Oakland Cemetery Gears Up for Busy Season

People travel from all over the world to visit Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, but locals know that there’s fun to be had all year long, especially in October.

Photo by: Holly Aguirre Some may find an afternoon in the cemetery a bit macabre, but Atlantans enjoy it for running, picnics, dog-walking and even weddings, parties and festivals. 

Usually when planning a weekend outing with friends or the family unit, the last place you think about meeting is the local cemetery. Atlantans, however, are not your average bears. We go to Historic Oakland Cemetery to walk the dogs, jog, stroll, have a picnic or ride a bike. Hell, we even have music festivals there and lots of people exchange wedding vows on the hallowed grounds, paying extra attention to the “death do us part” line. 

Why not? The 48-acre garden boasts a dazzling display of exotic flowers and plants, towering evergreens and, yes, the historic tombs and mausoleums of some of the state’s most notable residents, heroic soldiers and even thousands of unknowns. To walk the cobblestone paths is a lesson in our state’s rich and varied culture. Permanent residents include Atlanta’s first mayor, Moses W. Formwalt; Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell; six Georgia governors; golfing legend Bobby Jones; and Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson. Many tombstones bear familiar names such as Collier, Austell, Norcross, Lumpkin, Ansley and Rich, names synonymous with Atlanta’s parks, streets, neighborhoods and businesses. 

Photo by: Krista Turner Photography In between the live music there is a Victorian costume contest. 

We’re personally interested in having a word with Rev. Frank Quarles, who was pastor of Friendship Baptist Church from 1866-1881. Quarles might be rolling over in his grave due to recent negotiations to sell the church to the Atlanta Falcons. He was also a key player in bringing Morehouse College to Atlanta and in the founding of Spelman College.

Even though there are themed tours year-round, the month of October is (super) naturally a busy time for Oakland. Taking place on October 6th is the 34th annual Sunday in the Park, a Victorian street festival that began in 1979 right after the garden was named to the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic Oakland Foundation was formed. The fair-like fun includes food from Six Feet Under, The Varsity, the crowd favorite Pallookaville, as well as adult beverages. There’s also live entertainment, an artists’ market, storytellers, Irish dancers and a Victorian costume contest. There’s even a children’s area where a tea party will be held. 

Photo by: Holly Aguirre This monument was commissioned by Capt. Thomas Benton Neal (1838 - 1902) in memory of his daughter Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Neal and wife Mary "Mollie" Cash Neal. 

Beginning on Saturday, October 18th are guided Halloween-themed tours, which are among the most popular. Oakland normally locks its gates at around dusk so these tours afford a rare opportunity to enjoy the cemetery at its spookiest — in the dark. Storytellers portray some of the graveyard’s most interesting inhabitants as they lead the brave around candlelit crypts and catacombs. Liquid courage and soft drinks are available for purchase, and comfortable shoes and flashlights are recommended.

On October 19th is the annual Run Like Hell 5K run and Run Like Heck fun run, which benefits the foundation. Where else could you possibly participate in a run dressed as a zombie, a monster or a Victorian chimney sweep? 

If you can't make it out for these events, the fun at Oakland, much like its residents, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

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