Macon’s history told through its cemeteries

October for many people, is a month marked by the celebration of Halloween, a holiday most often associated with the paranormal. From ghosts to grave settings, festivities range from dressing up for trick-or-treating to seeking out a spooky thrill.
Local residents looking for a new Halloween experience may enjoy a festive jaunt through one of Macon’s 33 cemeteries. The oldest and largest of these is Rose Hill Cemetery, which serves as a historic landmark for the city of Macon.
Beyond initial Halloween excitement, it has extensive history to offer. This city-owned cemetery opened in 1840 and holds 16,000 graves, of which only 7,000 are marked.
Phil Comer, a Mercer graduate in math and chemistry, has dedicated much of his time researching the history of Macon, specifically facts concerning Rose Hill. He shared that, “while we tell people not to walk on graves, you can guarantee that almost anywhere you step is a grave. The cemetery is largely unmarked.”
There are over 1,000 Confederate soldiers buried in Rose Hill, 600 of which are in a section of the cemetery called Soldiers Square, overlooking the Ocmulgee River.
One of these graves belongs to John Burch who was a Mercer graduate. Burch’s death is noted to have been the first fatality of the cold war after he was killed by communists in China.
One of the most popular military graves visited is that of Lieutenant Bobby, a military dog who died after falling down an elevator shaft at the Dempsey Hotel. He was buried with full military honors.
There is another section of the cemetery, called Strangers Row, which was a result of racial and social segregation.
Among the most recognized graves are those of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley of the Allman Brothers Band. Allman, the band’s slide guitarist and Oakley, the bassist, both died during separate motorcycle accidents almost a year apart. The two are buried side by side in Rose Hill.
The cemetery was a favored hangout spot for the band and served as inspiration for their music. The rear cover picture for their first album was taken at the Bond Tomb located in Rose Hill.
Among other popular graves are the oldest marked graves, one of the young wife of a Wesleyan professor and the other of a Wesleyan student who died at 17 years old.
Comer said that by “walking around the tombstones and learning the stories behind them, they tell the whole history of Macon.”
One of the best ways to begin to appreciate the importance and history of the cemetery is to go on a ramble. Rambles are a southern tradition that involve wandering around and exploring a particular area in order to gain a sense of the setting.
The first ramble in Rose Hill to be recorded was led by a man named Richard Clark in the 19th century, who credited a Madison Jones for taking him on a previous ramble. Jones’s grave can be found in Rose Hill.
There are two rambles at Rose Hill each year, one on the Sunday after Easter, and the other on the Sunday before Halloween. The fall ramble is coming up this Sunday, Oct. 28 and will be lead by Phil Comer.
A visit to this historic resting ground is highly encouraged around Halloween time. Even so, Comer reminds visitors to “explore it respectfully, because it is sacred ground.”