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Posted: November 7, 2013 9:00 p.m.

Cemeteries have history — and rules

 

You may be a taphophile and not know it, unless you know the meaning of the word. A taphophile is someone interested in, perhaps obsessively so, cemeteries, headstones, funerals and epitaphs. "Tombstone tourist" is another way of putting it.

 

On the Internet, check out TheCemeteryClub.com, "where cemeteries come to life," pun clearly intended. The organization seems to be headquartered in the Northeast, and it offers schedules of events at and reviews of renowned cemeteries. You can also order cemetery-themed merchandise, from caps to coffee cups, to watches, totes and jewelry.

 

It was there I read the epitaph of one Robert Clay Allison, 1840-1887: "He never killed a man that did not need killing." The tombstone for Mel Blanc, the inimitable voice of a stuttering Elmer Fudd, reads: "That’s all folks. Man of 1000 Voices. Mel Blanc 1908-1999." Elsewhere, I found a memorable one for a British woman, Vivian Charlotte Lewis: "Died in her racing car at Brighton speed Trials."

 

Atlanta’s Historic Oakland Cemetery, the oldest in the city, got its start as Atlanta Graveyard in 1850 with the purchase of 6 acres. By 1867, it had grown to 48 acres, and in 1872 it was renamed the Oakland Cemetery. The website explains that Oakland typifies "the rural garden cemetery movement" of the 19th century, a precursor to the development of public parks in America. It was popular for carriage rides on Sundays and picnicking. Guided walking tours on Saturdays and Sundays showcase picturesque paths and views, a towering canopy of trees, flowers, shrubs, and notable art and architectural features. A few mausoleums there feature Tiffany-made stained-glass windows.

 

Notables buried there include author Margaret Mitchell, golfer Bobby Jones, Mayors Ivan Allen Jr. and Maynard Jackson, and Carrie Steele Logan, a former slave who founded the first orphanage for black children. Whites and African-Americans were buried in separate parts of the grounds, as were Christians and Jews. Recently, a headstone was placed at the gravesite for the Atlanta madam on whom Mitchell is said to have modeled the character "Belle Watling" in her iconic work.

 

Newton County’s Landscape Architect Debbie Bell became a taphophile herself when she began research about Newton County’s 300 or more cemeteries four years ago, underwritten with state grant funds and local chamber, Main Street, historical society and private donor contributions. The product was "Cemeteries of Newton County, Georgia. Interpretive Driving and Walking Tours," in which she divided the county into five specific areas for exploration.

 

Many cemeteries are on private property unsuited for visitation, and many are affiliated with small churches. The locations of Native American burial grounds "are not disclosed in order to protect them," she writes.

 

Even before the county was officially formed in 1821, communities had been formed around businesses or travel routes. Churches that followed had their own graveyards.

 

"In many places, all that is left of the community is its cemetery," Bell found. The publication delves into the meaning and chronology of tombstone design and materials, as well as the symbolism of landscaping trees, shrubs and flowers. Her research documents fascinating and little-known history and historical characters from our past. The Covington Cemetery, she writes, "is nearly as old as the Town of Covington itself." It has five distinct sections: Old Methodist, Historic African-American, Confederate, Southview and Memorial Garden.

 

"A comprehensive guide to the cemetery would require a much larger publication, so this book will focus on the Old Methodist section — some dating to the 1830s — and the Historic African-American section." Recently, the city funded a project to locate and mark dozens of unmarked African-American graves in that area.

 

Covington’s cemetery is not only a fount of historical record and commentary on lives in times gone by, it’s also a popular walking venue for people and dogs alike. There’s nothing like a brisk walk there with your happy Fido or Fido-ette.

 

More often than not, the mostly crowd-free locale is an invitation to let your dog run free off-leash for a brief, unencumbered respite that city-dwelling dogs don’t often get. And we do, to be truthful.

 

Posted signs clearly say all dogs should be leashed and owners must clean up after their pets. That’s not a question for us, but apparently it’s not a practice for all who walk their canine companions in the cemetery. Some plot owners have seen their properties littered with dog leavings, and complaints have reached city hall and the police department.

 

Consequently, city employees are warning dog owners that the ordinance will be strictly enforced: leash up and clean up. Those who observe anything different are encouraged to file a police complaint. This might be the perfect time to start a discussion about a city dog park.

 

 

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Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

 

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