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Telling the SAT Story: Oakland Cemetery Mausolea



Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc.
Atlanta, Georgia
Year of Award: 2010 (ongoing)
National Park Service SAT Grant: $200,000
Matching Share Leveraged: $200,000

“Show me your cemeteries, and I’ll tell you what kind of people you have.” – Benjamin Franklin

Oakland Cemetery, located less than a mile from downtown Atlanta, Georgia, is an amazing 48 acres of sculpture and gardens that literally contains the history of Atlanta beneath one’s feet.  It holds a special place in the history of the city and in the hearts of the people connected to this memorial ground.  This is the final resting place of such notables as golf great Robert T. “Bobby” Jones; Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African American mayor; Margaret Mitchell, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Gone With the Wind; and Carrie Steele Logan, an ex-slave who established the first African American orphanage (The Carrie Steele-Pitts Home) in Atlanta.

The mausolea are the “crown jewels” of this historic site.  Architecturally, they are compelling works of funerary art and represent the accomplishments of many of the city’s most influential citizens.  They are an essential piece of the character and integrity of a rural garden cemetery and reflect the importance Victorian era Atlantans assigned to their eternal resting places.

One of the 55 mausolea in Oakland Cemetery, courtesy of National Park Service.

One of the 55 mausolea in Oakland Cemetery, courtesy of National Park Service.

The mission of the Historic Oakland Foundation is to restore, preserve, enhance, and share the cemetery’s 48 acres of history, art, and architecture.  Of the 55 mausoleums at risk, the Foundation identified 44 that were in the greatest need of restoration.  These structures were in danger of irreversible deterioration if their issues were not immediately addressed.  Critical issues included leaking and damaged roofs, eroding roof joints, cracked or crumbling walls, missing or broken sculptural components, cracked or broken windows, unprotected windows or protective coverings that obscured viewing, biological growth or heavy soiling, bent metalwork and doors, lightning damage, missing hardware, corrosion, and missing or incompatible elements and ornaments.

Cornice in the front gable of the Marsh Mausoleum, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Cornice in the front gable of the Marsh Mausoleum before restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Cornice showing improper past repairs, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Cornice on Jones Mausoleum showing improper past repairs, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

In 2010, the Foundation received a Save America’s Treasures (SAT) grant in the amount of $200,000 to aid in the restoration of the mausolea.  The grant created quite a buzz in the funding community as it was the Foundation’s first major government funding award and enabled them to leverage the notability of the award with their other grant requests.  The SAT grant enhanced the Foundation’s fund raising capacity, strengthened their ability to raise restoration dollars, and allowed them to raise the matching funds required with an equal percentage of individual and foundation funding. This funding support also enabled them to collaborate with other professionals during the restoration process to accomplish work they could not have done alone learning new techniques for repairs to metal and stained glass, roofs, and bronze doors.

Marsh Mausoleum before restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Marsh Mausoleum before restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

For example, for one limestone structure, they identified the following threats to its integrity:  cracked, failing mortar joints, spalling or breaking sandstone, a missing vent cover, and soiled/stained statuary.  The restoration funding enabled them to analyze the mortar and find that, in addition to the typical lime, there were also slag and mica particulate components.  This knowledge helped the restoration team to create a mortar with historically appropriate ratios and repoint the structure.  In order to match the look of the original finished joint– a square bead, instead of the typical round– a tool was created onsite to mimic the original finish.

Restoration in progress, courtesy of National Park Service.

Restoration of Marsh Mausoleum in progress, courtesy of National Park Service.

As the restoration work progressed, the Foundation set up signage alongside each mausoleum to publicize SAT as the funding source and kept their over 10,000 Facebook followers apprised of their progress.  After the work was completed, the local community was invited to an open house to tour the grounds and get a hands-on demonstration of how some of the more complex restoration issues were tackled.  The Foundation also applied for and won an Atlanta Urban Design “Award of Excellence” entitled:  Historic Oakland Foundation, Save America’s Treasures: Mausolea Repair.  The award was given by the Mayor’s office at the 36th annual awards ceremony in the fall of 2013.

Marsh Mausoleum after restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Marsh Mausoleum after restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Since 2010, tour attendance at Oakland Cemetery has increased from 6,000 attendees to 8,200, a 36% increase in tour participation.  The surveys and anecdotal feedback received via social media all point to this restoration project as having had a major impact on these attendance figures.  The Foundation’s expertise in the realm of cemetery restoration work has also been enhanced and word of their enhanced knowledge has spread within the restoration community.   They are now looked upon as leaders in this type of work and receive calls on a monthly basis for advice as well as requests to present at preservation workshops.

Jones Mausoleum before restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Jones Mausoleum before restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Jones Mausoleum after restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Jones Mausoleum after restoration, courtesy of Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc..

Today, many of the cemetery’s treasures have been restored to excellent condition and, with ongoing care, the longevity of these monuments has been ensured for generations to come.  The Foundation is now in a position to conduct more robust public tours of the buildings as they educate their visitors on the history and architectural style of each structure and the masonry repair techniques that were used to accomplish their restoration.

Oakland Cemetery, courtesy of National Park Service.

Oakland Cemetery, courtesy of National Park Service.

Restoring and protecting these “crown jewels” through funding enabled by Save America’s Treasures has preserved not only Oakland Cemetery’s physical integrity, but the spirit and history of Atlanta.

Ben Franklin would be intrigued.

For more information on the history of Oakland Cemetery, please visit them at www.oaklandcemetery.com or connect with them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/OCATL); Twitter (@OaklandCemetery); Instagram (http://instagram.com/oaklandcemetery); or Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/oaklandcemetery/).

Established in 1999, the Save America’s Treasures program is managed by the National Park Service, with the National Endowment Agencies, to preserve and protect nationally significant properties and collections for future generations of Americans.  Stories of saving those treasures will be shared through partnership with the American Architecture Foundation.

Title photograph courtesy of National Park Service.

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Posted in: Center for Design & Cultural Heritage, Print, Save America's Treasures
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