Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Do Good Campaign Update: Oakland Cemetery Revival

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2013 at 4:09 PM

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  • Sara Henderson/Historic Oakland Foundation
Three months after the launch of Creative Loafing's Do Good Campaign, Oakland Cemetery visitors can now enjoy a bit more green in the greenspace known as South Public, a gathering area that had been ravaged by the 2008 tornado that touched down in Grant Park and nearby neighborhoods.

Thanks to 1,000 hours of volunteer work, a CL-hosted online fundraiser, and a $2,500 matching donation from the Home Depot Foundation, the seating areas, headstones, and other memorials are now surrounded by newly planted grass, shrubs, trees, flowers, and marked by tidy walking paths - all in keeping with the original Victorian design of the city park and sanctuary.

Minutes before last weekend's Tunes From the Tombs event started, around two dozen volunteers patted down the last sod patches and hauled off wheelbarrows full of well-worn tools to the cemetery garden shed. Later on Saturday afternoon, when CL met up with the cemetery's landscape manager, Sara Henderson, families and some children were already making good use of the restored space, taking photos of flowers and markers, sitting on donated benches, and running in the grass or sitting in shady spots under trees.

On Sunday, Henderson sent out a thank-you note to all her volunteers, saying in part:

Four months ago this area was unattractive with the scars from the loss of its major tree still dominating the entrance. The ground was muddy as it had no grass due to the shady environment the tree had created. The shade plants that survived looked tired as they tried to hold on in a now sunny location. It was generally uninviting and visitors rarely used it. We had a vision of this space opened up and planted to be inviting to visitors. Your help made this happen, and I, and the Historic Oakland Foundation, are very appreciative.

One of my personal goals for this area was a place to welcome families in an inviting space that was safe from traffic. Today's families have precious few spaces like this and the growth of the surrounding neighborhoods mean there are many young families nearby. There are playgrounds and open areas for older children but my goal was an area for babies, toddlers and preschool age children where they could roll on healthy grass, touch flowers and grow up valuing the joy found in our natural world.

Well folks, you did it. ... What an amazing transformation!

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  • Sara Henderson/Historic Oakland Foundation
"South Public is part of the original six-acre cemetery that was founded in 1850," Henderson said when asked about the space. "This, and its location just inside the gates, makes it a very visible and important part of our story."

As for her hopes about how the the space will be used by the public, she added: "Our goal for South Public is for it to become a welcoming area where visitors can gather or relax in a restful and beautiful setting. This could include such diverse activities as a group of art students sketching the flowers, an out-of-town family having a picnic lunch after a tour, or a mother enjoying a safe place to bring her toddler away from traffic. It could also serve our families as a place to gather before or after an interment."

Although work on the project was completed last week, Henderson notes, "a garden is never complete." More perennials and bulbs will be added to borders in the fall and there will be other ongoing enhancements. To that end, she suggests CL readers check the Oakland Cemetery website for details on Second Saturday garden volunteering.

We can vouch for it being a sweaty-but-satisfying experience. It'll do you good.

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  • Sara Henderson/Historic Oakland Foundation

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