Saturday, April 7, 2018

Behind a Garden Wall: Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA

Jewish Section, Bonaventure Cemetery

 Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA

 Ah, Spring and Easter season in Savannah! Barring any miraculous astonishments, it’s the perfect time to stroll through a cemetery. Bonaventure is one of my favorites. Since Savannah is my hometown, I can remark to my companion about the interred. Beside near relatives, there are notables, friends and acquaintances – “he owned the restaurant where…, he fit my shoes when I was small…, she used to live on the corner of _ and _,”and so on.

In addition to marveling at the historic tombs, visitors from out-of-town usually seek out the resting places of folks like JohnnyMercer, Conrad Aiken, Jack Leigh, Josiah Tattnall, Sr. and J. Tattnall, Jr., Hugh Mercer, James Neill, Edythe Chapman, Marie Scudder-Myrick, Edward Telfair and F. Bland Tucker. There’s little Gracie Watson – departed at 6 years – who  probably wouldn’t be known by many if not for the charming memorial at her tomb. Her grave is now enclosed by a sturdy fence to keep visitors at bay. One of the four original castings of “The Bird Girl”, aka “Little Wendy”,  – formerly at Bonaventure and featured on the cover of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – was moved to the JepsonCenter for the Arts for the same reason that Little Gracie is behind bars.

Speaking of which, the cemetery used to be a quiet place suitable for personal reflection on life, death and the chief end of man. That changed a lot with the publication of Berendt’s novel. “The BOOK”, as Savannahians know it, brought instant notoriety and a steady stream of visitors – especially in spring.

Long before Bonaventure became a destination for ghost tours, the naturalist John Muir spent six nights sleeping among the tombs. He declared it safe and inexpensive in comparison to other accommodations of the day. It would still be inexpensive if the cemetery didn’t close at 5:00pm.

For Muir’s observations about Bonaventure Cemetery, check out:

Here are some of my snapshots of Bonaventure Cemetery and of what grows behind that garden wall.

Azalea-lined drive, Bonaventure Cemetery

Jewish Chapel, Bonaventure Cemetery

Intricate portal, Bonaventure Cemetery
American Legion Field

Edward Telfair Memorial

Von Waldner Grave

Nicholson Memorial

Childrens' memorials

View of the Wilmington River

Corinne Elliott Lawton Memorial

Johnny Mercer Memorial

Little Gracie

Have you visited Bonaventure Cemetery? We'd love to read your impressions. Comment and tell us!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Camping among the Tombs - From John Muir's book, A Thousand Mile Walk

The following is a chapter about Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia, from John Muir's book, A Thousand Mile Walk. Bonaventure is a lovely place to visit this time of year when the azaleas are in bloom and the temperature is mild. I hope you'll discover it for yourself.

Part of the grounds was cultivated and planted with live-oak (Quercus virginiana), about a hundred years ago, by a wealthy gentleman who had his country residence here But much the greater part is undisturbed. Even those spots which are disordered by art, Nature is ever at work to reclaim, and to make them look as if the foot of man had never known them. Only a small plot of ground is occupied with graves and the old mansion is in ruins.

The most conspicuous glory of Bonaventure is its noble avenue of live-oaks. They are the most magnificent planted trees I have ever seen, about fifty feet high and perhaps three or four feet in diameter, with broad spreading leafy heads. The main branches reach out horizontally until they come together over the driveway, embowering it throughout its entire length, while each branch is adorned like a garden with ferns, flowers, grasses, and dwarf palmettos.

But of all the plants of these curious tree-gardens the most striking and characteristic is the so-called Long Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). It drapes all the branches from top to bottom, hanging in long silvery-gray skeins, reaching a length of not less than eight or ten feet, and when slowly waving in the wind they produce a solemn funereal effect singularly impressive.

There are also thousands of smaller trees and clustered bushes, covered almost from sight in the glorious brightness of their own light. The place is half surrounded by the salt marshes and islands of the river, their reeds and sedges making a delightful fringe. Many bald eagles roost among the trees along the side of the marsh. Their screams are heard every morning, joined with the noise of crows and the songs of countless warblers, hidden deep in their dwellings of leafy bowers. Large flocks of butterflies, flies, all kinds of happy insects, seem to be in a perfect fever of joy and sportive gladness. The whole place seems like a center of life. The dead do not reign there alone.

Bonaventure to me is one of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures I ever met. I was fresh from the Western prairies, the garden-like openings of Wisconsin, the beech and maple and oak woods of Indiana and Kentucky, the dark mysterious Savannah cypress forests; but never since I was allowed to walk the woods have I found so impressive a company of trees as the tillandsia-draped oaks of Bonaventure.

I gazed awe-stricken as one new-arrived from another world. Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light."
John Muir, Camping Among the Tombs, A Thousand Mile Walk.

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