Dark Tourism: Eight Must-Visit Cemeteries in the American South

By Todd Neikirk
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Dark Tourism: Eight Must-Visit Cemeteries in the American South

Todd Neikirk
 
Photo Credit: mali maeder / Pexels
Photo Credit: mali maeder / Pexels
 
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The American South is one of the oldest continually settled areas in the United States. As a result, the region is rife with history. It contains the graves of Union and Confederate Army soldiers, as well as a number of well-known historical figures.

Here are some of the most visited cemeteries in the American South.

Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia

View of a grave at Bonaventure Cemetery
Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia is known for its stunning beauty. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia served as a private cemetery until it was sold to the city and made a public burial site. The grounds are known for their oak trees and sprawling beauty, so much so that it was featured in John Berendt’s novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and its film adaption.

Notable individuals buried at Bonaventure Cemetery include novelist Conrad Aiken; Confederate Gen. Hugh W. Mercer; and Edward Telfair, the first governor of Georgia.

Hendersonville Memory Gardens – Hendersonville, Tennessee

Statue of Jesus standing over cemetery plots at Hendersonville Memory Gardens
Johnny Cash and June Carter are buried at Hendersonville Memorial Gardens. (Photo Credit: Thomas R Machnitzki / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)

Hendersonville Memory Gardens is a Tennessee cemetery located just a few miles from the city of Nashville. The location is most famous for being the burial place for country music star Johnny Cash, but he isn’t the only famous musician to have been laid to rest there.

Cash’s wife, June Carter, and members of her family are also interred there, in addition to Merle Kilgore, Sheb Wooley and Luther Perkins.

Oakland Cemetery – Atlanta, Georgia

Austell Family Mausoleum surrounded by gravestones
The Austell Family Mausoleum is one of many gravesites in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia is one of the oldest continually-operating graveyards in the American South. There are sections for those of the Jewish faith, African-Americans and Confederate soldiers. There is also a potter’s field occupied by nearly 17,000 deceased individuals.

The tourist destination is also the final resting place of a number of celebrities. Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell is interred there, as is golfer Bobby Jones. Country music icon Kenny Rogers was laid to rest in Oakland following his death in 2020.

Graceland – Memphis, Tennessee

View of gravestones wrapped around a water fountain
The graves of Elvis Presley and his close family members are located on the grounds of Graceland. (Photo Credit: Bill Nation / Sygma / Getty Images)

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, was originally interred in Forest Hills Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. However, following the attempts by some to steal his body from the mausoleum, his body was moved to Graceland.

Members of Presley’s immediate family are also buried at the music superstar’s former residence. Those who visit and purchase a ticket to tour the grounds will get to see the area where he’s buried.

Andersonville National Cemetery – Andersonville, Georgia

Rows of gravestones at Andersonville National Cemetery
Andersonville Prison was notoriously cramped and inmates were seldom fed. (Photo Credit: Bubba73 / Jud McCranie / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

War is hell, and this was especially true during the American Civil War. Taking soldiers prisoner was commonplace, and many of those captured by the Confederate Army were sent to Georgia’s Andersonville Prison. By the middle of the war, the Confederacy was having difficulty feeding troops, meaning those held at Andersonville barely received food, leading to disease and death.

Of the 45,000 imprisoned there, 13,000 died. As they perished, the prisoners were hastily buried in mass graves. After decades, the prison was made a national cemetery and 13,174 graves were lain on the site, 921 of which were left unmarked, as the identity of the soldiers were unknown.

Each year, Andersonville National Cemetery draws around 80,000 visitors.

Rose Hill Cemetery – Macon, Georgia

Two graves in tall grass
Classic rock legends Duane Allman and Berry Oakley are buried at Rose Hill Cemetery. (Image Credit: Bubba73 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rose Hill Cemetery has been around since 1840 and, as a result, features the resting places of such historical figures as John Birch and Confederate Gen. Philip Cook.

The real attraction, however, of Rose Hill Cemetery is the amount of music superstars who are buried there. Among those with gravesites are Duane and Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band, Butch Trucks and Berry Oakley. As such, the cemetery has become a common pilgrimage site for fans of Southern rock.

Metairie Cemetery – New Orleans, Louisiana

Statues of a young boy and girl standing before a stone vase
A monument stands at the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. (Photo Credit: Infrogmation / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.5)

While there is a town in Louisiana called Metairie, Metairie Cemetery is actually located within the New Orleans city limits. The burial ground was built on the former site of a race track and is known for both its ornate monuments and the famous people buried there.

Like with many Louisiana cemeteries, the bodies are buried above ground. Well-known individuals who have been laid to rest there include Civil War Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and novelist Anne Rice.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – New Orleans, Louisiana

Two above ground graves
Many important figures are buried at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. (Photo Credit: Charles Talen / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Constructed in 1789, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans is one of the oldest in the country. Important historical figures like Bernard de Marigny, Barthelemy Lafon and Benjamin Latrobe are buried there. Nicolas Cage will also be laid to rest there when he passes.

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The main attraction of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is iconic voodoo figure, Marie Laveau. The majority of visitors who come to the cemetery do so to see Laveau, and the location’s popularity is such that those wishing to explore it must now pay an admission fee.

 
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