Damages to the cemetery alone are estimated at $4 million, but evaluation of the destruction has not yet been completed. This site, on the National Register of Historic Places, will be given keen attention in the restoration process.
Giant trees which were left intact when the cemetery was founded in 1850 were uprooted by the violent storm. Magnolia trees were scalped and tall memorial obelisks were grounded. The debris and chaos to the once peaceful walking paths have left behind grim reminders of the fast-moving tornado that swept through the cemetery in 30 seconds, swift and destructive.
The time, and fear, were all experienced by Mr. Sam Reed who has been sexton of the cemetery for a decade. He had gone back to the bell tower in the middle of the cemetery to get an item he had left. The storm struck while he was there, with no time for him to take cover. Fortunately, he was unharmed, and amazingly, the bell tower remained intact. He was able to measure the tornado's intensity as only a brief thirty seconds, but seemingly an eternity as he cowered in its wake.
On the cemetery's western edge, the monuments to Georgia's Governor Joseph Emerson Brown and his wife Elizabeth Grisham Brown lie in pieces, the tall statue of the Angel Gabriel broken and sundered, the other two angels damaged, and Mrs. Brown's gravestone with her picture sculpted in stone is now cutting a deep dent in Oakland's soil.
This four-time governor of Georgia, from 1857-1865, during the hard period leading up to and during the Civil War, had brought pride with his life and service to the small Union County Community at Woody Gap where he spent his youthful years. Now the historic monuments to him and his wife lie sundered, toppled under the power of tornadic winds.
We should hope that restoration of the cemetery in future will somehow include rebuilding of these two significant monuments and the story they tell of a family that provided leadership at a pivotal time in Georgia's history. Pictures and descriptions of the monuments, with the information carved into the marble, have been preserved. The task of restoration, or rebuilding, will be costly and time-consuming. But at least the record is still intact to help with the restoration.
In "Frankie's Confederate Monuments and Memorials of the South" the Brown monuments are described in detail. The tall obelisk at Governor Brown's grave was topped by the Angel Gabriel looking toward heaven, with trumpet in hand. The tower itself had carvings of flowers and lower down, on the pedestal, two other angels lean on their trumpets. His name, birth date and death date are given: Born in Pickens County, SC April 15, 1821 - died in Atlanta, GA November 30, 1894. His statement of faith is also inscribed on his tomb: Marked by a cross, these words of affirmation appear: "I know that my Redeemer liveth!" A further testament to his faith follows: "Died hoping and relying though frail for smiling in the future world of all upon the mercies of Jesus Christ and the atonement made by Him."
Then follows a detailed record of his political service inscribed under the angel on the right: State Senator, 1819- 1850; Judge of Superior Court, 1855-1856; Governor of Georgia for four successive terms, 1857-1865; Chief Justice of Georgia, 1868-1870; US Senator, 1880-1891; President of Western and Atlantic Railroad, 1870-1990. "His history is written in the Annals of Georgia."
Under the angel on the left are included the names and dates of the Browns' nine children. One of them, Joseph Mackey Brown, served two terms as governor, from 1909- 1913.
Oakland Cemetery is a landmark for Atlanta, the state of Georgia and even the South, as thousands of fallen Civil War soldiers were interred there. For many of Georgia's great leaders, the cemetery became their final resting place.
Officials state: "The city is committed to repairing the park." Among the fallen debris and the uprooted trees, workers will have to proceed with care so as not to uproot coffins with the roots of ancient oaks and magnolias wrapped around them. These trees have, since the beginning of the cemetery, spread lofty limbs and provided leafy shade for this famous city of the dead.
c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 27, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.