Traipsing through the cemetery moors


Image my own. See the rest of the set here.

I was never a spooky wee goth in high school. Instead, I concentrated all of my time on becoming queen of the nerds. The goth streak I saved for college, where I wandered in to a class on mourning practices and basically never left (exhibit 1: the paper on Facebook and dead people that I spent a chunk of last year writing).

So, when a friend asked if I wanted to go visit a cemetery other than Oakland (so mainstream*) I was totally pumped.

Apparently, so was the weather, as our August heat was replaced for the weekend by a dreary sort of grey autumn weather. I felt like the appropriate weather for a Rookie photoshoot, staring dreamily off into teenaged ennui. That weather happens to coincide nicely with the weather needed for checking out mausoleums and traipsing through moors, which is exactly what we proceeded to do.

We visited Westview Cemetery. Wikipedia says that it’s the largest cemetery in the southeast, which makes me feel marginally less bad about the fact that my co-traipser and I spent the second half of the trip driving around, slightly alarmed that we would run out of gas before we saw the other wall of the place.

We started our visit in the Westview Abby, on the (mistaken) assumption that the giant castle building might have information about the cemetery. Instead, we managed to wander into a completely beautiful building full of vaulted ceilings (think Boston Library on a smaller scale), stained glass, and dead people.

It turns out that Westview Abby is a gigantic mausoleum. There were three floors of tombs that we saw, each with a plaque labeling its occupant. The bodies seemed to range in time–in the back corner we saw several plaques from the early 1900s, and several cremation markers that were older than that. We also saw tombs that were clearly earmarked but not yet occupied, and several plaques from the 2000s. It was very quiet.

To see the scale of the building, check out this photo of the incredibly baroque outside of the building. In the bottom left you can see my normal-sized friend being Much Much Smaller than the building.

The whole thing was giant and beautiful in ways that I don’t associate with Atlanta architecture. Each window had stained glass (this peacock was my favorite). An unused back stairwell was built with a lovely spiral, and the outside downstairs was covered in art deco murals (this sad poem was my favorite).

Once we were finished wandering around the building, we left to take a walk/drive through the rest of the cemetery, stopping to check out graves that looked interesting. There were several that were so old that the engraving had worn away, and a few infant graves–always sad–from the early 1900s.

It was interesting that the tombstone imagery that I’d learned about on an Oakland tour earlier this summer (sheep on children’s graves for innocence, tree trunks for lives cut short) were present in this cemetery, too. It’s weird to think about graves following trends, but of course they do.

In the back, we saw the statue at the top of this post. It was part of a series of “gardens,” each with a statue of a biblical scene, surrounded by in-ground tombstones. They traced through the life of Jesus pretty completely (minus the crucifixion), and there was a giant engraved copy of the lord’s prayer.

As we drove through the back, we startled a yearling deer, who bounded off. On the whole, it seems like being a cemetery deer is probably not a bad gig: lots of grass, no one hunting, hopefully minimal wolves.

It’s been a few months since I’ve really talked about death in an academic context. Going to the cemetery was a nice reminder that that part of death exists, as well.

* As my friend noted, Oakland is nice because the graves are so old that you don’t think about those folks as having left behind families. Plus, a bunch of them were Confederate gentry, so.

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