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Behind the Scenes: Sunday in the Park at Oakland Cemetery

Sunday in the Park is the longest-running event at Oakland Cemetery. This free fall festival is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Oakland. Take a mini-tour of the cemetery, enjoy live music while chowing down on food truck grub, cheer on the best outfits in the historical costume contest, and shop local in the artists’ market. This year’s event will see three actors bring history to life during Sunday in the Park.

When you attend this year’s festival, you’ll have the chance to meet three Oakland residents as they share their stories. One resident was an innovative entrepreneur and a local politician known for scandal. Another resident emigrated from Germany and weaved together a community. The third figure, while not buried at Oakland, worked to make this cemetery a popular destination for visitors.

Dawn Major, an Oakland volunteer, brings these residents alive with her scripts. Dawn collaborated with Oakland staff to find the voices of these residents and to create a narrative from historical research and primary sources.

I am a volunteer at Oakland Cemetery and have worked in several different capacities: gardening in the greenhouse, cleaning headstones, a couple of shifts in the Museum shop. Before I was a volunteer, I was a member, and before that, I was simply an admirer and lover of the cemetery. Volunteers feel a special energy when we are at Oakland; it is the combination of the residents, the staff, the history, and the sheer beauty of the place.

One day this past year while I was assisting with burial records requests, a staff member mentioned they needed a writer for the Sunday in the Park event. As a recent graduate with an M.F.A. in creative writing who loves collaborating, working with historians and the preservation team was right up my alley. I jumped at the chance to learn and write about residents who not only help make up Oakland’s landscape, but who have also contributed to the histories of Atlanta and the state of Georgia. Plus, I was getting the chance to resurrect the dead! Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

I needed to channel these folks; I needed to learn what I could about their personalities, their accomplishments, and their sorrows.

My job was to build a character profile that would lead to the creation of scripts which included the locale of the performance with minimal props. I was assigned three residents and was provided with an array of sources from census records to articles from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution dating back to the late 1800s. I needed to channel these folks; I needed to learn what I could about their personalities, their accomplishments, and their sorrows. The process took about two weeks with discussions between the staff and was an absolute joy to write. As an emerging writer, I try to say “yes” to opportunities that take me out of my comfort zone. Every time I’ve challenged myself with assignments like this one, I have been more than rewarded.

Sunday in the Park at Oakland Cemetery is a free event and a wonderful opportunity to get a flavor for what the staff, members, and volunteers do to promote Oakland Cemetery. See you September 29th!

To learn more about Dawn Major’s work, visit

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