Remember When: Magnolia Cemetery – The City of the Dead

Published 2:00 pm Friday, September 8, 2023

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A unique event is soon to be held at the Historic Magnolia Cemetery behind the courthouse. Before 1959 or so, one would describe the location of the original city cemetery as behind the First Baptist Church. The downtown church was razed when the new church building was built on East Three Notch Street. Today we would probably say that the cemetery is north of Court Square with the main entrance being off Opp Avenue. It is the oldest known cemetery in the City of Andalusia with tombstones dating back to the mid 1850s.

This primitive iron arch hung over an entrance to Magnolia. It is displayed at the Three Notch Museum above a World War II body shipping casket that arrived by train at the depot. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

The little village of Andalusia was born in 1844 so it is reasonable to assume that there were burials between 1844 and 1855 but time has erased inscriptions and wooden markers have long since disappeared. “Two courthouse fires have consumed early land records so it is difficult to determine lot ownership,” according to the late Sidney and Polly Wilder Waits who along with some historical society friends indexed the cemetery in 1995. Their book is shelved at the Andalusia Public Library.

ReAct Theatre is presenting “Tales from the Tomb” on Saturday evening, October 7. Directed by Roger Powell, local actors will impersonate some of the founding fathers of the town including business owners, a judge, a mayor, a soldier, and other substantial characters. Powell says that this is only a beginning. He hopes to make this an annual affair honoring and remembering other early residents from all walks of life. Research on these citizens resting in peace has been going on all summer. More details and publicity will be forthcoming.

In the old newspapers, Magnolia was often referred to as the “city of the dead.” I have come across articles as far back as 1889 in The Covington Crescent expressing the interest of citizens in beautifying and maintaining the integrity of Magnolia Cemetery.

1889 – “As the wire fencing around the cemetery affords no protection to the graves and shrubbery, it should be removed. The fence is little less than a death trap.”

1890 – “Now that the cemetery fence has been rebuilt in a neat and substantial manner, our people should come together and clean off the graves and cut away the undergrowth. This sacred spot hallowed by the ashes of our loved ones is covered with weeds which greatly mars its looks. This is a duty that we should feel called upon to perform.”

1890 – “Notice is hereby given that the contract for cleaning off the cemetery and placing head and foot boards to the graves will be let to the lowest bidder at the courthouse on Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock. (Judge) Malachi Riley.”

1892 – “It has been suggested that the citizens of Andalusia and vicinity meet at the cemetery on Friday, July 1, for the purpose of cleaning off the same. Everybody is requested to be on hand with the necessary implements to do the work. There should be a prompt and full attendance. Let there be a good turnout where memorial exercises are always held to pay some slight tribute to the memory of the sleeping heroes of the ‘Lost Cause.’”

1895 – “It was suggested by the mayor at the council meeting that a day be appointed by the citizens to be known as ‘Cemetery Day’ when all citizens owning a lot in the cemetery should meet and improve the grounds. It is deplorably neglected, and its appearance is very much out of harmony with the reputation of the town. Surely it will not be permitted to remain in its present condition much longer.”

1907 – “A meeting was called at the Methodist Church at which ladies representing all the churches were present. The object of the meeting was to devise plans for the improvement of the cemetery and the town in general. A society was formed to be called the Improvement Club. It is desired to have as members all ladies of Andalusia at all interested in the beautifying and care of the cemetery and town…owing to the dilapidated condition of the gates and fences where stray cattle roam at will in the cemetery.”

1917 – “A transformation in the appearance of the cemetery has been wrought by the Civic Improvement Club during the past three days. Graves have been filled, driveways and walkways improved, and the entire place has been cleaned. The work accomplished by Mrs. J. S. Burnett and C. S. O’Neal deserves special mention. There are scores of graves at the cemetery in which people are buried who have no relatives or friends any more in Andalusia. These graves are kept up by the club in addition to the upkeep of the place as a whole. Credit for much of the work accomplished and improvements made at Andalusia’s ‘city of the dead’ is due Mrs. Burnett who has labored tirelessly for several years, and the result is a marked improvement.”

Historical society members state that this program “Tales from the Tomb” is a meaningful way to respect those who have passed from among us. To remember these lives is just one way of inspiring the younger generation to realize the importance of preserving our town and county’s history as well as upkeeping the cemetery. As an astute observer walks or drives through the cemetery today, one will notice that the names of many of Andalusia’s city streets can be recognized on the granite and marble headstones that humbly shout out, “We are in part the ones who made this town what it is today. We started it. Now you do your part to help it grow.” Magnolia Cemetery with its 1926 and 1938 additions is a quiet place shaded by Magnolia and Cedar trees, decorated by iron fences and gates made by skilled craftsmen, crowded by memories, and circled with epitaphs such as this one:

All you that come my grave to see, Prepare yourselves to follow me, Repent and turn to God in time, You may be taken in your prime.”

Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a former choral music teacher, local real estate broker, and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at