Less Traveled

Page Ivey



Search for history and secrets in Columbia's Elmwood Cemetery

Posted 7/18/2012 1:11:00 PM

Ornate roses, towering obelisks, urns with draping, these etchings decorate thousands of graves at Columbia’s Elmwood Cemetery. While some gravestones simply sum up the existence of their honorees with the names and dates of often short lives, others use the symbols of a bygone era to tell more complete stories to those willing to look a little closer.

The Historic Columbia Foundation iconography tour, held monthly in Elmwood Cemetery, explores the ornate carvings on the marble and granite markers that let others know a little something about the person being honored.

“We’re standing right where their loved ones stood to say goodbye,” tour guide Nancy Rogers says as thousands of commuters buzz past on Interstate 126, oblivious to the centuries of history held within the Elmwood. The city’s first park-style cemetery was built before the Civil War and includes the graves of some 200 Confederate soldiers.

The Historic Columbia Foundation offers several tours of Elmwood on the second Thursday of each month April-October: The “Secrets from the Grave Tour” that highlights the artistry of the gravestones is held at 7:30 p.m. and two “Moonlight Cemetery Tours” start at 8 and 8:30 p.m. The tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for children, less for members of the Historic Columbia Foundation.

The foundation also offers “Historic House Tours” of the Hampton-Preston Mansion, the Mann-Simons Cottage and the Robert Mills House and Gardens. The Woodrow Wilson Family Home will be added to the tours once the extensive renovations of the property are complete.

Admission for each house tour is $6 for adults, less for children, seniors and members of the military, or you can buy a pass to all three houses for $15.

Every year, the foundation celebrates the city’s rich African-American history with Jubilee: Festival of Heritage. This year’s event is free and open to the public and will be held Aug. 18 at the Mann-Simons house in downtown Columbia.