A Historical tour through Oak City Cemetary

Posted on 11 May 2016

Story by Brandon O’Connor

Photos by  Nichole Buchanan and Brandon O’Connor

DSC_0003As you pass through the iron and brick gate marking the entrance to Oak City Cemetery you are transported back in time. Oak trees overlook the countless graves where for over 160 years the residents of Bainbridge have been laid to rest. Like silent sentries the giant oaks guard the hallowed grounds.

Rich and poor, confederate soldiers and two who fought for the Union, those who lived long lives and children who died too soon, all are laid to rest among the oak trees and along the bank of the Flint River which passes the far left corner.

These grounds were not always a cemetery though. The oaks have overseen a long and storied history before they became the silent sentries over looking the final resting place for hundreds of people.

 There is record that the Lower Creek Indian village of Pucknawitla was once found upon that land. Set outside the historic center of Bainbridge the land saw many uses over the years including space for a ball field, pastureland and a playground. Parts of the property were also used as a track for horse racing through at least 1910.

In early May of 1852, William Peabody, who died at the age of 45, was laid to rest here although the area was not officially designated a cemetery until two years later in 1854.

He has since been joined by a television star, a governor, a professor and countless others including between 400-500 unmarked or unknown graves that either never had markers or where age has worn away the names.

Those where the names and markings remain have abundant symbolism.

Hands carved on the gravestone are said to represent a relationship, urns are said to hold the spirit of the deceased, crosses represents faith and seashells can represent a journey or pilgrimage.

“Shells represent baptism or rebirth, but I also found reference to slaves used shells. Seashells enclosed the soul’s immortal presence,” Rosalyn Palmer said.

Some symbols can also have a more personal meaning such as the statue of an angel that adorns the grave of Sarah Harris who died Nov. 18, 1926, less than a month before her seventh birthday.

The story goes that Sarah was playing under her house with her dolls when an angel, with her face, appeared to her. Sarah then died a few weeks later of blood poisoning so her mother, Mrs. Johnie Harris, placed a statue of an angel atop her grave.

The towering statues that mark the graves of Ellen and Annie Bower tell a more scandalous tale. Ellen Bower, previously Dickinson, was the first wife of Judge Byron Bower. They married in 1871 and had nine children before Ellen died the age of 35 in 1885. A year layer Judge Bower married Ellen’s sister Anne, but it was a short-lived romance, as Anne died less than a year after the wedding.

Now they lie side by side at Oak City Cemetery with similar statues marking their graves. One faces right and the left when seen from the road and the legend says that this was done so that they would not have to spend eternity looking at each other and remembering that Judge Bower had married them both.

In the Jewish section of the cemetery grave markers are frequently written in English on one side and Hebrew on the other and stones are left instead of flowers by family members of the deceased.

Older graves where the person laid to rest was of Irish decent are frequently marked by a Celtic cross.

Some of the family plots are surrounded by a small fence, which was meant to keep evil spirits away from the graves. Among the oldest graves they also served the more practical purpose of keeping away the cows that still used the land to graze.

History abounds upon the grounds of Oak City Cemetery. There is a grave where 13 members of the Hahn family are entombed after being moved from their original rest place near the Methodist Church.

There are Woodman of the World and Free Masons. Seth Babbitt who fought for a union army battalion and J.T. Weston who served with the 8th Kansas infantry of the Union army lie a stone’s through away from Confederate soldiers they may have faced on the battlefield during the Civil War.

Some graves are marked by nothing more than pile of bricks and others have begun to sink into the ground.

As time marches on and the Flint continues to flow past these grounds have become almost full. There is not much room remaining beneath the shade of the towering oaks so the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County have talked about expanding into property they own behind the far right corner. There have also been talks about possibly building a mausoleum.

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