Exploring Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery

Call me weird, but I love a good cemetery. Some might say it's a rather morbid thing to enjoy - an opinion I find difficult to refute - yet there's something peaceful about strolling through the outdoors, admiring the headstones, and imagining the story behind each one. Or maybe I just find an unusual satisfaction in being reminded that I'm still on the right side of this deal known as life.

Over the years, MJ and I have paid a visit to numerous cemeteries during our travels, and each has proven to be one of the lasting memories of the trip and unique in their own way. Arlington is solemn, Bonaventure in Savannah is spooky and Pere Lachaise in Paris is grand. Then there's Key West, where personal ties give a different feeling altogether, thanks to the 7 generations of my family stacked in gleaming white boxes.

After years of making an annual trip to Atlanta, we finally put historic Oakland Cemetery on our itinerary. The main objective was to pay tribute to the great Bobby Jones, but what we found at Oakland was far more than a shrine for lovers of the Royal & Ancient game.

I have a standing rule on our trips to Atlanta: Once the car is parked at the hotel, it doesn't move until it's time to go home. We rely on MARTA for getting around the city because, quite frankly, the last thing Atlanta needs is another tourist on its congested roads. For those that share my disdain of Atlanta traffic, the entrance to Oakland Cemetery is located about a 5-10 minute walk from the King Memorial MARTA station. Is it a safe walk? Sure...but as one should always do when walking a metropolitan area, be aware and walk with a purpose.

A soft rain greeted us at the gates to Oakland Cemetery, which seemed like appropriate conditions for exploring a historic burial ground. I had read somewhere that anyone who was anyone in Atlanta is buried in Oakland Cemetery, and the panorama of beautiful memorials that greeted us made that abundantly clear. In total, 27 former mayors of the city, 6 former governors of Georgia, countless other political and civic luminaries, and one champion golfer are laid to rest in Oakland.

It was easy to see why so many chose Oakland Cemetery, which was established in 1850, as their final resting place. The cemetery largely occupies high ground that overlooks Atlanta's downtown area, although I'm sure the view was slightly different 165 years ago.

As we strolled down hill and toward the east, the ornate family plots soon gave way to simple white stones arranged in straight lines. It's the type of stone you might see at Arlington or on the shores of Normandy, except these markers weren't engraved with their branch of service and conflict served, but instead with the simple designation "C.S.A."

Although I've lived my entire life in the South and it comprises a great deal of my family heritage - specifically the Atlanta area - the only part of me that identifies as a Southerner is my stomach. The men who served the Confederacy and where they were laid to rest is one notion that, quite frankly, I had never once considered. And yet, standing face to face with thousands of headstones, with still 3000 more beneath an Unknown Soldier memorial, I was faced with a conflicting and uneasy reality...

The chances were quite high that some of my ancestors were amongst these stones, having perished not in the pursuit or protection of Liberty, but in defense of the indefensible.

Reconciling those feelings would have to wait for another day. As the rain continued to fall, we turned back up the hill in search of the one headstone that had brought us to Oakland in the first place. Walking parallel to Memorial Drive, a small sign that simply said "Bobby Jones" pointed us toward the brick wall that forms the cemetery's southern boundary. There were still countless stones in that general direction, but finding this one was no trouble at all...

I also brought a brand new Titleist ProV1, in hopes that the offering would bring me some future positive intervention from the Golf Gods on the course. It was surprising that in a cemetery filled with so many grand memorials, the man who gave us Augusta National was found beneath such an unassuming marker. Then again, Mr. Jones would likely have found anything more to be ostentatious and ungentlemanly.

After a quick word of thanks to Mr. Jones, we made our way to the exit and the next stop on our itinerary...lunch. On Memorial Drive, a 3/4 sand wedge from the grave of Bobby Jones one will find the appropriately named Six Feet Under. It's likely you'll work up quite an appetite walking the cemetery, and this is just the place to satisfy it. Fried green tomatoes, collard greens, hush puppies, and an array of seafood that made ordering nearly impossible. 

If you happen to find yourself in Atlanta and share my strange enjoyment of walking cemeteries, then a visit to Oakland is well worth the trip. It pairs nicely with the Martin Luther King Memorial, and makes for an enjoyable afternoon in the outdoors...something that's in short supply in Atlanta's concrete jungle. 

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