“Hey, Traci, have you ever been to (fill in name of cemetery here)?”
I get asked this question a lot.
While I do write a blog about cemeteries, I’m fairly new to hopping. I only got into it a few years ago when I was researching my own family. So when you click on the tab that says “Cemeteries I Have Visited”, you can see there are quite a lot I haven’t gotten to yet.
A few months ago, someone in my Sunday School class asked me if I had ever been to Westview Cemetery before. No, and I hadn’t even heard of it.
Martin proceeded to show me pictures he had taken at Westview on his phone during a stop he made there. He just happened to be driving by one day and saw it off I-20, not far from downtown Atlanta.
Martin is my kind of guy. Not only does he like cemeteries, he just decides on the spur of the moment to pull over to check one out. After seeing his pictures, I knew I had to see it for myself.
Believe it or not, Westview is the largest cemetery in the Southeast. And yet many people (like me) don’t seem to know about it. When people come to Atlanta, they usually only hear about Oakland Cemetery.
Westview encompasses a whopping 582 acres (Oakland Cemetery has 48 acres). About half of it sits undeveloped. Opened in 1884, Westview was said to be the new place for burial in Atlanta since most of the lots at Oakland had already been purchased. At Oakland, you can walk the entire place easily. At Westview, a car is a must.
Unlike Oakland, Westview is situated on land where actual Civil War combat, the Battle of Ezra Church, occurred. Taking place on July 28, 1864, it was one of the most lopsided victories in the entire Civil War. Estimates are rough but Confederate forces lost from 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers while the Union only lost around 600. Some of the trenches from that bloody skirmish still exist on the eastern edge of the grounds. I didn’t know what they were when I saw them at first. You can find a monument there in honor of the lives lost that day.
Not far from those trenches, situated on top of a hill, is the Confederate Memorial. A large column is topped by a statue of a Rebel soldier. Surrounded by it are the graves of Confederate veterans who died long after the war. Two cannons also sit at the foot of the monument.
One unique feature of Westview is the 1888 receiving tomb. It was built as a sort of holding area for coffins awaiting burial. At that time, some roads in the cemetery could become muddy or impassable in bad weather. The coffins would be kept there until conditions improved. It was a valuable resource during the 1917-1918 Spanish Flu pandemic when many Atlantans died. The tomb was sealed in 1945 after completion of Westview’s mausoleum, which has more than ample storage space.
Westview has the distinction of having one of the largest mausoleums in the country. Built in 1943, it has enough space for nearly 11,500 entombments. The mausoleum is contained within a huge abbey that is unlike anything I’ve seen in this country. On my first visit, I was alone and not a soul was around. My car was the only one in the lot. I freely admit, I was nervous.
The Abbey chapel inside is just as impressive as the outside. It looks like it was built centuries ago. The chapel features 27 stained glass panels depicting the life of Christ. Each one is breathtaking. Funeral services are held in the chapel often.
I don’t spend much time in mausoleums and I’ll tell you why. When I was a teen, I often spent the night at my best friend’s house watching TV until the wee hours of the morning. We were both suckers for scarey movies back then and Phantasm was among many we watched over the years.
But this one was different. The movie takes place in a mausoleum run by a scarey mortician (referred to as The Tall Man). Two brothers get dragged into his evil plans and that’s when flying metal balls with blades in them start coming out of nowhere. The imagery stayed with me and still does.
So when it was time to take a stroll down the aisles of Westview’s cavernous mausoleum, and because the place was entirely deserted (or so it seemed), I didn’t intend to linger very long. But I ending up staying quite a while and enjoyed the beauty and quiet of the place. The stained glass alone is breathtaking.
On my second visit, I did go downstairs to try to find a crypt for Find a Grave. But I forgot to get the niche number and it was impossible to find it without it.
I could have spent a lot more time in the Abbey. But I was ready to get back out into the fresh air. It was time to see where some of the more famous residents of Westview reside.
I’ll share their stories and a startling discovery I made next week in Part II.