Oak Hill Cemetery in my hometown of Birmingham, AL was a major influence in my life, contributing greatly towards my becoming a taphophile.
I have always had an interest in cemeteries and graveyards, particularly with the art work we see in the tombstones.
I have always held a passion for cemeteries, as far back as I can remember. Even as a child, we would pass by Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham to go to the Fair in October. The Autumn sun sinking behind the tombstones intrigued me.
Oak Hill, located on the North side of Birmingham, is Birmingham’s oldest cemetery, and in full use as burial ground by 1869. For many years, it was the finest, most prominent cemetery, with many of Birmingham’s founders buried here. One of the most colorful people buried at Oak Hill is Louise Wooster (1842-1913), also known as Lou. Ms. Wooster was a Madam in Birmingham, and ran a very successful brothel. However, in 1873, Birmingham experienced a cholera breakout. While many fled the city, Lou remained and helped to tend the sick and dying, and helped to arrange funerals for those who passed away. Lou had been a very well paid Madam, but once the epidemic had ended, most of her clients had either died or left town, and she moved down to Montgomery to start a brothel in the state’s capital. Eventually, she did find her way back to Birmingham and opened more successful brothels near City Hall. She is merely one of many who make up the history of Birmingham……..and Oak Hill is her final home.
The artwork seen in the tombstones of Oak Hill is also very typical of Victorian Era tombstones. The artwork seen in the sculptures were the very first thing that I ever noticed in this, and other cemeteries. It is this artwork that set the groundwork in motion for me to become a taphophile. I began taking photographs of Oak Hill, then Elmwood. Later, upon transferring to Savannah, GA, I naturally had to find Bonaventure – the cemetery made famous by The Book, and subsequently The Movie: “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” My portfolio of photographs of Bonaventure is a huge one.
Along the way, I began to contemplate writing a book on cemeteries, but how could I stop with Oak Hill, Elmwood, and Bonaventure? And how could I stop with just photographs? Both Birmingham and Savannah are rich in history. Inside of Savannah, I discovered Colonial Park, Laurel Grove North and South and Greenwich. I have even trekked into South Carolina to the National Cemetery in Beaufort, and a few smaller cemeteries in Bluffton…..Charleston is indeed calling my name, as well.
Along with photographs, it is my intention to include as much history as I am able, such as the story of Lou Wooster in Birmingham. Georgia and Alabama both are rich in history. The South has many elements to it, and I do hope to put forth the unique, maybe little known facts of the region that is my home. I hope to be a faithful taphophile, and present the artwork and history of the area in a positive light. Those who have gone before us still have a story to tell, if we take the time to listen.