(Courtesy Historic Oakland Cemetery)
ATLANTA -- It had never happened in the history of Atlanta weather keeping -- an F2 Tornado roaring through downtown March 14th, 2008.
The winds intensified over Oakland Cemetery and hammered the 48 acres, overturning 300 headstones and more than 100 ancient trees.
The Atlanta cemetery dating back to 1850 was a mess.
As the long shadows of dusk descended on Oakland Cemetery Thursday evening, you would never guess it has a tornadic past.
"The day after it happened I was here and when I looked around I hardly knew where I was," said David Moore, director of the Historic Oakland Foundation, the nonprofit organization that keeps this Victorian gem alive. "This tragedy put us on the map -- I mean, this cemetery is a fragile historic place to begin with, let alone have a tornado come thru and just about take it out."
Never in its history had Oakland Cemetery seen anything like it. There was so much debris, it took 70 trucks just to haul it away.
"And you had a lot of volunteers, men and women who spent hundreds of hours, people crawling on their hands and knees picking up shards of glass from the Georgia Dome that had blown over here to Potters Field," Moore said.
The most complete damage from the tornado is the monument of Joseph Emerson Brown. He was Georgia's governor during the Civil War, then switched allegiance to the Union late in 1865.
"This inverted torch on Gov Brown's monument had been broken prior to the tornado. Our restoration expert Dustin Hornsby fixed it," Moore said. "Then the tornado came through, this whole thing collapsed, the portion fell on the ground still intact, until a well-meaning visitor came by and decided to pick it up by the torch and moved it, breaking it again. We can at least survive a tornado, but not a visitor."
The cemetery holding 70,000 graves has changed after the tornado, but like Atlanta itself, it rises and holds yet another chapter of history
"We never want to forget the tornado because it has become a part of the history of this place," Moore said.