sure everyone joins me in thanking her for a job very well done!