Pick a name that you associate with Rome - Berry, Shorter, Barron, Harbin, Mitchell, and you will find important members of those families who have been laid to rest in the historic Myrtle Hill Cemetery. And that doesn't include the resting place of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson, one of the most visited graves in the entire cemetery.
One of the seven hills of Rome, Myrtle Hill has been around since the first Native Americans arrived in what we now call Rome. The knoll which overlooks Rome became a cemetery in 1857. The permanent resting place for more than 20,000, Myrtle Hill Cemetery is one of the community’s leading tourist attractions.
While the Wilson site may be the most visited grave in Myrtle Hill, the Von Gammon site is also popular during cemetery tours. Gammon died from injuries sustained in a football at the University of Georgia in October of 1897, prompting the state legislature to ban football. His mother, Rosalind Gammon, penned a letter to Governor William Atkinson urging him to veto the legislation, and you know the rest of that story.
In front of the cemetery lies a plaza that pays homage to veterans and is the host site for America’s Tomb of the Known Soldier, World War I Private Charles Graves. His mother objected to his burial at the Arlington National Cemetery. He was brought home to Rome and laid to rest in the Antioch Church Cemetery in April 1922.
Following his mother’s death, Graves’s body was relocated to Myrtle Hill, and he was finally formally recognized as America’s Known Soldier. Rome’s largest Veteran’s Day celebration each November 11 is held at the plaza.
The plaza was improved in 2000, two years after the founding of the Myrtle Hill/Oak Hill Memorial Association. Longtime cemetery historian Anne Culpepper calls the group the “Pink Ladies” of the cemetery. They raise funds by selling bricks and benches to renovate the plaza completely. The association seeks solely to protect and preserve the cemetery.
The plaza at the base of the cemetery is surrounded on South Broad Street and Myrtle Street by 34 giant magnolia trees to honor the 34 Rome and Floyd County veterans who died in service during World War I.
Another grave that involved a re-burial can be found higher on the hill. Charles B. Norton. who was killed at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run, if you’re from the North), was re-interred in Myrtle Hill years after the Civil War. His grave is not a part of the huge Civil War section of the cemetery, located just to the left of the main entrance.
Two of Rome’s founders, Col. Daniel Mitchell and Col. Zachariah Hargrove, are laid to rest near one another close to the peak of Myrtle Hill.
Congressman Augustus Wright, who served with Abraham Lincoln in the years leading up to the war, is also buried in Myrtle Hill. Col. Alfred Shorter, of Shorter University fame, was buried in the cemetery. Lt. Walton Shanklin and W.J. Attaway, both killed in WWI, for whom Rome’s largest American Legion Post is named, are each buried in the cemetery,
A mausoleum was added in 2012 to accommodate the many Romans who wanted to be laid to rest in Myrtle Hill; however, grave sites in the cemetery were essentially sold out.
Another addition to the cemetery is a meditation garden designed by John Paul Schulz, which opened in 2016. The garden is accented by a 150-year-old wrought iron fence donated by Leeta and Michael McDougald. The cemetery, originally laid out by Cunningham Pennington (think Pennington Avenue), was conceived as a garden cemetery so members of the Myrtle Hill-Oak Hill Memorial Association felt it only proper to have a spot where people visiting the cemetery could rest in a place of quiet and beauty.
An app is available to help visitors locate specific grave sites and features of the cemetery. Just search Myrtle Hill Cemetery in the Apple App Store or Google Play.
Culpepper quickly points out that no tax dollars are used to fund the enhancements and repairs to preserve the historical integrity of the old cemetery. Since it was founded, the Myrtle Hill-Oak Hill Memorial Association has also raised funds to replace the entrance gates at the cemetery and renovated the Sexton’s house, which houses the offices of the cemetery director.
The newest addition to the cemetery is the Angel in the Oak, a sculpture by Jeremy Smith carved into what was believed to be one of the oldest trees in the cemetery.
More recently, historic preservation staff in the Rome- Floyd Planning office have undertaken a project to locate and identify as many gravesites as possible in the African American section of the cemetery near the intersection of Myrtle Street and Pennington Avenue. The Mary T. Banks grave is considered among the important sites in that section. She taught in the local schools for 44 years before retiring in 1952.
Each fall, the association hosts “Where Romans Rest” tours of the cemetery during October, with tour leaders dressed in period wear.