Dahlonega's Graves of Gold

by Chris Worick Categories // History & Heritage

Dahlonega's Graves of Gold

Now that the hot days of summer have given way to more tolerable temperatures, autumn is a great time to get out and explore Lumpkin County. The spectacular view of the north Georgia mountains combined with the changing fall colors highlight the natural beauty of our region. Driving along the secondary roads of the county, it is inevitable that at some point, visitors will pass by one of our lesser known historic features; cemeteries.

While digging graves for Dahlonega's dearly departed, burial parties would often discover veins of gold under the sod. Not surprisingly, other cemeteries near the ghost town of Auraria, five miles from Dahlonega, also had similar discoveries. How ironic that so many miners who had toiled their life away seeking the precious yellow metal, would be laid to rest in tombs laced with gold.

In Dahlonega's Mount Hope Cemetery, attempts were made in the past to trace the direction of a gold vein which traverses the old section near west Main Street. Sporadic newspaper clippings describe the surprise of workmen who accidentally struck gold in the performance of their solemn task. Apparently their was no shortage of volunteers, when it came time to lay the dead to rest. However random discoveries of gold are not the only unique treasure in our cemeteries.

"Slot and Tab" or "Box" tombs are grave markers which can only be found scattered throughout a small portion of north Georgia, south east Tennessee and south west North Carolina. The term "slot and tab" refers to the construction of the tomb by use of stone slabs which are notched or tabbed to fit together. Typically found in older cemeteries, the slot and tab design seems to have remained in use until about the 1870's.

As to the design itself, a few theories have been proposed as to why this style was used at all. One idea is that before stock laws were passed, animals or livestock were able to roam free throughout the countryside. Families would shudder at the thought of their recently departed being trampled on or dug up by roaming critters.

Another version of why box tombs were constructed is reflected by the Christian belief in the resurrection or second coming. Accordingly the graves are typically laid out in an east to west orientation which reflects death and new birth at the dawn of the new day.

The majority of slot and tab tombs are constructed of locally quarried soapstone. Soapstone is relatively soft and easy to carve and shape. In Lumpkin County, there is no shortage of soapstone outcroppings. For residents who couldn't afford more elaborate monuments, soapstone was the cheap alternative. Of interest is that almost all of the headstones seem to have been carved by a family member or friend with a basic knowledge of English.

The next time you travel through Lumpkin County remember to keep an eye out for our old cemeteries. You never know what you may discover among our hidden treasures in gold country.

About the Author

Chris Worick

Chris Worick

Chris Worick has lived in Dahlonega since 2001 and spends much of his free time researching the history of Lumpkin County and the 1829 Gold Rush. Chris is an active member of the Lumpkin County Historical Society and regularly writes articles of historical interest for the Dahlonega Nugget.

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