New Photos! from Zoo Atlanta (and a bit of zoo history)

For the past several weekends, I’ve spent my Saturday or Sunday afternoons at Zoo Atlanta, which is located a few blocks from my home in Grant Park. As usual, I took a large number of photographs, ending out with nearly a thousand that I culled to a few hundred then uploaded some of my favorites to Flickr.

I learned a little about the history of the zoo while working on my Oakland Cemetery research, and discovered that Zoo Atlanta was one of many American zoos founded during the American Victorian era.  Following the Europeans — for whom, as A. N. Wilson describes in The Victorians, zoos were a cultural and scientific fascination — Americans also located their zoos in or near Victorian garden parks that became so prevalent in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

According to Franklin M. Garrett’s Atlanta And Environs: A Chronicle of it’s People and Events, Zoo Atlanta came to be after an Atlanta lumberman, George Gress, purchased some animals at auction from a defunct circus in 1889. Gress offered the animals to the city of Atlanta, a “costly collection of wild animals” consisting of “one hyena, two African lionesses, two silver lions, one black bear, two wildcats, one jaguar, one gazelle, one coon, one elk, one Mexican hog, two deer, one camel, one dromedary, two monkeys, [and] two serpents.”

Garrett describes the early decades of the zoo as “not particularly distinguished” until 1935 — when Asa G. Candler, Jr. “made a tender to the city of his valuable private collection … of wild animals and birds which he housed in specially built cages and quarters on his Briarcliff Road estate.”  Zoo Atlanta’s history page describes this incident also, and both Garrett and the Zoo explain how the Candler’s donation resolved the imaginable (or unimaginable!) problem of neighborhood complaints about the noise and smells from the philanthropist’s collection, as well as the dilemma of the occasional escaping baboon. The transfer of nearly 100 birds and 84 other animals from Candler’s estate to Grant Park nearly doubled the size of the zoo, ushering in one of it’s periods of great popularity as a city attraction.

This early history — especially the connection between the birth of Zoo Atlanta and the American Victorian period — is certainly one of the reasons why I think it would have been an tragedy if the zoo had been relocated out of Grant Park, something that was being considered in 2007. A great part of the significance of Zoo Atlanta is its history, and what we would certainly consider today as an unusual physical space: the presence of a sizeable zoo in the middle of a city, surrounded by a massive park, next to the Atlanta Cyclorama, and nestled among the Victorian homes of the Grant Park neighborhood. While I’m sure the relocated zoo would have ultimately been spectacular, it could never have been like Zoo Atlanta, and the connection between the place and its history would have been forever lost. We should not be so willing to dissolve the bonds between the physical spaces we treasure, and the community and its history.

Now, to a few of the pictures….

The adult gorillas always strike me as so serious and intelligent looking. I swear, if the look in my eyes is ever as thoughtful as this gorilla, I’d be impressed with myself. This is my favorite shot of the gorilla; click the picture (and any of the pictures below) for a larger view.

The orangutans, on the other hand, alternate constantly among so many different expressions. I’m convinced that this one must have just pulled a prank on one of the others, and as you watch them play and interact with each other, you can’t help but notice the obvious relationships among them, and those relationships are seldom subtle and almost never deferential. The rest of the gorilla and orangutan pictures that I took on my three outings are here.

This was the first time in my recent frequent trips to the zoo that I’d seen the giraffes. I loved taking their pictures. I felt fortunate to get this shot, with this sort of composition, that I like to call “three-headed giraffe.” It’s three separate giraffes (of course!) but the flattening effect of the photo does make you look twice, doesn’t it? The other giraffe pictures are here.

It was a lazy day for the lemurs; it’s actually a little tough to get a shot like this, since they’re usually either tucked away in some corner of their space, or racing up and down the tree trunks and branches, or out of site in the lower sections of the exhibit.

I watched this pair of sleeping lemurs for a long time … half an hour or more maybe … and snapped several shots like this. What a great way to take a nap!

Meerkats are relatively new to the zoo, and they’re very photogenic. Well, that’s probably not that important — to the meerkats anyway — but they are fascinating to watch; and like the otters and lemurs, they’re constantly busy (at least when they’re not sleeping) and as you watch for a while, you can’t help but begin to notice how they relate to and interact with each other. The rest of the otter and meerkat pictures are here.

I don’t know what kind of birds these are (I call them toucans, yet I doubt that’s what they are), but the iridescent dark blue is amazing. My pictures from the outdoor aviary, along with some pictures of flamingos, are here.

Does this remind you of anyone? I hope not!

A better view, here:

The rest of the elephant pictures, with a few of some color-coordinated rhinos, are here.

No zoo would be complete without a goodly bunch of animals that make lots of people squirm, and Zoo Atlanta’s reptile house is no exception. This is one of my favorite shots, in terms of color, intensity, and overall squirminess. The rest of the reptile shots are here.

My recent extended visits have given me a new appreciation of the zoo, and have increased my curiosity about the history of zoos and their cultural significance. Here are links to two books on zoos and their history, and one on our relationship with animals and nature, about to become part of my library:

Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West by Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier

Animal Attractions: Nature on Display in American Zoos by Elizabeth Hanson

Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, edited by William Cronon

More on the books when I read them. Thanks for stopping by; I hope you enjoyed this article and my photos from the Zoo!


Exploring Place: Oakland Cemetery, Part One

My Exploring Place: History class wrapped up at the end of December, and I’ve started sketching out a series of articles about my research on Oakland Cemetery. You can read my first two articles, written during the early days of the class when I had just started exploring the Cemetery, here. I have to say that when I originally decided that Oakland would be my research topic for the class, I really had no idea how I’d go about the research and writing. By the time I was about five or six weeks into it, however, it seemed like the opposite had occurred: it became a real challenge to pare things down to reasonable levels for the class, because my exploration took on a pretty complicated life of its own, leading me in all sorts of unexpected directions.

I ended out writing three research papers (in addition to a proposal) on the Cemetery, and one final paper where I explained how the theoretical ideas embodied in our course reading assignments guided me and affected my research and writing. I considered posting the papers in their entirety here, but have decided against it — opting instead to excerpt or adapt them for the more conversational tone of a weblog. I also still have a large number of photographs from two final visits there — that I haven’t reviewed yet or posted anywhere — photographs taken when my research pointed me to something specific about the Cemetery that I wanted to capture in images. In many cases, the photographs related to the stories of particular people or events, so I’ll include them here as I write about those particulars. I thought I would break ground, however, by describing some of the resources I used to complement the tours and events I attended, and my frequent photo-walking trips to the Cemetery itself.

The background for the class came from Robert Archibald’s A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community. Archibald uses a visit to his hometown to begin his thoughtful analysis of the relationships among place, history, and memory, and he explains how our thinking about these things intersects with our ideas about the kinds of cultural and social structures we build into (or fail to build into) our communities. He expands from there into discussions about the roles of public and academic historians in the community, advocating for an approach that combines social and cultural activism with the work of the historian. His ideas about historians engaging with their communities and involving themselves in decisions about such things as urban design and the use of public spaces struck me as a very unique perspective — something I, at least, had not previously encountered. Archibald has a lot to say about why we study history, and I’ll write a good bit more about his book shortly.

About ten years ago, maybe longer, I bought Franklin Garrett’s Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of its People and Events, a two-volume history of Atlanta that, I’ve heard, Garrett started by creating a necrology of everyone buried at Oakland Cemetery.  I had never read these books before, but ended out using them constantly throughout the project. You can read a little more about Garrett here. Garrett’s coverage of Oakland Cemetery in the two volumes is extensive; his profiles of the people of Atlanta often conclude with a statement that they’re buried at Oakland — and Garrett, too, is buried at Oakland, under a prominent headstone near the entrance to the cemetery in a plot that he shares with his wife.

There were two books that I turned to repeatedly throughout the project, that I initially used to develop an understanding of Oakland’s physical and geographic characteristics: Historic Oakland Cemetery by Tevi Taliaferro and The Historic Oakland Cemetery of Atlanta: Speaking Stones by Cathy Kaemmerlen. Both books discuss the history of the Cemetery and some of the notable people buried there, with Kaemmerlen’s book exploring the stories of some of those people in greater detail. I had the good fortune of meeting Kaemmerlen at Oakland’s Sunday in the Park Victorian Festival in October, where she engaged audiences with storytelling then signed copies of her book afterward. You can read more about Kaemmerlen at her Tattling Tales website, here.

It was from Kaemmerlen’s book that I learned that Oakland was among numerous American cemeteries that could be classified as Victorian Garden Cemeteries, created during the American Victorian era and embodying that period’s unique architectural, symbolic, and metaphorical characteristics, as well as Victorian ideas about the relationship between life and death. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts (founded in 1831) was the first such cemetery. You can read more about the history of Mount Auburn here, and see some photos (where the similarities to Oakland are very apparent) here.

I used Thomas J. Schlereth’s Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 to help me get a better grasp on how Victorian beliefs were reflected in cemeteries like Oakland. Schlereth’s book is one of the best I’ve read about Victorian America, covering everything from the details of ordinary daily life through Victorian anxieties about modern culture through, of course, how the Victorians embraced a unique and new approach to memorializing those who passed away through elaborate funeral processions and cemetery architecture.

My exposure to some of the stories of Oakland started with Kaemmerlen then continued with the masterful book about the Leo Frank case by Steve Oney, And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank. From Oney’s book, I excerpted his evocative description of the  surreptitious Oakland burial of the ashes of Frank’s wife Lucy by her nephews in 1946, six years after she died and six months after one of her nephews had been given ashes — the long time period between her death and the secret burial of her ashes stemming from the controversy over the case and the strong current of anti-Jewish sentiment that existed in Atlanta in the 1940s. Lucy’s ashes were buried between the headstones of her parents (Emil and Josephine) with no marker — though, as Kaemmerlen notes, someone has placed a small porcelain angel marking the location of the ashes.

That small angel, between the tall gray headstones, is one of the Oakland images that will stick with me forever.

You can read more about Mary Phagan’s murder — it occurred on Confederate Memorial Day (which used to be celebrated on April 26) in 1913 — and some details about the Frank case here. I’ll come back to it in a later article also; I’m still reading Oney’s book and hope to finish it before I attend an exhibition about the case at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in February.

The final topic that I began to examine in the first research paper had to do with memory and memorializing — specifically, southern memorializing of the Confederacy in the post-Civil War period. To ground me in some of the theory about southern identity and southern memory, I read The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory by W. Fitzhugh Brundage. Brundage does an excellent job describing southern identity in its cultural and social contexts, and his explanation of the role of women in trying to rebuild southern identity through memorials at places like Oakland was especially useful.

Hmmmmmm… I had intended to describe nearly all the resources I used in this single article, but it seems to be getting waaaaaayy too long. Since the second and third papers — where I looked at the history of Oakland’s neighborhood and how the Cemetery reflected race and class issues — brought me into contact with a very large number of books, articles, and web sites … I think I’ll clip this post here and pick up where I left off later in the week.

Thanks for reading!


New Photos! Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery

A collection of photos of Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery that I’ve taken over the past few weeks is here:

Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery

I’ve organized the photos into loosely-related sets by some unidentifiable criteria for now. Eventually I’ll expand the sets and separate the photos by cemetery section; but I have to take quite a few more first. My earlier article is here, and many thanks to those who stopped by to read it and to those who’ve left comments.

I also updated the sidebar with links to slideshows, by set.

The cemetery was on someone else’s mind this week also. Take a look at this fine article — Living Among the Dead — at Georgia On My Mind.

Bye for now!


Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery: Preview of an Obsession

I’m going to be studying Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery for my Exploring Place: History class. I had planned to do something similar for a couple of my past classes, but ended out choosing other topics that at the time were more in tune with the course material. Now, however, with the class focused on the significance of a historical or community place, research on Oakland was an excellent fit. I’ll be doing a three-part paper, with one part focusing on the cemetery’s history, one part discussing the cemetery’s art, symbolism, and architecture, and one part assessing the meaning of the its role as a significant place in the community.

Until two weekends ago — despite living less than a mile away from the cemetery for just about three years — I had not been on the property, and had only once or twice peeked over the brick walls that surround the entire 48 acres.

The walls themselves are about five feet high, higher in some places or at least so constructed to contour with hills on the property that they seem higher. As soon as you pass through the gate, you can’t help but get the feeling — as the streets, cars, and pedestrians all disappear from view — that you’ve left your whole world outside. And despite the freight trains just beyond the walls, and the occasional Marta train passing through the air nearby, silence follows you in.

As you walk forward, you pass a guardhouse  (I should get a picture of that), and you’re usually greeted if not by a person then at least by the muffled sounds of a radio transmission: a baseball game or a bit of music. You imagine, even though you don’t see it, that it’s an old radio, one of the first ones ever made, and you somehow know exactly what it looks like. By the time you walk a few more feet to the Welcome to Oakland sign, you’re very nearly disoriented: there’s something slightly disconcerting about passing dozens of headstones and a few mausoleums then coming in contact with a welcome sign. Yet that’s one of the most fascinating things about being there: the slightly edgy sense that you’re disconnected from the place as you visit it, and the sense that memory, history, architecture, art, beauty, sadness, and grief are all juxtaposed there — and that once you see it, you can’t possibly forget what you’ve seen.

I really had no idea what to expect, and that’s  what has hit me from attending just one guided tour and from my three solitary visits to take pictures: I had no idea what to expect. I’m not sure I know what else to expect, either; which, in case you haven’t figured it out, is my reason for writing this piece.

On my very first visit there, I paid for my spot on the tour, then sat outside the visitor center, since I was a few minutes early. I turned my head to the left….

… and I suspect that for the rest of my life, this image will coincide with the word “gray” whenever I see it, say it, hear it, or write it. Who is this “Gray” who’s buried beneath this stone’s frozen grief? I have no idea; but believe me, by the time I’m done, I’ll know.

The tour guide took us through nearly the entire property; I had thought it might take an hour or so, but took well over two. By the time we were finished, I had a pretty good sense of the layout of the grounds and about the key historical figures who are buried or entombed there, and left with at least a smattering of knowledge about how the the cemetery fit into Atlanta’s history. The rest of my research will take place around a half-dozen more tours, each of which focuses on one aspect of the cemetery and its history, or on its architecture and symbolism.

It’s hard to imagine what I’ll think of this place by the time I’m done. There’s so much more than any one thing to think about that it’s almost overwhelming, and I feel like I’ll become (if I’ve not already become) immersed in it and obsessed with it. It has objective significance as a place of history; it has subjective significance as a place of emotion and memory. It’s crowded and hard to navigate in some areas; in others — like where 17,000 unidentified people are buried in an area called Potter’s field — the space is so wide and open it leaves you breathless. The sights and scenes are sometimes difficult to photograph, yet at the same time thrilling to photograph — as you watch how the magnolias and oaks, green lawns, stone, and light all interact, changing by the second, becoming especially beautiful as the sun sets and evening folds in. It’s life and death, moving and still.

There’s so much to see, so much to contemplate and wonder about. I still have tons yet to learn, and of course in addition to the tours I have a foot-high stack of books and articles to wade through. So for now, I can only write from what I feel about it, from my reaction to what I’ve seen so far, and from the images I’ve accumulated with my camera and inside my head.

As you might expect from a cemetery in the South, there are monuments to the Civil War, Confederate soldiers, and the Confederacy, such as this one:

And there’s this one, the “Lion of Atlanta” that memorializes the thousands of unknown southern soldiers — and parts of soldiers — buried in one section of the cemetery:

But there are also angels:

and fairies:

and rabbits:

and “castles”:

and sights very beautiful:

and sights that are almost too difficult to contemplate or see…

… all reminding you that — after all — it’s a cemetery … where the living and the dead, where the present and the past, where our love of life and our acceptance of how short it is … all, somehow, converge.