New Oakland Cemetery video series starts with Jewish burials

Childhood friends Ann Abrams and Norman Asher step delicately around the ornately decorated marble and granite headstones in a Jewish section of historic Oakland Cemetery.

Some of the huge stones are inscribed in Hebrew; others in English. The graves contain the remains of some of the city’s most prominent residents. There’s the Jacobs crypt, which holds Dr. Joseph Jacobs, owner of Jacobs’ Pharmacy in Atlanta. His pharmacy was the first to serve what would become Coca-Cola in 1886 when a customer asked Dr. John S. Pemberton to mix carbonated water with his tonic.

Not far away is Jacob Elsas, Asher’s great-grandfather who established Cabbagetown’s Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills, which the family owned until 1956.

Abrams and Asher, both Historic Oakland Foundation board members, are part of a new video series at Oakland called “Living Links,” which aims to highlight the stories of some of the 70,000 people buried on its grounds through the voices of their descendants.

“Video is a powerful communication tool,” said David Moore, executive director of the Historic Oakland Foundation. “We believe ‘Living Links’ will help viewers appreciate what a rich history the city of Atlanta has, as told through the descendants of people laid to rest at Oakland. It is critically important to capture these stories, not just for the sake of spreading the word about Oakland, but to preserve our city’s history.”

Through the use of video, people can “dig deeper and learn even more about Oakland’s residents or, for people who cannot visit, ‘Living Links’ makes it possible to experience Oakland from anywhere in the world.”

Pamela Henman, marketing and public relations manager of the Historic Oakland Foundation, estimates the cemetery off Memorial Drive has more than 55,000 visitors annually.

This month, Oakland is highlighting the histories of some of its early Jewish burials. Cemetery officials estimate there are roughly 1,450 Jewish burials. Next month, the spotlight will be on African-Americans buried at Oakland, of which there are an estimated 12,700 individuals.

Abrams, an Atlanta author and retired college instructor, said about 10 of her direct ancestors are buried on the cemetery grounds, including her maternal great-great-grandparents, who emigrated from Germany.

She remembers occasionally going to the city-owned cemetery as a child with her grandmother to visit the graves of their relatives.

She hopes the video series will spread the word about Oakland. “These are some of the earliest citizens of Atlanta who helped shape the city as it is today,” Abrams said. “As an historian, I realize how important that is.”

The launch of the Jewish component of the series was timed to coincide with the opening of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which runs through Feb. 19. The two events are not officially connected.

All “Living Links” videos are produced in partnership with Candler Park-based Mixed Bag Media.

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