Entertaining epitaphs just part of Rose Hill Ramble’s appeal

At the start of Sunday’s Rose Hill Ramble cemetery tour, Candace Oakley met visitors at the cemetery gate with a photo album.

The album contained before-and-after photos of some of the historic stone monuments in the city-owned cemetery. The before photos showed the work of vandals — monuments that had been toppled, broken, or plundered for sculptures. The after photos showed the work of specialists who restored the same monuments with funds from the Historic Rose Hill Cemetery Foundation.

Oakley’s late brother, Allman Brothers Band bass player Berry Oakley, is one of the more famous people buried at Rose Hill. As secretary of the Historic Rose Hill Cemetery Foundation, Oakley is dedicated to preserving the final resting place of her brother and much of Macon’s history.

“It’s not just here, it’s national,” Oakley said of vandalism in cemeteries. “I don’t know why they do it. I don’t get it. I guess they’re just up to no good. They come and pick on the dead because there’s no one protecting them.”

In 1977, the late Calder Payne began giving twice-yearly tours of Rose Hill. The Historic Rose Hill Cemetery Foundation took over the tours when it was founded in 2002. The $5 admission price helps the foundation’s restoration efforts.

Sunday’s tour was led by retired high school history teacher Jim Barfield, who has been leading the tours since 1990. About 100 people spent two hours following Barfield around the northern end of the cemetery as he spun tales from Macon’s past, prompted by names carved in granite and marble.

“I’m so glad you forsook the Masters and the soap box derby and all the other things to do on a beautiful day to come here,” Barfield told the crowd through a microphone connected to a loudspeaker hanging at his waist.

He then proceeded to tell the stories of Macon’s colorful cast of characters, such as:

n Peter James Bracken, engineer of the locomotive Texas, which took part in the unusual Civil War incident known as the Great Locomotive Chase,

n Joseph Bond, a wealthy planter who was killed by an overseer he accused of mistreating his slaves, and

n Elam Alexander, the antebellum architect who left a fortune to benefit public education in Macon.

Barfield also pointed out his favorite epitaph in the cemetery. It can be found on the grave of Dr. J.J. Subers (1838-1916) and reads as follows: “Been here and gone. Had a good time.”

Andy Bradley, who went on the ramble with his wife, Shirley, said he enjoyed it immensely.

“The names you hear about, you get to learn about them,” Bradley said. “It just fleshes out the history. I love the stories, how houses were built, how fortunes were made.”

George Scoville said Sunday’s ramble was the third one he has attended in a row.

“I try to hit ’em all,” he said. “I love history. I’ve got family buried here and I love anything to do with the Civil War. There’s a lot to learn, and unless you come out here, you’ll never know.”

The fall ramble is scheduled, as always, for the Sunday before Halloween. The routes of the rambles change from tour to tour, so there’s always something new to hear about the past.