Since September, I’ve been working on a project for ATLMaps.org compiling a list of ‘hidden’ cemeteries in and around Atlanta. Gathering information for this project has been an interesting process. After all, how does one find something that’s supposedly ‘hidden’? Furthermore, how should ‘hidden’ be defined within the context of this project? Should a cemetery only be included if it isn’t on any current maps? Does it need to be something that’s physically obscured in some way, so that you must actively search for it? These are some of the questions I’ve been struggling with over the past few months, so I’d like to share with you the conclusions I’ve reached, as well as how I’ve reached them.

When I started this project, I only had one cemetery immediately in mind that I felt would fit the list. It was by sheer luck that I happened to notice Gilbert Memorial Cemetery on the way home from school one afternoon, as it resides in the middle of a traffic median on exit 241 of I-75 south. It was actually my daily passing by this cemetery that interested me in the project when I saw it proposed. I thought this surely constituted a ‘hidden’ cemetery with the unexpected location, and the fact that it’s nearly impossible to spot unless you’re actively looking for it. It made me wonder how many other such places I passed by one a frequent basis that I may have never even noticed.

(view the project on ATLMaps)

So, I had a starting point, but how was I going to compile an entire list of cemeteries like this if they’re so difficult to even know about in the first place? A google search only brought me one or two useable responses and mostly gave me links about Oakland Cemetery, which is far from ‘hidden’. I decided that my next best option for sourcing this list would be simply word of mouth. I sent a message to every group-chat I’m in asking if anybody knew of any hidden, abandoned, or simply weird cemeteries. I brought it up in conversations with friends and strangers alike, and my list quickly started to grow. I even received a helpful link to a series of articles from AtlantaHistory.com, titled “Atlanta Cemeteries”, which gave me some wonderful leads. At this point, I had a list of about fourteen cemeteries that I considered appropriate for the project, but I was running out of friends and acquaintances to ask and I still wanted more. I decided to send a message out on several Atlanta history-based Facebook groups, named “Atlanta History” and “You’ve lived in ATL a long time if you remember…”, asking for any tips and listing all of the cemeteries I’d already been told about. The responses from these groups built my list up to over twenty cemeteries and I was certainly pleased. I’ve still been receiving the odd recommendation and adding to my list, so I hope to make this an ongoing project to be updated every so often.

 

During this project I’ve discovered a variety of interesting burial sites. For example, there is the Crowley Family Mausoleum; a large stone structure with the grave markers situated on top, which resides in an empty parcel of land connected to a Walmart parking lot. Another site that I found particularly curious was the Todd Family Cemetery. The Todd family was possibly the first family of European decent to settle Atlanta, and now their burial site is sandwiched between the backyards of two residential properties. There are also the Flat Rock Cemetery and Hart Family Cemetery, both of which reside on the edges of the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport property. Both of these sites are open to the public, but it does feel a bit like trespassing when you visit them due to the large fences which surround the road leading up to them, meant to keep people from walking the few yards from the cemeteries to the airport runways. These are just a few of the strange and interesting burial sites scattered around Atlanta which I’ve discovered throughout the course of this project.

Now, as I mentioned before, one of the major hurdles I faced while trying to put my list together was what exactly the parameters for a ‘hidden’ cemetery were. Originally, I had been working off a definition kin to ‘cemeteries that are in obscure locations’, but I had to expand my definition as I went. Of course, a large number of these cemeteries are in obscure locations. But what about cemeteries like Roseland, which are placed directly on a busy road, but are so overgrown and abandoned that they might never be noticed? Furthermore, what about the potter’s field in Oakland Cemetery? Oakland in-and-of itself certainly isn’t ‘hidden’, but the potter’s field therein is a large site of completely unmarked graves. There’s also the slave burials which were once a part of Washington Memorial Gardens, a well known and kept cemetery, but are now underneath a set of new townhouses. I also had to make the decision about whether or not to include the zoo animal burials at the Old Atlanta Prison Farm in this project, as they meet all of my other parameters for a ‘hidden’ cemetery but are not human burials. I eventually expanded my definition and ended up with the following: “a ‘hidden’ cemetery is any human burial site which may be unmarked, in an obscure location, unkempt, or abandoned.”

So far, this project has been an interesting exercise in how to gather information when your subject is purposefully obscure and searching the internet isn’t giving you the information you need. It has also been an intriguing look at how the personal definition of a word can evolve in such a short time period. I hope to continually update the map as my list grows, eventually creating a comprehensive view of all the ‘hidden’ cemeteries in and around Atlanta.