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Oakland’s Early Landscapes: What Ever Happened To Hannah And Her Wedding Cake?

Oakland’s Early Landscapes: What Ever Happened to Hannah and her Wedding Cake?

As part of the Historic Oakland Foundation Master Plan historical research, historic landscape images of the cemetery were compiled. In the Foundation’s reference materials is a photocopy of an mid-1870’s stereoview of a cemetery purported to be Oakland.

The tall, spire-like design reminiscent of an old European church reflects high Victorian design.

The image is an arresting view of trees, obelisks, and an imposing Gothic-style monument peeking through the trees. A tall, spire-like design reminiscent of an old European church, this highly ornate monument reflects high Victorian design, as well as substantial wealth at a time when many of the people buried at Oakland were commemorated with simple wood headboards. This grand architectural structure was dubbed “Wedding Cake,” for something so ornate deserved a fitting name.

The spire seen in detail. Taken from an 1870’s stereoview of Oakland Cemetery.

However, the monument so prominent in the photograph was not on the cemetery grounds, and previous attempts to locate other smaller obelisks and headstones were fruitless. Thus, as the location had not been verified, the interpretation that Oakland was the “city cemetery” captured in the stereoview was always considered with reservations. Perhaps the edifice was lost due to the vagaries of time, such as tree damage or lightning strike. Further, as the handwritten title states simply “View in the Cemetery,” the image could be of any cemetery.

But the fates can smile in circuitous fashions. One day HOF gardens staffer Lindsay Long brought to the cemetery a mounted historic photograph of a funeral scene at an Atlanta cemetery. Purchased at an estate sale in neighboring Reynoldstown, the photograph was first thought to be of a family funeral at Oakland. However, it was quickly determined the photograph was not of a grave at Oakland, so an expedition to Westview Cemetery was in order.

Westview Cemetery was established as a private cemetery in 1884 to serve Atlanta’s burgeoning population. Oakland was essentially full, and the city’s health department wanted it closed to new interments. Westview was laid out in the newly fashionable “lawn system” or “park cemetery” aesthetic, defined by grand sweeps of undulating lawns, gently entwining drives, few trees and shrubbery, and absolutely no family-delineated spaces (walls, fences, coping, etc.) permitted. There are no walkways to mar the vistas and little in the way of flat land.

Mausoleums were allocated to a specific section of the cemetery along a prominent drive to the chapel and columbaria. While a few central areas contain a relatively wide variety of monument types and styles from the earliest period of the cemetery, later areas are much more regimented and regulated as to the style of headstones permitted. Because of the very different terrain and cemetery design, it was quite apparent that 1870 stereoview of “Wedding Cake” was not taken at Westview either.

With Lindsay’s keen eye for headstone styles, the grave in the estate sale photograph was eventually found at Westview, leaving time to explore the rest of the cemetery. Unsurprisingly, the oldest sections were of the greatest interest. And at the center of the oldest area, at the highest point in the cemetery, enshrouded by an extraordinarily large sand pear tree, was “Wedding Cake.” It had been moved!

Hannah’s “Wedding Cake” spire at Westview Cemetery.

Given its prominent location, it presumably was moved from Oakland soon after Westview was opened. Even without its elaborate spire top and crowning finials, the monument is still arguably the most ornate to be erected at Oakland prior to the Civil War (its competitor being the Dougherty monument).
Hannah Amanda Gordon was born on April 25, 1837 and died on March 11, 1857. She was the young wife of W.R. Gordon. Her name is the only one inscribed; the other three medallions remain blank, her husband conspicuously absent.

Interestingly, basic internet genealogy searches reveal only her marriage, as Amanda Seavy, to W.R. on December 23, 1855. As Westview Cemetery is private, the name of who purchased Hannah’s new resting place would not be divulged to anyone who’s not a family relation. So for now, Hannah and her husband W.R. remain lost to the mists of time.

Moore’s signature on Wedding Cake.

As with many of the most ornate and expensive stonework at Oakland, Hannah’s towering marble edifice was proudly signed. Created by William Hill Moore, Undertaker, of 181 Arch Street Philadelphia, Moore was Philadelphia’s pre-eminent undertaker. In addition to pioneering the practice of pre-made coffins, he was noted for handling the funerals of U.S. Presidents William Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and John Quincy Adams, as well as numerous commodores, generals, and judges. Moore was one of the incorporators of

Philadelphia’s Woodlands Cemetery, which was established in 1840, and served as its funeral director. By 1868 Moore had his own Gothic funerary masterpiece erected as personal advertising, and it bears a striking resemblance to Hannah’s monument. A similar Gothic spire, the Jacob Heffner monument, was erected in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery around 1846.

Hannah’s towering spire was originally located at Oakland Cemetery on lot 7.0.315, just southwest of the Austell mausoleum, on a low rise. Today that lot is part of the Hayden-Cone family lot. Interestingly, the lot line coping stonework set into the grass has an odd “jog” in it, reflecting the cobbling together of original lots to accommodate an extended family. While Hannah and her marble spire of love no longer grace Oakland, the Cone monument admirably continues to grace what was considered one of the most desirable areas in the Original Six Acres.

Sara L. Van Beck

Sara Van Beck is a member of Historic Oakland Foundation’s gardens team. She is a leading daffodil authority and author of Daffodils in American Gardens: 1733-1940.

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