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Built Environment Description: Oakland Cemetery


The flora of Oakland Cemetery is juxtaposed by the desolation of its locale. Nearby structures are of the same neutral beige, and most are vacant or crumbling. The graveyard is bordered by a tall brick barricade, and mounted on the entrance gate is an iron semi-circle blazoned with the name of the cemetery. Immediately beside the gate is a marker that details the history and style of the graveyard. The lofty entrance was not foreboding, despite its similarity to the graveyards of movies; the expanse of greenery within the cemetery, the frequency of signage, and the indication of other people make the site seem more approachable.

Gate entrance to Oakland Cemetery, with historic marker to the right

Gate entrance to Oakland Cemetery, with historic marker to the right

Brick and cobblestone walkways intertwine through graves. Some are small square implantations, while others are ornate sculptures as tall as humans. There is periodically the presence of mausoleums, the largest of which resembles the Greek Parthenon with its columns and white stone. Evidence of weathering and crumbling was especially evident with some of these larger structures, but others appear pristine and untouched by nature; these plots and monuments are still bought by individuals, and there is a waiting list for potential tenants in the cemetery.

Most markers near the entrance to the cemetery belong to city officials, politicians, judges, and their families. These are the larger, more ornate graves, with bolder names and longer quotes and verses on their façade. This section of the cemetery houses Margaret Mitchell, Georgia native and author of Gone with the Wind. A series of signs lead visitors to her grave, where some leave spare change or small stones on top of the headstone as homage to the writer. The area is well-manicured, and multiple landscapers were outside working. There are sizable expanses of green space here, with a view of the skyline in the background. Mostly quiet, I would look around for a source of the continual sound of crunching leaves. I finally realized these were squirrels jumping around the gardens, the first I have seen in the city and the biggest I have seen in my life.

Beyond the entrance, the gravesites are most distinctly stratified. There is a tall monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers of the Civil War, surrounded by endless rows of white, semi-circle tombstones. The expansive array of these gravesites, with names barely visible on their faces, resembles the military graveyard of Arlington in Virginia. To the left of this field is another amalgamation of graves, dedicated to the black residents of Oakland Cemetery. These graves appear to be the oldest in the cemetery, black from decades of weather. At the time, blacks could only be buried in an established section of the gravesite.

In the middle of the cemetery is a visitor’s center with guides, shirts, and other tourist relics. I visited Oakland around noon on a Friday, and I was surprised by the number of people there. Though the presence and height of greenery evokes a sense of solitude, I walked by multiple groups of people walking along the pathways of the cemetery. One man walked his dog in the afternoon heat, a pair of women visited Mitchell’s graves and took pictures, and other visitors simply milled around the cemetery.

Mausoleum with landscape in the middle of the cemetery

Mausoleum with landscape in the middle of the cemetery


nbritton1 • November 14, 2016

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