By Beth Clark
Visiting the Historic Oakland Cemetery has been on my list for a long time, and the “Capturing the Spirit of Oakland” Halloween tour is a singularly intriguing way to do it. Offered only for 10 days in mid-October each year, the tour allows ticket holders to stroll along the cobblestone pathways of Oakland Cemetery at dusk, meet six of the residents and hear their stories.
No, it’s not quite what you think. The conservators of the cemetery don’t crack open six of the many incredible mausoleums or grave sites on the 48-acre property and introduce you face-to-face to the occupants. Rather, you meet these historical figures through entertaining costumed portrayals.
The goal of the “Capturing the Spirit of Oakland” Halloween tour is to enlighten, not frighten. So while there may be many a nighttime cemetery tour out there with the goal of scaring your pants off during Halloween, trust me, this won’t be one of them. When you walk in, the cemetery may be merely a collection of gravestones, but when you exit, you will feel something for the lives that are buried here; you will mourn their love stories as though they were “Romeo and Juliet,” delight in their dedication to their professions, match up surnames with the many street names that run through Atlanta and discover that the stained glass windows in some of the mausoleums have deeper significance than you first thought.
Oakland Cemetery, located near the Grant Park neighborhood in Atlanta, is the final resting spot of more than 77,000 people, including 25 former Atlanta mayors, the highly lauded golfer Bobby Jones and “Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell. While these people weren’t portrayed during the tour, we did “meet” a gifted early 20th century eye doctor, a sugary-sweet Southern belle, a confederate soldier who wrote a lovely letter to his son, a rail conductor in pursuit of a runaway train and the first person buried in the cemetery.
Speaking from the grave, these storytellers dropped a little wisdom, kept us chuckling about silly choices from their lives, corrected common misconceptions and, above all, shared a pioneering spirit and gumption.
I don’t want to ruin any of the stories you’ll hear, but one interesting (and kinda oddball) tidbit that I’ll share is about the second person buried in Oakland Cemetery. His name was Dr. Neeson, and he had a major fear of being buried alive. He was so fearful of this that he told his doctor to MAKE SURE he was not alive when he was buried. And so, upon his death, after the burial and the graveside ceremony, his doctor opened Neeson’s tombstone and slit his throat. One of the strangest burials in Oakland Cemetery, apparently.
The “Capturing the Spirit of Oakland” Halloween tour is different every year because there are so many people who have interesting stories to tell. You need an advance ticket in order to attend (no sales at the door), so make sure you pop over to their website. (Editorial note: the tours are unfortunately sold out this year.)
If you can’t make it to this tour, check out the Oakland Cemetery website for information about the tours that are offered year-round. There may not always be costumed characters, but the spirit of the people buried there will remain alive as long as we’re curious about them. Go check it out! Appropriate for all ages.
Beth Clark is a writer, dancer and humorist who dearly loves Atlanta. She loves nothing better than roaming around the city on a mission to discover Atlanta's quirky, glam, upscale and down-home character. Check out her blog, TheCityDweller.me or Twitter@bethcitydweller.