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Historic Oakland Cemetery opens gate for another view of slightly altered reality

oakland cemetery, homepage pix

oakland cemetery, homepage pix

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery is again opening its doors to share glimpses of a slightly altered reality. This time, it’s a nighttime visit for a self-guided tour of illuminated headstones, mausolea, artworks and archival images projected throughout the cemetery – plus craft cocktails, soft drinks and live music.

Oakland Cemetery , golden hour, glasses

After-hours events at Historic Oakland Cemetery have a way of reflecting their own version of reality. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The show is Illumine 2019. From May 9 through May 12, the events begins at 7 p.m. and end as late as 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Nearby restaurants are offering discounts to ticket holders, prompting the sponsor, Historic Oakland Foundation, to encourage visitors to plan to make a night of it.

This year’s experience has been modified with lessons learned from Illumine 2016 and Gold Hour, in 2018: Admission each evening is limited to provide visitors a bit more space and time to take in the sights; this year’s event provides access to areas of the park that weren’t opened previously; new lighting treatments have been provided by an array of Atlanta-based artists and lighting designers.

Oakland’s description of the event calls out for attention:

  • “Conceptualized by local artists and designers, Illumine’s ethereal tableaux and botanic displays from the cemetery gates to the greenhouse will educate, enlighten, and inspire you with the breathtaking lights of the Atlanta skyline as a backdrop.
  • “In addition to the mile-long light display, this rare after-hours experience at a treasured Atlanta landmark will offer live music from The Shoal Creek Stranglers, a bar featuring signature craft cocktails from Old 4th Distillery, an Oakland pop-up shop, and more.”

Under the headline, What You Will See, is a list of attractions:

  • “Dozens of displays including lanterns, light-boxes, illuminated headstones, mausolea, and botanicals
  • “Archival images and film projected throughout the Cemetery
  • “Lighting effects to shine a light on many previously untold stories of Oakland Cemetery, including a poignant and provocative tribute to the people buried and then removed from “Slave Square” and a display highlighting the individuals buried in unmarked graves in North Public Grounds.”
Oakland Cemetery, golden hour 2018

Lessons from ‘Golden Hour,’ an evening event in 2018, have been incorporated into ‘Illumine 2019’ to make this year’s event an even greater success. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Oakland offers a few safety tips so potential visitors have a better idea of the terrain they can expect to encounter after sunset. The note reminds the cemetery is a historic, functioning cemetery and not a modern tourist attraction:

  • Illumine’s route covers approximately one mile of roads and historic pathways. Although there are no steps on the route, historic gutters, slopes, and brick walkways might make experiencing Illumine 2019 difficult for those with limited mobility. If you are unsure if Illumine 2019 is suitable for you, please contact Richard Harker at rharker@oaklandcemetery.com to discuss your particular circumstances.”

Proceeds of Illumine 2019 benefit Historic Oakland Foundation, as do the proceeds of all events at the cemetery. HOF is charged with collaborating with the City of Atlanta to, “preserve, restore, enhance, and share Oakland Cemetery with the public as an important island of tranquility in the heart of the city,” according to HOF’s 2016 tax return.

More information – To share and see the experience: Hashtag #Illumine2019 and tag @oaklandcetery. Advance ticket prices for Illumine 2019 are $20 adults, $15 students, children and seniors. Add a $5 fee for tickets purchased at the gate. Tickets are available online for the face value plus a surcharge. The gate opens at 7 p.m each night. The program ends an hour after the last entry, which is 9:30 p.m. May 9 and May 12, and 10:30 p.m. on May 10 and May 11.


Oakland Cemetery, golden hour, greenhouse

Nothing is as it appears in Historic Oakland Cemetery during one of its after-hours events, not even a greenhouse. Credit: Kelly Jordan


Illumine 2016

Reality isn’t always as it appears, at least not in Historic Oakland Cemetery’s ‘Illumine 2016.’ Credit: Kelly Jordan

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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