Oakland Cemetery is Atlanta’s oldest cemetery. Founded in 1850, it is located less than a mile from the heart of Downtown Atlanta. It’s a wonderful place for quite reflection or a bit of Atlanta history. Although my children have not been to Oakland at the time I write this, they have enjoyed reading the gravestones at historic Sardis Cemetery. Oakland offers a variety of guided tours of the cemetery, plus kids workshops and special events. See six of our favorites below.
Guided Tours (All Year)
One of the many great things about Oakland is the rich history. 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 buried there. 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.
Some other famous Atlantans buried in Oakland 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. I’m excited to visit Oakland again in the October for the Sunday in the Park and the family friendly Halloween Tours.
African-American History Tours (Jan & Feb)
In honor of Black History Month, Oakland Cemetery is offering FREE 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.
For more information on the tours, contact Sam Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-658-6019.
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. The tours are free and you can access them by calling 678-365-0232.
There are other ways to explore Oakland Cemetery’s African American history, all year long!
- Visit the historic burial grounds virtually with Oakland’s official mobile app, available for download in the App Store and Google Play Store.
- Join them for a weekend special topic tour of the African American Grounds: Sunday, April 30, Sunday, June 12, and Sunday, August 6
Tunes From The Tombs (June)
I love Oakland Cemetery. They have wonderfully informative walking tours and some of the coolest events in Atlanta. My kids enjoy Sunday in the Park and the seasonal Halloween Tours. On my list, now that I am an Oakland Ambassador is Tunes from the Tombs music festival (I want one of these t-shirts). I love listening to bands on an outdoor stage and being able to float between stages is even better.
The Historic Oakland Foundation presents the third annual Tunes from the Tombs music festival at Historic Oakland Cemetery in June. This fundraising event features 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. 2016 featured Arrested Development and more. Stay tuned for 2017’s line up.
To soothe your spirits, Tunes from the Tombs will have plenty of beer and wine. Local Atlanta food trucks will be serving 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 welcome. Bring blanket or lawn chair. No coolers or outside food allowed. Dogs are not allowed due to Atlanta City ordinance.
Oakland Cemetery Sunday in the Park (October)
Oakland Cemetery Sunday in the Park Children’s Area
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
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, get tickets now.
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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