"A Fine and Private Place"
Flagpole, Dec. 2, 2009
This is not a book
review: this is a cry of astonishment. I will never
read Oconee Hill Cemetery of Athens, Georgia,
Volume 1, by Charlotte Thomas Marshall all
the way through, but I will never stop consulting
and dipping into it from time to time—frequently, no
doubt. I cannot comprehend the mind that could
accomplish this book. Charlotte had a lot
of help and built on previous work, as she details
in the seven pages of acknowledgements and thanks
with which she begins the book. With all that
assistance and inspiration from precursors, mentors,
friends and husband, Charlotte Marshall has produced
a prodigious tome, a veritable who’s who of the
cemetery, published by the Athens Historical Society
in time for its 50th anniversary. The book begins
invitingly enough with photographs by Kenneth I.
Storey, depicting stones, monuments and mausoleums,
and then plunges into the deeps with a plot-by-plot
census on the town side of the Oconee River,
including the Colored Burying Ground, the burial
ground set aside for employees and families of
Athens Manufacturing Company, the Congregation
Children of Israel Cemetery and the Pauper Burying
Ground. Volumes two and three will catalogue the transriparian cemetery environs.
What could be duller and denser than a recitation of Stygian statistics? Why, all the living—marrying, birthing, working, moving, entrepreneuring, fighting, preaching, teaching—that all those people now sleeping on the hill accomplished while they were awake. The stats alone—the wife of, daughter of, grandson of with dates of birth, marriage and death—provide the record, but Charlotte and her enablers have enriched us far beyond the bare bones of the story. This book is fleshed out wherever possible with obituary references that bring the dead to life and make this a history not just of a cemetery but of a town.
Oconee Hill Cemetery of Athens, Georgia, Volume 1 is much more than a catalogue and more than a history: this book is a family bible for the city, whose past citizens are hereby rescued from anonymity and restored to permanence through these annals.