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South Carolina

Take a Tour through Magnolia Cemetery If You Dare!

Taking a walk through an old cemetery isn’t exactly at the top of everyone’s must-do vacation activities, but if you’re brave enough to take a trek through Charleston’s legendary Magnolia Cemetary you’ll get the chance to learn about the history of the city in a memorable albeit unorthodox way. Besides being one of the largest cemeteries in the country, Magnolia cemetery is also one of the oldest public graveyards in the country. Originally built on the grounds of a rice plantation known as Magnolia Umbra, the land was designated to house the growing number of the dead as Charleston’s population began to grow.

Magnolia Cemetary was designed by architect Edward C Jones and dedicated in 1850. The grounds were designed as a rural or garden cemetery a popular choice in the nineteenth century. Although large plots of land with elaborate gravestones, statues, and mausoleums are incredibly common today they were a brand new design in the 1800s. The so-called garden cemetery came about due to a large number of different factors including the growing number of populations in cities across the United States and Europe, overcrowding of graves in small churchyards and cramped crypts, a newfound wealth of the middle class, and concern of hygiene. Magnolia Cemetery was designed to be a comforting place to house the city’s dead with scenic paths and plenty of trees for shade. As the city began to grow so too did the graveyard which now numbers over 35,000 separate graves.

Many of the city’s most famous residents including politicians, artists, authors, soldiers, community leaders, and criminals are buried here. Some of the most famous include the former governor and congressman William Aiken Jr., community leader and first Christian temperance president of South Carolina Sallie F. Chapman, and Judge Julius Waties Waring who played a pivotal role in numerous cases associated with the Civil Rights Movement. Other graves include famous Southern authors like John Benett known for his children’s books and illustrations, Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. authors of Cheaper by the Dozen, and Josephine Lyons Scott Pinckney who led a literary Southern revival after the first world war. The cemetery is also known to house numerous graves of soldiers such as marine engineer and submarine designer Horace Lawson Hunley, numerous prominent confederate generals, and the graves of unknown soldiers. The grounds aren’t just home to Americans the site is also the burial place of a few British navy personnel who died fighting alongside American soldiers during World War Two. Besides holding an historical importance as the resting place of many of the city’s most famous residents the grounds also served as a camp for Union forces as they seized the city during the latter days of the Civil War. Because of Magnolia Cemetary’s age and long-standing importance to the city of Charleston it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and continues to house the city’s dead to this day.

The graveyard is open to the public so you’re more than welcome to wander through the maze of graves if you decide to join us on our CME CEC conference in Charleston this year.


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