Communique: Oakdale Cemetery Offers An Afternoon of "Music and Mausoleums"

Sep 13, 2017

The community is invited to Oakdale Cemetery this Sunday - not to become a resident - but to discover and experience the architecture in a whole new way with the Music and Mausoleums Tour. Hear details of this strangely romantic afternoon from Ed Turberg and Julie Rehder above and find an extended transcript of the interview below.

The tour is at 2:00pm on Sunday, September 17 and will be led by architectural historian, Ed Turberg. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the tour; call for more information 910-762-5682.

Musicians: Lt. Tom Tilman, Lynne Boney, Susan Savia, Sallie Dunn, Mary Ruth Marshall,  Bob Kneale, Alexandra Bermel

Mausoleums: H. Louis Vollers, Pembroke Jones, Kenan family, Isaac Bear, Dr. R. S. Moran, Henry Y. Heyer, Joyner, Thomas Wright 

Julie: I'm on the board of Oakdale Cemetery. We have to make sure that everything is running properly and that we're handling everything. We make sure the burials are done properly and that we're following the regulations for the cemeteries.

Gina: Can people still be buried there?

Julie: Absolutely! 1855 was the first burial. There are still plots in some of the old sections and then there's a whole new section that's just beautiful. It's almost like having gardens within gardens. My relatives back three generations are there. And it's not just a cemetery, it's a public garden and it is a place of reflection. It's a place for exercise. We hope people will use it to see some of the best botanical garden in the community.

Gina: And Julie, what is your role with the board?

Julie: You get on the governing board for life. I have a deep and abiding love for the area. It used to be a place that my parents would take us to on Sunday afternoons after church. And my parents had a tradition during Christmas. They owned greenhouses and they would always save the largest and most beautiful poinsettia and on Christmas Eve night they would disappear for a little while and go out to the cemetery and find the most decrepit looking grave and adorn it with the most beautiful poinsettia that my father had grown.

Ed: The whole idea of the cemetery was that it was considered unsanitary to have burials downtown. So in 1852, Oakdale Cemetery was organized and it was open for the first burials in 1855. They chose the site because it's surrounded by Burnt Mill Creek and it is hilly. The idea was to get people to go out in the country. Families could have a picnic, they could walk around and enjoy the flowers when they were blooming and it was a whole new idea because Wilmington never had a Central Park.

One of the things I do as an architectural historian is I do the research on historic houses. You know the plaques that are up on the houses? I do that research. I tell people, If you're not related to anybody here but you bought a historic house, you have now purchased these ancestors. Go to Oakdale Cemetery and find the grave site and visit it. Bring flowers, have a picnic there. It's now part of you and you're part of it.

Julie Rehder and Ed Turberg
Credit WHQR/gg

Gina: This is the Music and Mausoleums Tour. And you're going to visit different mausoleums.

Ed: Eight mausoleums. We are all going to meet at two o'clock at the gates on 15th Street and I'm going to give a little introduction. We're going to have a bagpiper play us down the path to the first stop. It's a beautiful mausoleum but it's different from all the others in that, instead of being a square box it's a rectangle. So you get this wonderful expanse and then when you look through the glass doors you see a stained glass window with an angel in it. And that just rivets people when they see that.

Julie: At that location we will have a harpist playing. So what better place than a cemetery to have a harpist and angels?

Ed: And then from there we go to a beautiful Georgian mausoleum right on a hill. It's right near Henry Bacon's grave. Henry Bacon was the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. And from there we go down the hill to the Kenan mausoleum. They came down from Kenansville in Duplin County and in 1921, the family wanted to do something for the residents of Wilmington as a thank you, so they had the fountain designed and built at the corner of 5th and Market streets.

Then we go to the Myer-Behr monument which is a huge granite mausoleum, typical of what you would think mausoleums would look like. From there we go to the Moran mausoleum which is the oldest of the mausoleums. We go from Moran's mausoleum built in 1892 to the Joyner mausoleum from 1932. The Joyner mausoleum has recently been restored and it is absolutely gorgeous. And then finally, the eighth one is the Wright mausoleum. So a lot of important people, a lot of good architecture, and a lot of good music.

Gina: Will there be music all the way through the tour?

Julie: There will be. We've been able to recruit some fabulous volunteers that many people know in the community. So we start out with Tom Tillman on the bagpipe for the march. We go all the way through to having Lynne Boney on harp. Then we're going to have a flutist, Sally Dunn, and wonderful music from Susan Savia. Our final stop is a new group in town called Coastal Blend, and they will be singing songs of the 1920s and 30s. 

Ed: The part about the mausoleums is an architectural presentation and I think the nice complement to that is the informality of the musicians. It's as if you're walking by and all of a sudden music is in the air.

Gina: What exactly is the definition of a mausoleum?

Ed: A mausoleum is a burial place. The idea was to have a burial above ground in a place that was architecturally significant or reflected the culture of that particular area. And that's why here, in Wilmington, you've got a Georgian style, you've got a Romanesque style, these are references back to the roots of these people.

One item I ran into just this morning was, I was reading through a book on architectural history of Wilmington and I came across a quote from the Wilmington Star News of September 17th 1880 where the writer said there are too few people in Wilmington who even know there's an Oakdale Cemetery and that it was designed for the people of Wilmington to walk through and enjoy. The author hoped that people would read this and take advantage of going and seeing that beautiful place. That was written on September 17, 1880. We're having the tour on September 17, 2017.

Julie: And if people haven't seen lately what Oakdale looks like, we've had some recent restoration that's beautiful. A lot of the monuments have been cleaned and it looks spectacular. You would think on a hot day that you would be out there perspiring and not feeling very comfortable but it is covered in trees and there's beautiful foliage around to keep it shady. So come out, enjoy the music and the beautiful architecture, but just enjoy seeing a few things about family members that you've never seen before, or other community leaders like the Murchison's and the Wright's and the Joyner's.

Gina: A lot of people are spooked by cemeteries, right?

Julie: They are. But I think there's an unreasonable fear about coming out. I think if anyone takes a little bit of a walk through with some friends, you can really relax and it's almost like a meditative experience to walk through. And I believe we do have a peacock out there, don't we?

Ed: Yes. Blueberry is a male peacock and he mostly stays in Pine Forest Cemetery, which is the adjacent cemetery to Oakdale. But there's a lot to see and do. There are birdwatchers, people with a camera club, people with horticultural interest who all go and take their own groups or arrange to have somebody take them through the cemetery. There's all kinds of things you can do.

Julie: And there are some areas with QR codes on the grave sites so you can take your smartphone out and find out a little bit of the history about Rose Green Howe and some of the other people in this community that made a substantial contribution.

Ed: A mausoleum is generally an above the ground, enclosed space for one or more people and a lot of cemeteries like Greenfield Memorial Park have drawers where the caskets are put in.

Julie: There's something very special about the dirt and walking along the hills. Most people don't understand that the topography of Oakdale is incredible. You really are walking up hills and overseeing huge areas with gorgeous live oak trees and beautiful azaleas. Plants that family members have put in there over the years on what used to be called Decoration Day. People used to take the whole family out on a Sunday afternoon and sit there, have a picnic, and visit with other family members in the community that would come out. So we want to start that tradition again. 

Transcript Assistance by PopUpArchive and Production Assistant Lindsay Wright.