If you’ve taken a commercial flight in the United States, chances are you’ve flown through Atlanta, which consistently wins the title of the world’s busiest airport. This success is partly a result of continuous expansion as the airport grows and engulfs more and more of the surrounding communities. One of the latest added a fifth runway that was partly built over a major interstate highway (I-285), and enveloped not one but two century-old cemeteries.
Given the taboo of disturbing or exhuming graves, the authorities decided to incorporate these cemeteries into the airport’s ever-growing site plan. The two cemeteries remain publicly accessible despite being quite literally between runways of the behemoth Atlanta International Airport.
Hart Cemetery is the smaller of the two and is a family plot first used by the Hart family in 1860. It is completely engulfed on all sides by the raised earthwork of the runways and is surrounded by warning signs and the intimidating razor wire of the airport perimeter fence. Hart family oral histories indicate that they did not fully support the Southern states’ succession during the Civil War and that William Hart, who is buried here, died while traveling to Washington, D.C. to receive a pardon for deserting the Confederate army.
The other, Flat Rock Cemetery, was once adjacent to the Flat Rock Baptist Church which has long since been demolished and the community dispersed. Many of the original inhabitants moved into the area in the years before the Civil War. As many of the men died as soldiers for the Confederacy during the ensuing conflict, some of their gravestones can still be seen today bearing the inscription of “CSA,” for the Confederate States of America.
Elsewhere in the Atlanta area, another Flat Rock Cemetery stands as part of the legacy of a historic Black community founded by formerly enslaved people after the end of the Civil War.
The Flat Rock Cemetery is a bit more expansive than the nearby Hart Cemetery, but the experience at both is dominated by loud, thundering commercial jets that can be heard taking off about every 30 seconds from the surrounding runways.
Know Before You Go
Both cemeteries remain publicly accessible 24/7 despite being between the runways. A dedicated access road leads to Hart Cemetery off of Sullivan Road. Small signs indicate the location and entrance for both sites.