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Oakland’s Early Landscapes: The Fence And The Wall: An Update

Oakland’s Early Landscapes: The Fence and The Wall: An Update

One of the best parts of research is the thrill of finding something completely new. In the past, this usually meant finding a document or image at a library or an archival repository, but now it often means finding a rarity for sale on the internet.

In the latter half of the 19th century, before the advent of postcards, people bought little pocket-sized “souvenir” booklets of the places they visited. Local businesses, such as real estate developers, published these as a form of civic boosterism. The souvenir booklets would showcase the best buildings, houses, and points of civic pride in town. For smaller cities the images from one booklet to the next were often of the same structures, but taken from different vantage points or years, and on occasion might document a scene otherwise never photographed. Into the 20th century, these souvenir booklets became larger-sized albums produced by the chamber of commerce. A number of souvenir booklets and albums of Atlanta have been archived, digitized and made available on the internet for free. Four such booklets and albums may be found at www.archive.org (search for “Atlanta souvenir”).

Detail of Oakland Cemetery lithograph

Soon after the article “The Fence and The Wall” was published, a heretofore “unknown” souvenir booklet came up for sale. The little booklet is so rare, it does not appear in WorldCat, the online international library database. Advertised as containing 12 plates and dating to around 1880, the hope of finding a new image of Oakland was too great to ignore.
In pristine condition, the booklet’s images weren’t photographs but instead were produced by a complicated lithographic process manufactured only in Germany. This Glaser/Frey lithographic process was renowned for its multi-plate printing process that produced a multi-tonal final image, giving shades and tones similar to the original photograph from which the lithograph was constructed. Further, as a lithograph, it allowed the printers to easily inset a smaller image into the larger, primary image plate.

Copyrighted in 1887 the little sapphire blue book proudly showcases Atlanta’s best scenes. The plates present Atlanta’s newly constructed state capitol, numerous important civic buildings and views of downtown, the main building of the 1887 Piedmont Exposition (constructed at Piedmont Park), and a montage plate of Oakland Cemetery, featuring the John F. Kiser monument.
Erected around 1882 the Kiser monument just to the northwest of where the Bell Tower was, and is still today, one of the most imposing statues on the cemetery grounds. The mausoleum’s grandeur attracted professional photographers, and its general area was one of the most photographed in the late 1800s. But inset into the plate is a view of a gentleman opening the front gate to Oakland Cemetery. This little vignette is the only (now) known image of the original wood gate, presumably built in 1873. The souvenir booklet date of 1887 coincides with the major overhaul of the fence and the construction of the early rock wall. Thus, with a refurbished outside and new magnificent stonework within, Oakland was included in the souvenir booklet as a point of civic pride. Our understanding of the history of the cemetery expands again.

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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