Sam Burnham, Curator
Oak Hill Cemetery is not a recent discovery of mine. In fact, I have noticed it in passing all my life. However, I recently made what was only my second visit into the site. Once known as West Seventh Avenue CEmetery, Oak Hill was initially established on the outskirts of town as Rome's first municipal cemetery in 1837. At that point in history the town was brand new. The hill offered an elevation that would keep graves out of the flood waters when the Ooostanaula jumped its banks. Flooded graves have macabre tendencies and it is best to keep them above the waterline as much as possible.
Over the years the city grew and the the passing of locals quickly filled the small hilltop. A new cemetery was established at Myrtle Hill and Oak Hill burials tapered off and finally ceased. What was once the outskirts of town is now considered very much downtown. What was once known as West Seventh Avenue is now known as Riverside Parkway. Neighboring Lumpkin Hill, one of Rome's Seven, was largely excavated to make way for Turner McCall Boulevard. A shopping center sprung up between the cemetery and the highway. Georgia Power installed a substation just across W 7th. Apartment homes were built along the backside of the property. Oak Hill was now encased in a shell of modern development. And in that shell it has been largely forgotten.
I don’t want to suggest that there’s some criminal level of neglect going on here. The city government keeps the grass mowed, the weeds trimmed, and the grounds are clean and maintained. But you can’t help but notice the deterioration and decay. Many of the grave markers are worn with the passage of time. Some of the masonry structures are crumbling.
The people interred here were important in their time. They include one of the city founders, a Revolutionary War widow, and a U.S. congressman. Members of Rome’s most prominent families in the town’s earliest days are buried here. In death, wealth and influence passed on to others and memories of these people faded as those who knew and loved them passed on as well.
The people here are largely forgotten because no one who knew them remains and few people know their stories. That’s how the world works.
The legacy of those buried here is carried on by local historians who care about this place, these people, these stories.
Oak Hill holds for us a metaphor for our history and our culture.
As modernity has grown up around it, access has become limited. It lies hidden in plain sight. None of that “progress” would have been possible without it yet it lies largely forgotten and fading into the past.
”Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” - Fellowship of the Ring
In such an era as this, the preservation of history and culture depends on people who care about it. It can’t be a passive effort. It requires people being active in defending it, loving it, honoring it. It requires us to be engaged. And it requires us to share the stories and traditions that our society is built on.
If our history and culture are an afterthought hidden in a quaint little pocket surrounded by “progress,” then they’re both doomed. We will all be sucked into the abyss of modern American pop monoculture. We will cease to be Southern. We will lose all our uniqueness. We will become something generic and bland. We will cease to be Southern.
I, for one, do not intend on going down that path.
Randy Davis was a name that I first heard early in my life. He was friends with my dad as he was friends with so many people in this area. In addition to any personal connection there was a constancy the Randy in the community. He was involved and you were likely to come across him anywhere.
To really understand the magnitude of his loss to this community you would have to have seen him in action over the last 40 years or so. Without any pretense of flashiness, arrogance, or entitlement he became a giant in this community. He didn’t achieve this status through wealth or political power. He did it with love for his hometown.
As the owner and operator of WLAQ radio, Randy, along with his daughter Elizabeth and his son Matt, made localism their business. Years after the other local stations sold out to distant corporations, WLAQ is still locally owned and operated. They still cover local news, sports, culture, and events. The station has been heavily involved in covering and promoting local high school sports as long as I can remember. Local commentators discuss politics, local organizers promote their events. On air personalities even pronounce the names of local communities correctly.
WLAQ is a local institution. There used to be a dozen or so station like it in this vicinity. Now it stands alone. You can now easily find story after story of people who can credit that station with their own success - from an opportunity becoming a career to a small spotlight getting a local business in front of customers. The station was Randy’s labor of love. His work there is the epitome of what we wish to celebrate at ABG.
Randy was also instrumental in attracting the local minor league baseball team to town. While I was initially against the idea, the team has been a success on the field as well as a welcome addition to the community.
What I can’t effectively cover here is the number of individuals who have a personal story about Randy Davis. Because he just did things, the right things, without needing credit for it, he made a difference to so many people that we’ll never know about. Facebook is astir right now with posts from people who knew him and can attest to the man he was. His kindness lives on in his absence.
His family and friends lost a loved one. They knew him the best and they will certainly miss him the most. But I cannot stress enough how much Rome and northwest Georgia lost when Randy Davis left this world. For such a kind, goodhearted, and humble man to have had such an impact is almost unheard of theses days. We need more men like Randy in our world. Every small town needs that sort of leadership and dedication.
Sam Burnham, Curator
College football is back. Those are just delightful words to string together. The sport of football is ingrained into the culture of Georgia and the South in general. It is hard to imagine life here without football.
But that’s exactly what almost happened.
In 1897 the University of Georgia played the University of Virginia in Atlanta. During the course of the game, a young Georgia player from Rome named Von Gammon was seriously injured. He was transported to an Atlanta hospital where he later died from his injuries.
in the aftermath of such a terrible tragedy the state legislature decided to do what governments so often try to do - legislate away the possibility of tragedy. They passed a bill banning the game from the state.
This would be a huge shift in state history. In retrospect we can see there would have never been Bulldogs, particularly Uga. There would be neither Sanford nor Bobby Dodd stadiums. No teams at Georgia Southern, Ft. Valley State, Morehouse, or Wedt Georgia. No Friday Night Lights. All of that would be wiped out before it even started.
But something unpredictable happened. The legislation had already passed the state house and was headed to the governor for his signature, which he had already pledged. That’s when a Southern woman, Rosalind Gammon, mother of Von Gammon lobbied on behalf of the sport her son loved. In an spirited plea to the governor she laid out her case saying “it would be inexpressibly sad to have the cause [Von] held so dear injured by his sacrifice,” She also added she said football was “the most cherished object of his life.”
Keeping in mind that Rosalind Gammon would not be legally allowed to vote for over 20 years later when the 19th Amendment secured the vote for women. She had no political weight to throw around. The governor could not be voted out of effectively taken down by a woman. But Mrs Gammon laid out her case eloquently and effectively. The love of a mother and the strength it possesses carried more influence than a lot of powerful men who tried to budge the governor and the assembly.
Governor William Yates Atkinson vetoed the bill. The University of Georgia fielded a football team in 1898 and the rest is history. Rosalind Gammon saved football in Georgia. To this day monuments tell her story in Downtown Rome as well as on the 3rd floor of Butts Mehre in Athens.
If you enjoy football, take a moment to remember this amazing woman, the love she had for her son, and her fight for the game he loved.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire