5 hidden stories of Oakland Cemetery

  • Eileen Falkenberg-Hull
  • For the AJC
4:47 p.m Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 Arts & Culture

We know the stories of Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones and Maynard Jackson. 

They're among the most famous of Oakland Cemetery's residents, but were their lives the most interesting? 

Sam Downs – Downs, who is buried in a plot near the Oakland Avenue gate, was the umpire at Atlanta's first baseball game on May 12, 1866 when the Gate City Nine took on the Atlanta Ball Club. Downs, who was also the owner of the Cabinet Saloon on Alabama Street, called the game after 4 ½ hours in favor of Gate City with a final score of 127 to 29.

Gen. Clement Anselm Evans – A native son of Georgia, Evans passed the bar at 18, became a judge at 21, and at the age of 26 was elected as a state senator as part of the Know-Nothing Party. In 1861 Evans joined the Confederate Army where he was wounded five times in battle leading the 31st Georgia Infantry then the Northern Virginia's II Corps through nearly all the battles of the Virginia campaign. Following the war Evans became a Methodist minister serving congregations in Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Cassville, Cedartown and Rome. 

Eileen Falkenberg-Hull
Opera star Maggie Chapman's grave is visited as part of Oakland Cemetery's History, Mystery and Mayhem tour.

Maggie Chapman – Long before The Atlanta Opera was even a twinkle in Atlanta's eye, DeGive's Opera House was where Atlanta went to see opera. On May 13, 1880, Robert Schumann's Paradise and the Peri was scheduled for a matinee show. According to Oakland tour guides, the cast was dressed in winged angel costumes and had just taken their seats on the stage tiers to open the show when Chapman, who was billed as the lead character, ran on stage yelling "Fire!"

A lighted gas jet in the dressing room had caused the accident lighting several of the costumers ablaze while they were on the players. Chapman, 24, was burned on her neck, throat, and arms during the incident when she also inhaled flames diminishing her ability to breath. She succumbed to her injuries the next day.

Ollivette Allison – When she was 12, Olivette and her siblings arrived at the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home, a 26-acre refuge for orphaned and abandoned children, at 667 Fairburn Road. Allison lived at the home while she pursued degrees from Spelman College and Atlanta University then was hired on to become the home's first professional social worker. According to the AJC, it's been estimated that she cared for more than 5,000 children during her tenure at the home. Her unique gravestone features an elephant protecting its calf.

Lucille Selig Frank – Wife of engineer and director of the National Pencil Company Leo Frank, Lucille stood by her man as he was tried and convicted of murder in 1913 then lynched by an angry mob in 1915. His trial was inflated in the minds of many Atlantans because of sensational reporting and yellow journalism and caused anti-Northern and anti-Jewish sentiment to grow in the Atlanta area during the trial. Because there was question over Frank's actual guilt, the Governor of Georgia commuted his death sentence changing it to life in prison.

While serving that sentence, he was kidnapped from the prison by 25 armed men and taken from Milledgeville to Frey's Gin near what is now the "Big Chicken" in Marietta, and lynched him. His lynching led to a mass exodus of Jews from Georgia but his wife stayed, eventually being buried alongside her parents in 1964, several years after her death and cremation, in an unmarked grave due to speculation about retaliation for the murder her husband was convicted of. 

Each of these stories is part of a larger yearly tour series at Oakland Cemetery. Overview tours are scheduled each Saturday and Sunday during summer months with a few exceptions due to large-scale events. Special topic tours occur at select times throughout the year.

View full experience