Ray Mock wasn’t expecting to find 60 graves and counting when he hired a mapping service to check out a 100-year-old gravesite at the Chastain Park golf course.
“I didn’t have any expectations,” he said. But knowing that old maps indicated graves along the eastern side of the course near the intersection of Lake Forrest Drive and Lake Forrest Lane, the Chastain Park Conservancy’s operations manager decided to investigate.
The conservancy hired Len Strozier of Omega Mapping Services to locate and map the graves. Strozier uses ground-penetrating radar to look for linear air pockets some two to four feet down in the ground. The pockets are produced by the graves once all traces of the body have disappeared.
“That’s an air pocket,” Strozier said one recent afternoon, pointing to the screen on his machine, which displayed groups of lines.
Passers-by are caught by surprise, as there are no markers on the graves. “I’ve had walkers and joggers stop by all morning long, and when I tell them what I’m doing, first of all they’re mystified and then they’re grateful,” Strozier said. “Millions of golfers have come by oblivious that there’s a cemetery. I’m proud of the conservancy for wanting to put it back on the map and honor the ground.”
Mock said the graves likely belong to residents of former almshouses at Chastain Park, buildings now used for The Galloway School and the Chastain Arts Center. The residents were indigent citizens of Fulton County who, instead of receiving welfare, were put up in the buildings, constructed in the early 1900s and in operation until the 1960s.
Like the houses – the Galloway site housed white people and the arts center site housed black people – the graveyards made during that time were likely segregated, Strozier said.
Pointing to a gap between two sets of graves, Strozier said the space was once a road that may have separated the gravesites based on race. He said that based on practices at the time, whites were probably put in the eastern-most grouping of graves so they would be closer to the front of the line when Jesus returned in the eastern sky.
“This is an assumption, but I’ve found it to be true in a lot of the cemeteries I’ve done. It was just part of the culture,” Strozier said.
Still, that may not be what happened. With help from the Buckhead Heritage Society, four death certificates for almshouse residents were found – three for black residents and one for a white resident.
Mock said that the death certificate for the white person indicated burial at the “almshouse cemetery,” but the bodies of the three black people were donated to science. “That furthers the mystery. Were all the black people ‘donated to science’ and white people buried here?”
Mock said he hopes to mark the site. He suggested perhaps a plaque or sign, or even a field of wildflowers.
Mock says the project falls in line with the nonprofit group’s mission of maintaining and preserving the park, and that it still needs to raise money to complete the project.
“We want to put a report together for posterity,” he said. “We want to recognize our history.”
In the video below, Len Strozier of Omega Mapping Services explains how he is identifying the graves at Chastain Park.