Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this outstanding 88-acre Victorian cemetery was founded in 1850. It survived the Civil War and remained the only cemetery in Atlanta for 34 years. Among the more than 48,000 people buried here are Confederate and Union soldiers (including five Southern generals), prominent families, paupers, governors and mayors, golfing great Bobby Jones, and Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. There's a Jewish section (consecrated by a temple), a black section (dating from segregation days), and a potters' field (a section for unknown or poor people). Two monuments honor the Confederate war dead. Standing at the marker that commemorates the "Great Locomotive Chase," you can see the trees from which the Yankee raiders were hanged; the Confederate train conductor Captain William Fuller is buried nearby. The cemetery is not only famous for historical reasons, but also because it is a virtual outdoor museum of Gothic and Classical Revival mausoleums, bronze urns, stained glass, and Victorian statuary.
Almost every grave has a story. Real-estate tycoon Jasper Newton Smith had a life-size statue of himself erected on his grave so he could watch the city's goings-on into eternity. (The sculptor originally gave Smith a tie, but Smith, who never wore one, refused to pay for the piece until the tie was chiseled off.) Dr. James Nissen, Oakland's first burial, feared being buried alive; his will directed that his jugular vein be severed prior to interment. And John Morgan Dye was a baby who died during the siege of Atlanta; his mother walked through the raging battle to the cemetery carrying the small corpse. The smallest grave, however, is that of "Tweet," a pet mockingbird buried in its family's lot.
Though you can visit whenever the cemetery is open, try to come when you can take a guided tour. It's a fascinating way to learn about the history of the graveyard and about graveyard symbolism (a lopped-tree-trunk marker indicates a life cut short or goals unachieved, rocks on a grave denote a life built on a solid foundation, a shell means resurrection, and so on). Every October, there's a celebration to commemorate the cemetery's founding, with turn-of-the-20th-century music, food, and storytelling.
Dozens of people jog and walk on the rolling terrain every day, and picnickers are a common sight. However, a tornado swept through in the spring of 2008, damaging several sections. Restoration, which is always a huge task at Oakland, where most of the mausoleums are more than 100 years old, went into overdrive. Trees and debris were cleaned up and the cemetery is once again fully navigable to visitors, though repairs to individual sections continue. Completed repairs and restoration improved many sections of the cemetery from their prestorm condition. Leashed pets are welcome.