The largest and second-oldest historic cemetery in Mobile, Magnolia is noteworthy for its fraternal and social organization plots, breathtaking funerary art, ornamental ironwork, and prominent burials that reflect the port city's nineteenth-century diversity. Magnolia was established by the city in 1836 after the older Church Street Graveyard (1820) had filled, and today it encompasses more than 50,000 burials in its 120 acres. The final resting spot for almost everyone in the city for 100 years, the cemetery still averages several burials a month. Among those interred are two Alabama governors, seven congressmen, 20 mayors, six generals, rabbis, free blacks, society women, Apache prisoners of war, writers, and citizens from all walks of life.
When founded, Magnolia Cemetery was a 36-acre parcel on Mobile's outermost fringes. Today, it is a complex and extensive tract well within the city limits, bordered by Fry Street to the north, Gayle Street to the east, the Tennessee Ditch to the south, and Ann Street to the west. Virginia Street, originally the southernmost boundary of the cemetery, now cuts east-west through its center.
The oldest portion of the cemetery is home to several significant and distinct areas. These include Confederate Rest (1862), which contains 1,100 burials, as well as plots featuring memorials to the crew of the submarine H.L. Hunley, the Alabama State Artillery, and the Mobile Cadets. Confederate general Braxton Bragg is buried at the southwest corner, his grave marked by a large urn draped with an officer's overcoat. Adjacent to Virginia Street is the National Cemetery (1866), which contains numerous Union Civil War soldiers' graves as well as those of veterans from subsequent conflicts. Also important is Jewish Rest, established in 1844 and featuring markers with Hebrew inscriptions and symbols. Of particular note are the plots belonging to Mobile's fraternal and professional organizations such as the Woodmen of the World, the Baymen's Benevolent Association, and the Workingmen's Timber and Cotton Benevolent Association. Most are set off by masonry revetments (decorative walls) and marked by sculptures representing each group's work or interest, such as a cotton bale, a ship's propeller, or a fireman's speaking trumpet. These plots provide visible evidence of the cultural diversity Mobile enjoyed as a working port, and burial rights in them were a real benefit for skilled laborers in an era of primitive insurance practices.
Magnolia is also host to a rich stock of tradition and folklore. The grave of Michael Kraft, founder of an early Mardi Gras society, is always festooned with colorful beads, and a haunting cast-iron statue, known as the Goddess of Magnolia, is believed by some to have summoned storms when attempts were made to move her. Cast-iron dogs, representing family loyalty, guard several plots.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Magnolia Cemetery suffered neglect as families died off or moved away and newer cemeteries were established further from downtown. In 1984, shocked by the deterioration, the Historic Mobile
Preservation Society founded the Friends of Magnolia. The members undertook a massive clean-up of the site and established
a perpetual care fund. Today, the cemetery is better maintained than at any time since the nineteenth century, and frequent
tours highlight its colorful history and beautiful funerary art for visitors. It is listed on the National Register of Historic
Sledge, John S., and Sheila Hagler. Cities of Silence: A Guide to Mobile's Historic Cemeteries. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.
Thompson, Helen A., ed. Magnolia Cemetery. New Orleans: Polyanthos Press, 1974.
John S. Sledge
Mobile Historic Development Commission
Published March 13, 2007
Last updated September 23, 2009