By Leighton Akins
Macon Community News
At the top of the hill above Riverside Drive’s Whittle Park, an imposing gateway stands tall as it guards the entrance of what is arguably the most fascinating and hauntingly beautiful cemetery in Macon. The dark lettering above the central arch spells out ‘Rose Hill Cemetery 1840,’ and it is striking against the white paint of the brick archway. Two smaller arches flank the largest one impressively.
Though you could attempt to navigate your car through the narrow roads that snake through the cemetery, there is no better way to experience the stately monuments than to walk among them.
Upon stepping through the arches at the main gate, you are immediately faced with the decision of traveling one of three separate roads. Going straight will take you down a broad street that serves as the most direct route for getting to the views of the Ocmulgee River. Regrettably, the river is no longer accessible from Rose Hill Cemetery due to the construction of railroad tracks in 1879.
Taking a left, the path will guide you down a hill and through a maze of long-standing monuments towards the cemetery’s newest section; however, taking a right will lead you to an area of the cemetery steeped in history. Therein lies the St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, Temple Beth Israel Cemetery, Rose Hill’s Confederate Cemetery, and the graves of Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, and Berry Oakley (three of the original band members of the Allman Brothers Band).
Although the graves of the Allman Brothers Band members may be the most popular attraction for tourists visiting the cemetery, they are far from the only notable graves within this labyrinth of memorials. Rose Hill is also the eternal resting place for three Georgia governors, multiple U.S. Congressmen and Senators, several military generals, a poet, the founder of the first secret society established at a women’s college, and a former governor of Puerto Rico.
At the northern-most point of Rose Hill Cemetery, overlooking the Ocmulgee River stands the magnificent monument of a 19th-century plantation owner and slaveholder known by the name of Joseph Bond. Records left by those who knew him paint a picture of a man who was both loved and feared by those who worked for him and knew him.
Though impossible to confirm, Joseph Bond is rumored to have been a vampire. It is thought by many that the large stone angel atop the Bond memorial at one time held a stake. The story was that if Joseph Bond were to ever rise from his earthly grave, the angel would spring to life and stake him through the heart; however, the hand that is rumored to have held the stake has long been broken off and lost. Unimaginatively, the only way to “wake the vampire” is to spill the blood of a virgin upon the tomb (DO NOT TRY THIS! We don’t want to find out if the rumors are true.)
Nevertheless, the Bond memorial is likely one of the most memorable throughout the cemetery due to its grandeur, serenity, and sweeping views of the Ocmulgee River. Among the other distinctive features of the Bond memorial, there is a stairway that leads down to the location where the Allman Brothers Band took the photo featured on their first album cover.
When Joseph Bond’s monument was erected in 1859, Rose Hill Cemetery was vastly different than today. The land provided a gathering space for the living and the dead. At that time, the cemetery provided access to the Ocmulgee River. It was densely wooded and contained a pond that was fed by one of the natural springs within the cemetery. There were also many picnic tables, park benches, and footpaths where 19th century Maconites could escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy an afternoon spent in nature.
Today, while Rose Hill Cemetery lacks many of the original park-like amenities, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and impressive cemeteries in the entire state, whose majesty and history is unparalleled throughout Middle Georgia.