Atlanta band Mermaids plays at Oakland Cemetery’s “Tunes From the Tombs” event. Credit: Nickmicholas/Flickr
“I walked out of my office at 10 to six and I looked up on the hill, and there was a runner with her phone in her hand taking photos,” Moylan says. “And it was just a great day. I’m hoping we can do more of that — using the space for different things at different times, while still showing respect for our permanent residents.”
Green-Wood is now seeking arboretum status, considering how to draw more birders and building up the cemetery as a historic attraction. Trolley tours are selling out, says Moylan.
Even so, Green-Wood is relatively conservative when it comes to public use. Some cemeteries — often the publicly owned, the less active or those lacking a perpetual care fund — are more forward. One striking example is Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Oakland’s story is similar to that of many historic cemeteries: Founded in 1850 on farmland, it now neighbors two of Atlanta’s upand- coming neighborhoods, just five blocks from the state capitol.
In the 1970s, the neighborhood and the cemetery fell into disrepair, but in the last five to 10 years, largely thanks to the Historic Oakland Foundation, the cemetery has stepped up its public use and restoration efforts. Oakland is explicitly trying to revive the Victorian garden cemetery experience. Along with regular tours, major annual events draw about a third of Oakland’s operating revenue, says Mary Woodlan, director of special events and volunteers.
“We feel that it’s important to bring the public in; otherwise how are they going to know about this place?” Woodlan says. “We say, once we get them through the gates, they’re hooked.”
Oakland is planning the fourth annual “Tunes From the Tombs” event, a music festival that draws around 4,000 people. They hold an annual 5k run, “Run Like Hell,” and a Halloween tour, a practice that has become popular in many cemeteries.