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These Hallowed Grounds Oakdale Cemetery

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by aSHley waHl • PHotograPHS by Mark SteelMan

eneath a canopy of gnarled oaks, twisted branches outstretched as if poised to nurture, weathered marble and granite memorials stand tall against a gently rolling landscape, the grassy earth dappled with golden-soft morning light. Oakdale Cemetery is a garden of wonder. One half-mile from the intersection of Market and Fifteenth Street, this hundred-acre Eden retains the rustic beauty and reverence that the citizens of Wilmington helped create when they established these burial grounds in 1852. Long before public parks and gardens, families gathered here, on the outskirts of the city, to celebrate the lives of the deceased. Sons and daughters planted native flora, installed benches, framed their lots with iron fences, etched their names in stone. Together, they built a community — and began shaping Oakdale into one of the most resplendent rural cemeteries in the South. Come spring, flowering dogwood and azalea dazzle, but Oakdale blooms with every season. Camellias. Redbuds. Gardenias. Towering Southern magnolias. Monuments are equally stunning. Visit today and discover that nature and history are harmoniously intertwined. Iron fences are embraced by the trunks of ancient trees. Stone markers shaped like tree trunks blend in with the surrounding landscape. Butterflies brush past the cheeks of angel statuary. Birdsong resounds. “This is the only place I’ve ever seen a flock of bluebirds,” says Oakdale Superintendent Eric Kozen. “Here, I’ve seen as many as twenty to thirty strong.” Oakdale is alive with stories. Inscriptions offer glimpses into the lives of the dead: Captain William A. Ellerbrook, for instance, was buried with his faithful dog, Boss. A simple plaque announces the burial site of nearly 1,800 yellow fever victims, where thousands of daffodils will bloom in late February. Pennies line the grave of Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow. Several people of stature are buried here, “but each and every one of us is an important part of this community,” says Kozen, speaking as though the dead and the living coexist. Meandering pathways beckon. Pay reverence to the Confederate dead. Pray for the vagrants in the potter’s field. Add rocks to the tombstones in the Hebrew Cemetery. Epitaphs account for the years, months and days lived. “Every day is important,” says Kozen. A dead dogwood, hauntingly beautiful, stands nearby. “This tree is just like you and me,” he adds. We’re all here for a period of time. Bless these hallowed grounds. b

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Salt • October 2013

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

October 2013 Salt  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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