General Information and Visiting Details
The Oakland Cemetery is a peaceful oasis filled with history, art, architecture, and local lore in the heart of a bustling city. It is Atlanta’s third-largest public green space, with many of the city’s finest and most interesting specimens of trees, shrubs, and flowers. You’ll find families enjoying picnics, neighbors walking dogs, and visitors exploring. The cemetery also serves as an event space throughout the year for annual fundraisers – runs, concerts, holiday celebrations – as well as private functions.
The cemetery was originally called Atlanta Cemetery until it was renamed Oakland Cemetery in honor of the many forest oak trees that grew here.
Oakland opened in 1850, long before the first automobile hit Atlanta’s streets. Parking is available in a small lot just outside the front gate or along the street on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive or Oakland Avenue. If you park inside the cemetery, pull your vehicle off to the right of any asphalt-paved roadway, leaving enough space for other cars to pass. Be especially careful not to damage walls and trees. Lock your car and do not leave valuables in view.
Buses and large vehicles are not allowed inside Oakland’s gates since they cannot make the turns inside the cemetery.
No, there is no entrance fee for the cemetery, but tours and special events may require a ticket purchase. Guided walking tours are available March through October and events are offered throughout the year (see the Tours and Events pages for more details). Private guided group tours may be arranged by calling Historic Oakland Foundation at (404) 688-2107.
Dogs on leashes are welcome, but please clean up after your pets and do not allow them on the monuments. Due to City of Atlanta ordinance, dogs are not permitted at some of our larger special events. See specific event information for details.
Picnics are permitted on public grounds, however grills and fires are not.
Although there are only approximately 40,000 markers, records indicate that more than 70,000 souls rest at Oakland. Family monuments rather than individual markers mark some plots. Other markers were originally wooden and were not replaced once they disintegrated. There are 3,000 unmarked Confederate graves and approximately 7,500 buried in Potter’s Field without markers.
Oakland is an Atlanta cemetery, capturing the full sweep of the city’s past and present. Of the approximately 70,000 graves, some 6,900 are Confederate soldiers who died in Atlanta hospitals or on nearby battlefields.
Oakland was developed when slavery still existed in the United States, and further expansions of the cemetery occurred during the era of segregation. Of course, Oakland is no longer segregated, and anyone may be buried wherever they purchase a plot or space.
Potter’s Field is where paupers, or people who could not afford to be buried on a private lot, were buried prior to 1900 at the city’s expense. People without families to handle their arrangements were also buried here at city expense. When a burial record lists the gravesite as “unassigned,” this indicates that a person was buried in Potter’s Field. No markers exist in Potter’s Field today, but many graves were originally marked with wooden markers. According to an archaeological survey, approximately 7,500 people were buried in Potter’s Field.
Oakland remains an active cemetery, with approximately one burial per month. The cemetery ran out of lots to sell many years ago, but lot owners occasionally wish to sell their spaces. If a family contacts the Sexton regarding a plot or space they wish to sell, he provides them with a list of people who have contacted Oakland and expressed interest in purchasing burial space. Individuals wishing to purchase plots should contact the Sexton, Samuel Reed at (404) 658-6019, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Management, Needs and How You Can Help
Oakland is owned and managed by the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Atlanta. The City maintains infrastructure such as the Bell Tower, the perimeter wall, drives, and water system. City workers open the gates daily at approximately 7 a.m. and lock the gates at around dusk. The City also provides administrative space for Historic Oakland Foundation in the Bell Tower building. Plot owners are responsible for the upkeep of their own plots including landscaping, retaining walls and gravestones.
The Sexton, or manager of the cemetery, is an employee of the City of Atlanta Parks Department who handles all burials and official records. The Sexton must approve all commercial photography and filming. All work on cemetery lots should be reported to the Sexton.
Historic Oakland Foundation, established in 1976, is the nonprofit “friends” group for the cemetery. The Foundation manages tours, events, restoration projects, and the gardens, and raises funds for the beautification and restoration of the cemetery. Offices are located at the Bell Tower Building inside the cemetery. Private events should be scheduled through the Foundation.
Most markers that are damaged or missing are not victims of vandalism. Sometimes markers simply sink into the ground and are covered up by grass and dirt. Others are damaged due to age, pollution, weather, erosion or lawnmowers. Many markers were damaged in the March 2008 tornado or by trees falling since that time. To prevent additional damage, please do not climb or walk on headstones, monuments, markers or walls. Rubbings are not allowed.
The Historic Oakland Foundation needs funding for approximately $15 million of restoration and repair work on monuments, mausolea, graves, retaining walls, walkways, and landscaping.