Sodom Cemetery, Gwinnett, Georgia

Sodom, South Georgia by Iron & Wine

And Sodom, South Georgia
Slept on an acre of bones
Slept through Christmas
Slept like a bucket of snow
Less than 30 miles east of Atlanta, Georgia, lies the sleepy Pleasant Hill community straddling Rockdale and Gwinnett County where the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church has been maintaining a plot of land known as Sodom Cemetery. Founded in the late 1700s, there are more than 700 people buried in the cemetery and at least 120 of those graves are unmarked.

Given the history of the area and southern state, most of those unmarked graves are assumed to be the final resting place of slaves. The oldest legible headstone dates back to William Henry who died in 1837. The cemetery is home to a variety of old bones, including a soldier from the American Revolutionary, Confederate soldiers, soldiers from WWI, WWII, members of the Ku Klux Klan whose stones are marked with chiseled KKKs, and even graves bearing Masonic emblems. Despite this rich history, today Sodom Cemetery is used mostly for pauper's burials and little else, since the church moved their official burials to a separate church cemetery in 1952.

Despite having fallen into disrepair in modern times, Sodom Cemetery is thought to be connected to the song by Iron & Wine titled "Sodom, South Georgia". Since Sodom Cemetery is the only Sodom in the state and given the morbid connotations of the lyrics, this seems a fair fit between song and place.

Samuel Beam, the man behind the stage name, Iron & Wine, is an American singer-songwriter known for his folk influenced soft rock that has been likened to Nick Drake and Neil Young. Iron & Wine's second full-length album, Our Endless Numbered Days, released in 2004. While still focused on acoustic music, this release featured new band members, resulting in a new sound. This was a step in the right direction, garnering greater attention for the previously solo project. Several of Beam's songs featured in film and television. "The Trapeze Swinger" featured in the film In Good Company, and Beam's version of "Such Great Heights" became the anthem for M&M's and was also featured in the Zach Braff film, Garden State, "Passing Afternoon" featured in the finale of the fourth season of "House" and "Naked As We Came" is featured in the 2nd season of The L Word. "Sodom, South Georgia" rubs shoulders with these more famous tunes, sitting in eleventh place on the album.

"Sodom, South Georgia" is a gentle acoustic track immediately calling to mind the folk rock of the life of Eddie Vedder. Beam's voice, however, is considerably less husky than his contemporaries, lending the music an even more poignant ambience. The lyrics of this song are somewhat ambiguous and play with several metaphors hinting at the darker meaning of this song. "All dead white boys say, 'God is good' White tongues hang out, 'God is good.'" The 'white tongues' here have been interpreted by many as representative of weathered tombstones. There are lines where the intended meaning is much clearer, "Slept on an acre of bones, Slept through Christmas, Slept like a bucket of snow" is an unmistakable reference to death and, of course, the opening line of the song is "Papa died smiling" - a macabre image, indeed.

Iron & Wine is known for his melancholy folk tunes of quiet reminiscence and this is no more evident than in "Sodom, South Georgia."

Suzanne van Rooyen
November 2, 2013

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. Although she has a Master's degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me.

Comments: 5

  • Ctherine from CanadaIron & Wine's gorgeous song made me immediately think of lynching all over the southern states. White tongues hang down and all "good" white boys say God is good reference.
  • Buddy from Columbus, GaI live in Columbus, GA. It is so far south that we can raft down to the Florida coast. We also share a border with Alabama, and are separated by the Chattahoochee river from Sodom(now Phenix City), AL. A walking bridge allows a walk over to Sodom from my side of the river. In fact, Columbus and Phenix city are mostly one big community. But, Sodom was the wildest, most dangerous place in the SE until middle of last century. I think that might be the place. Sodom, AL on the GA/AL line.
  • Joyce Slaughter from FloridaOn Aug.9, 2014, there will be an interment in Sodom Cemetery, Gwinnett County, GA. Most of the cemetery is in Gwinnett County; with only a few in Rockdale Co., GA. This cemetery is near the Rockdale and DeKalb County lines, and is definitely not in south Georgia. As with any theory, it is open to perception. But I definitely stand by my theory of family and church cemeteries in Rockdale, Newton, Walton and Barrow Counties of Georgia, that when there were no funds for an engraved tombstone marker, field rock was used. And in several family and church cemeteries, this is a fact.
  • Joyce Slaughter from FloridaIn re: "Given the history of the area and southern state, most of those unmarked graves are assumed to be the final resting place of slaves." This is not necessarily true. Some families, especially after the War of Northern Aggression, did not have the money for an engraved tombstone and simply marked the graves (of white family members) with field rock. You will see this practice through the South in old family and Church cemeteries. Pleasant Hill Baptist Church is closely monitoring the burials in this Cemetery to discourage the practice of pauper burials from outside the community. Pleasant Hill Baptist Church members have a clean up day at least once a year and does maintain the Cemetery. Land for the cemetery was given by Mr. Henry, who is buried there along with his family. There is a book: "History of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Rockdale County, Georgia, 1875-2001" that gives a detailed history of this community, including Sodom Cemetery and community as well as Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. This book makes very good Research reading, which I suggest you do. Your comment: Despite this rich history, today Sodom Cemetery is used mostly for pauper's burials and little else, since the church moved their official burials to a separate church cemetery in 1952." This is simply not true. Sodom Cemetery is still being used today.
  • Jason Lee from South GeorgiaNot sure this theory holds up well. I grew up in south GA. Gwinnett County being near Atlanta isn't anywhere near south GA by any stretch of the imagination.
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