There is no better way to get to know a city’s past than exploring its citizens’ final resting places. And there’s nothing macabre about graveyard tourism; older cemeteries were designed to be enjoyed by the living, serving as public parks. Here are four must-explore sites.
A visit to the compact Old Section of Decatur Cemetery feels something like a rambling treasure hunt. The oldest burial here dates from 1827, and along the way, you can see and read about the resting places of vets from the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The full fifty-plus acres are popular with joggers and dog-walkers. decaturga.com
Founded in 1850, Oakland Cemetery’s forty-eight acres exemplify the nineteenth-century “garden” style. Lavish statuary and flora as well as hundreds of simpler headstones populate Oakland, whose “residents” include Carrie Steele Logan, a former slave who founded Atlanta’s first African American orphanage, and Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. Golf great Bobby Jones is buried here, and so are mayors Ivan Allen Jr. and Maynard Jackson. Oakland hosts many walking tours, including a self-guided one assisted by an iPhone app. oaklandcemetery.com
The principal of Atlanta’s first black high school. The influential second minister of Ebenezer Baptist Church. A Tuskegee Airmen lieutenant. A victim of the 1906 Atlanta race riot. Touring South-View Cemetery is a walk through local and national civil rights history. The cell phone tour enables visitors to stroll or drive through the original twenty-five acres with interpretive stops along the way. southviewcemetery.com
From the mid-1970s until 2003, this East Atlanta site was so mantled in overgrowth it was easy to drive right by without even knowing it was there. Since then, its neighbors have cleared out the thick brush, muscadine vines, and trash to reveal graves that date back to the 1830s. sylvestercemetery.org
This article originally appeared in our April 2013 issue.