Sections of Oakdale designed by Louis C. Turner are curved with raised burial plots, while newer areas are
laid out in a grid pattern. Crepe myrtles bring summer color to Oakdale.
FFOR ALMOST EVERY TOUR,
Stoudenmire and Solomon are
there to take tickets, hand out
water bottles, and even follow
the group in a golf cart in case
someone gets overheated, which
Stoudenmire says has happened.
Although Oakdale has around 100
burials each year, most who attend
the tour are shocked to find out
it’s still an active cemetery.
“One man came up when he
bought a ticket and asked, ‘Is this
still an active cemetery?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir, would you like to a
buy a lot?’ He laughed and said ‘not right now,’” Solomon says.
While Wilmington sees a flock of tourists each summer, many
on the tours are locals.
“When people come out of Oakdale, nine out of 10 times I
hear one word, ‘Wow,’ because they did not realize how beautiful
a cemetery can be,” Kozen says. “We are two things at once: an
arboretum and a museum. People come back and want to do more
and spend a lot of time here. Even the mayor of our town comes
in here from time to time to get peace. It serves a much larger pur-pose
for a lot of different individuals.”
Kozen came to Oakdale from Arlington National Cemetery
and has a background in horticulture. A cemetery is a place where
each headstone acknowledges a death, but to him Oakdale is alive
in the majestic trees, blooming flowers, chirping birds, and pos-sibly
in the (rumored) black bear. There’s the bubbling Burnt Mill
Creek and Photinia glabra, which Kozen says is the “oldest shrub in
Put simply, Oakdale is a horticulturist’s dream and Kozen has now
identified hundreds of tree and plant species in the 100 acres. One
major push in the campaign is preserving the nature found here.
“When I was younger, one thing we always did (and I try to
do now) is come out when the dogwoods are blooming. It was
unbelievable, you could look and all you’d see were white blooms,”
Williams says. “Now, the dogwoods are dying. You come in now
and there’s still dogwoods but not like it was. That’s the most excit-ing
part of this campaign, to replant trees.”
For Stoudenmire, it’s the crepe myrtles that are meaningful. Her
family has planted more than 200 in the grounds, including a lined
row near her family’s plot, a nod to her mother who loved the flow-ering
From crepe myrtles, dogwoods and mountain laurel to live oaks
and towering pines, Oakdale is a nature preserve. And it’s so much
more. Stoudenmire and Solomon hope others will discover the same
comfort and refuge they have found here, the same ties to the land
and lineage, the same escape of time and place.
As Kozen says, time stands still in cemeteries. There are fixed
dates on headstones that speak to the past. But he, Williams,
Stoudenmire and Solomon also view Oakdale as a place that offers a
chance to witness life after death and give hope for the future.
“There’s history in our buildings and up and down our river, but
there’s no better history than walking down these lanes,” Williams
says. “It shows the respect of nature, family connections, it’s the peo-ple
that make a community and it’s meshed with history and nature
and there’s no better place anywhere in this area than right there.”
WBM october 2017