Oakland Cemetery is like a good Irish wake, there is an appropriate amount of reverence, lots of great stories, and a party that celebrates life. And thankfully, no one has to pass on to enjoy this unusual Atlanta attraction. Here’s why.
Historic Oakland Cemetery is the oldest Atlanta cemetery. Founded in 1850, it is located less than a mile from the heart of Downtown Atlanta. It is an outstanding example of a Victorian garden cemetery with a magnificent sculpture garden, botanical garden, flourishing wildlife habitat, and a public park.
It may seem funny to visit a cemetery for fun, but I assure you, this famous cemetery in Atlanta is for the living just as much as the dead. In fact, one of the best ways to learn Atlanta history is to hear the stories of ‘residents’ on one of the Oakland Cemetery tours. Here is an Oakland Cemetery map to help get your bearings.
And the Oakland Cemetery events are some of the best in the city – I mean, who doesn’t want to participate in a 5K called the Run Like Hell, or a beer festival called Malts and Vaults. There are so many reasons you should visit this historic cemetery. Here are more than six of my favorites.
Guided Tours (All Year)
One of the many great things about Oakland is the rich history. Wonder who is buried in Oakland Cemetery? Atlanta elite, as well as the unknown. And there are Oakland Cemetery Tours that celebrate every group, from famous Atlantans like Margaret Mitchell and Bobby Jones, to tours of the cemetery’s Jewish or African American sections. And together they tell the story of Atlanta.
Civil War Tour Highlights
From a hilltop in Oakland Cemetery, General John B. Hood watched the Battle of Atlanta, and nearby lie soldiers from both sides who died in it. We took the civil war tour and it was very interesting to hear stories of the generals, officers and even the unknown enlisted men whose final resting place is at Oakland Cemetery.
If you’ve ever been to Kennesaw and heard the story of the Great Train Chase, you can see the grave of the confederate engineer, William Fuller, that chased the Union soldiers down and recovered the train. You can look past the cemetery to where the culprits were hanged. Legend has it that the confederate engineer was present at the hanging and received a piece of the rope. Fact is that he was commissioned as a Captain in the confederate army for his bravery.
Famous Oakland Cemetery Burials
Some other famous Oakland Cemetery burials include Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and golf great Bobby Jones. Our guide said visitors to Jones’ grave often leave golf balls or other golf equipment. Pros lay their card on the gravestone and someone even put in a putting cup. Oakland is also the final resting place for several Atlanta mayors including Maynard Jackson, the city’s first black mayor.
Self Guided Oakland Cemetery Tours
I like to wander around Oakland without a guide. If you are like me, you might be interested in the self-guided tours available. Here are a couple ways to take a self-guided tour
- Pick up an Oakland Cemetery Map at the Visitors Center and Museum shop. They have special self-guided tour maps for only $5. 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. While at the museum store, take some time to look at the merchandise. My favorite find – a book on how to plan the perfect funeral.
- Also at the Museum Shop you can purchase a Cluetown Book about Oakland. Inside are fun puzzles that must be solved by touring the cemetery. This is a great activity for kids too – I took my 11 year old and his cousin and they had a blast.
- You can also explore Oakland Cemetery with your phone! Take self-guided dial in tours:
“Oakland’s Timeless Gardens”: (678) 880-4247
“African American Voices”: (678) 365-0232
- Download the official Historic Oakland Cemetery mobile app, available for download in the App Store and Google Play Store.
Special Topic Oakland Cemetery Tours
Oakland Cemetery Special Topic Tours are generally available on Saturdays and Sundays, March through October. Topics can include Art & Architecture, music, Jewish and African American history etc. Reservations aren’t usually required, but you may want to check before you go. These tours are also available to groups any day of the week. Many times they will add special topic tours during the year like the ones below.
African-American History Tours (Jan & Feb)
During Black History Month, Oakland Cemetery often offers African American History Tours. These guided walking tours will focus on Oakland residents Carrie Steele Logan, the founder of the first orphanage for African American children in Georgia; William Finch, one of Atlanta’s first African American City Councilman; Bishop John Wesley Gaines and Julia A. Gaines, Pastor and First Lady of Historic Big Bethel A.M.E. Church; and finally, Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African American mayor.
Can’t make it to the FREE tours? Oakland also offers African American Voices, a state-of-the-art cell phone tour featuring commentary on historically significant African American individuals and their families.
Oakland Cemetery Events
One of my favorite ways to experience Oakland is through their many, many incredible events. And the t-shirts are always uniquely awesome! Check the website for a full listing of events, but here are a few of our favorites.
Spring Scramble Scavenger Hunt (April)
Tour Oakland Cemetery in search of clues. Get them all right and you could win tickets to future coveted Oakland Cemetery events like the Halloween Tours or Malts and Vaults. There is even a junior version for kids. Pick up your Spring Scramble Scavengar Hunt packet at the Museum store.
Tunes From The Tombs (June)
I love listening to bands on an outdoor stage and being able to float between stages is even better. Tunes from the Tombs music festival is perfect (and I want one of these t-shirts).
The Historic Oakland Foundation presents the Tunes from the Tombs music festival at Historic Oakland Cemetery in June. It’s a fundraising event featuring musicians performing in and among Oakland’s extraordinary monuments, mausoleums, and renowned gardens. All genres of music are represented: rock, folk, Americana, jazz, classical, and everything in between.
To soothe your spirits, Tunes from the Tombs also has plenty of beer and wine. Local Atlanta food trucks serve a variety of tasty festival fare. Festival attendees can also take a complimentary guided mini-tour, or have their fortunes read by Atlanta’s own, Robyn Avalon. Kids are welcome, due to an Atlanta City ordinance, dogs are not.
Oakland Cemetery Sunday in the Park (October)
A cemetery may not be the first place you think of for a lovely Sunday in the Park, but Oakland Cemetery is no ordinary cemetery. This is one of my favorite places in Atlanta and on on a Sunday in October we celebrated the annual Oakland Cemetery Sunday in the Park festival. Sunday in the Park is a Victorian street festival offering fun and entertainment for all ages.
Oakland Cemetery Sunday in the Park Children’s Area
The children’s area features crafts and old-fashioned games. Oakland’s traditional Teddy Bear Tea entertains kids of all ages with storytelling. The Bubbleman is always a big hit and makes a repeat appearance.
The festival isn’t just for kids. Throughout the cemetery, guests will enjoy an artist market, living history demonstrations, storytellers, Irish dancers, and more! We even saw our preacher telling Uncle Remus stories!
Go on a Scavenger Hunt
Guests are encouraged to participate in the Victorian costume contest and photography contest. You can also win prizes in the Scavenger Hunt. Gather friends and form a team for a daylong scavenger hunt! Follow the cryptic clues and riddles to find the answers. Not all answers are literal, wordplay, clues and poetic license abound. Complete the clues any time during festival hours for a chance to win some fabulous prizes!
Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tours (October)
Historic Oakland Cemetery has many visitors by day, but only at Halloween do its gates stay open at night. What better place for a Halloween tour than a cemetery. Hear about Atlanta’s past from a host of Oakland’s “residents.” Bring a flashlight and comfortable walking shoes.
The stories are historic in nature and there aren’t any goblins or ghosts jumping out at you.We did this tour a few years ago and the stories themselves aren’t scary, but walking around a cemetery at night could be a little frightening for little ones. The tours are recommended for ages 8 and up.
Tours start at 5:30 pm each night at the Bell Tower (Quasimodoish, how creepy) and last approximately one hour. You must have your ticket to enter. Tours are sold in timed increments, so advanced ticket purchases only. These tours sell out, so if you want to go, you have to get tickets early, like in July.
Limited free parking is available near the main entrance and on neighboring streets. Due to the event, parking inside the cemetery is not possible. Carpooling or taking MARTA to the King Memorial Station is recommended.
There is no rain date. In case of a severe weather cancellation, ticket holders will receive via the mail, a free pass for a future guided tour at Oakland.
Tour The Gardens (We love it in Spring)
You must experience Oakland Cemetery in the spring! The flowers are bursting with color, and they look magnificent against the aging tombstones of our cities historical figures. You can take a guided tour, or like me, you can roam the grounds with your littles and experience it yourself. I highly recommend the Audio Tour, even if your kids are young. While it might be over their heads, it will help you navigate the cemetery and also give you some “talking points” that the kids might enjoy.
I find it peaceful. I love being in the midst of “scared ground” with flowers around me and gorgeous views of the city. I love seeing my boys run up and down a row, stopping to smell a flower or point out an angel. If they are a little loud…hey, that’s OK.
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