Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous figures of Buckhead’s history. David Moore, director emeritus of the Historic Oakland Cemetery Foundation, will talk about some of them in a free, live-streamed presentation to the Buckhead Heritage Society on April 8 at 7 p.m. For registration and details, see buckheadheritage.com/events.
You’re going to be talking about famous people from Buckhead, some of whom were also notorious.
I’m going to do a presentation on Oakland Cemetery that includes a little bit of everything. I’m still doing research on people that have a Buckhead connection and the obvious ones are of course people like [bank and railroad founder] Alfred Austell and [golfer and Masters Tournament co-founder] Bobby Jones, but there are a fair amount of folks whom we could make a stretch and say are infamous. There is some murder and mayhem associated with some of our residents, and everybody loves a good mystery, murder and mayhem story, so I will try to sprinkle those in without necessarily divulging who they are.
Your own family has connections to Buckhead going back a long time. Didn’t a grandfather of yours have a mill on Peachtree Creek?
Thomas Moore was my great-great-grandfather, and he came here from Abbeville, South Carolina. He did run a grist and produced lumber, and corn and meal grinded by a millstone. It was there on Peachtree Creek where Moores Mill Road and West Wesley Road exist today. He married a woman named Elizabeth DeFoor. She was the daughter of Martin and Martha DeFoor, who were the recipients of a terrible and brutal murder in the late 1800s. They had their heads almost chopped off by an assailant while they slept. It’s a Buckhead murder that’s never been solved.
Can you give us the gist of the importance of Oakland Cemetery to the history of Buckhead?
Oakland pretty much holds the history of our city. Many of the folks who are buried there are pioneers that paved the paths on which we walk today, and even though Atlanta was a very small community when Oakland was founded in 1850 — there were probably only 2,600 people living in Atlanta at the time — many of the folks buried there do have connections to the Buckhead community. Some of the more prominent folks had lovely homes along Peachtree Road. They had deep roots in Buckhead, and of course so did [“Gone with the Wind” author] Margaret Mitchell, and there will be others as well. I do want to try and make that Buckhead connection, but as I said, Oakland was the burial ground for everyone. It didn’t matter if you owned the railroad or rode the railroad or slept under the railroad. They even had a section — the old Slave Square — that later became a paupers’ ground, so we do have an African American section that was segregated, yet it’s still part of the cemetery as a whole. And there are some people buried in that section that I’m sure have some connection to what we know as Buckhead today.
There is a photo of you online sitting in some sort of cart at the cemetery. Can you explain that?
The reason I’m sitting in the cart is that I’m an actor — well, more of a big ham than an actor — and I’m capturing the spirit of Oakland on our Halloween tours that are designed to enlighten. We have characters we’ve researched that come back to life, and we tell our visitors of their place in Atlanta history, and we have these characters standing, or my case sitting, at or about the gravesite. This particular person was known as the Goat Man; his name was William Jasper Franklin. He was one of those characters just hanging around downtown Atlanta who was often found at the courthouse steps selling pencils. He had meningitis as a kid which is why he couldn’t walk, so he used a cart that was hauled around by a goat named Pete. He became somewhat annoying to some of the politicians because they said his goat smelled bad and he was bothering folks, so they banned him from being on the street. He had quite a following.