As Atlanta’s oldest cultural site, Historic Oakland Cemetery offers a window into the city’s rich and fascinating history.
The cemetery welcomes 105,000 visitors a year who stroll the lush, peaceful grounds, attend a tour or special event, and come to treasure, not just the cemetery, but also Atlanta’s rich history.
Oakland is the final resting place for more than 70,000 souls, including many Atlanta founders and noted citizens of Georgia, including Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and Atlanta’s first African American mayor, Maynard Jackson.
A visit to this Victorian garden cemetery provides opportunities to start a dialogue about the historic past.
Oakland Cemetery is less than a mile from downtown, its 48 acres are full of treasures – history and gardens, sculpture and architecture, ancient oaks and magnolias.
• It’s also a wedding venue. Yes, some people may cringe at the thought of marrying in a cemetery but Oakland Cemetery is much more than a cemetery.
It is a large green space with gardens and areas for meeting. It is an art gallery, a classroom space and a place to celebrate the city’s rich and fascinating past and future.
The cemetery can be explored on your own but guided tours offer some of the most rewarding experiences, especially flashlight tours.
There are many knowledgeable and entertaining guides that take you on a walking tour of the grounds. Learn about the Sights, Symbols, and Stories of Oakland. Discover the history, the period gardens, and the art and architecture that give Oakland its distinctive character. Many stories filled with both stunning victories and heart-wrenching tragedies.
Historic Oakland Foundation offers more than twenty special topic tours that explore a range of subjects, from Atlanta’s African American history to Victorian symbolism and beyond.
Tours are available for small and large groups, or take a private guided tour of the cemetery.
Historic Oakland Foundation offers interactive tours for students of all ages. An experienced docent will lead students through the cemetery’s Original Six Acres, the African American Grounds, Jewish sections, Confederate Memorial Grounds, and other burial areas. As students progress through the garden cemetery, they will discover the stories of citizens who shaped the development of Atlanta.
If you want to explore on Oakland Cemetery on your own, stop by the Visitors Center and Museum Shop and purchase a self-guided tour map for only a few dollars. This guide has over 85 marked stops, and enough Oakland Cemetery history to keep you engaged for hours! View the monuments at your own pace and enjoy a walk through the history of Oakland.
There is no minimum number of people for tour groups. If a group has more than 20 people, it is recommended that the group split up between multiple guides. There is no additional charge for multiple guides.
Sights, Symbols, and Stories of Oakland tour (90 min.)
Special Topic Tours (75 min.)
Golf cart tours
Golf carts are available to private groups of five or fewer people. Explore areas of Oakland not usually visited during regular walking tours with your personal tour guide. There is a flat tour fee of $60. Golf cart tours are only available Monday through Friday. Any golf cart request must be made when reserving a tour.
Please note that during peak tour seasons in spring and fall, tours must be scheduled at least two weeks prior to your desired tour date. Tours can be scheduled any day and time, except when Oakland Cemetery is closed for a special event. Tours must begin at least 90 minutes before sunset.
Tours will take place in light rain or shine. In cases of heavy rain, inclement weather, or unsafe conditions, the education manager will contact groups to reschedule the tour for a later date. Tour groups can also request to reschedule the tour.
Oakland’s gardens are beautiful during all seasons delighting visitors and providing solace for families of loved ones buried here.
Thousands of heirloom daffodils bloom during spring along with a cloud of flowering trees and drifts of garden mums. During summer historic iris and dramatic summer tropicals are on show followed by the blazing colors of autumn trees. Winter reveals the beauty of evergreens and berries on a snowy day.
Historically each lot was gardened by family members in a variety of styles. Their efforts focused on creating a small bit of heaven on earth for their departed loved ones and a place of beauty to be enjoyed by the living. They would have chosen flowers for sentimental reasons, including blooms that were favorites of the deceased.
Today’s gardens are also pleasure gardens and draw their style from these earlier times. The genus and species of the plants you see are appropriate to the period of the various lots, and they are presented to evoke the feeling of these bygone days.
The garden designs you see today, however, are not recreations from the original lots. Very little documentation remains of original plantings. Historical accounts, photos and stories guide the design for each lot.
All work is performed by three part-time gardeners and countless volunteers, so choosing low-maintenance plantings is important. You will see drought-friendly plants that have proven themselves over generations and that do not need coddling.
Oakland’s 48 acres are home to over 1400 trees, from young saplings to mature giants nearly 200 years old. They provide tangible links to times long gone and cool visitors with their shade. Many reflect Victorian traditions with their weeping form or strong vertical lines pointing towards heaven.
Early city officials purchased six acres in 1850 to be a public burial ground for a young-but-fast-growing town of Atlanta. Originally called Atlanta Graveyard or City Burial Place, this was the beginning of Oakland Cemetery.
It was officially renamed in 1872. By then it had expanded to 48 acres, mainly due to pressures of the Civil War.
The Civil War was devastating for the South.
Many deadly battles were fought and thousands died. Local resident Henry Cole donated land in Marietta, Georgia for a cemetery. He offered land for a burial ground for both Union and Confederate dead. He hoped that by honoring those that had fallen together, others might learn to live in peace.
Peace was not to come – both sides rejected the offer. Two separate cemeteries were created.
The Marietta National Cemetery located in Marietta, Georgia was established to provide a place for nearly 10,000 Union dead.
The Marietta Confederate Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia is the resting place of over 3,000 Confederated soldiers.
• Georgia observes Confederate Memorial Day the last Monday in April and National Memorial Day the last Monday in May. Beginning in 2016, Georgia dropped the name Confederate Memorial Day and instead refers to the day as "state holiday."
In the late 19th century, families tended the plots of loved ones, creating an assortment of lovely gardens. Oakland became a popular destination for Sunday carriage rides and picnics.
As the 20th Century unfolded, Oakland increasingly was surrounded by residential and industrial development. With the passage of time, many graves went unattended as descendants moved away or lost touch with their antecedents.
After years of deferred maintenance and budgetary shortfalls, Oakland became a deteriorating landscape of weed-choked lots and neglected monuments.
In 1976, Oakland Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and experience a renewal of interest and attention from a “friend” that would eventually take over much of the restoration and maintenance of the cemetery and become the Historic Oakland Foundation.
Through restoration projects, fundraising, willpower, and imagination, Oakland Cemetery and its stories have been saved from obscurity.