Mysterious America

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

Live oak trees adorned with Spanish moss line the roadways of an old and neglected necropolis. Ferns engulf beautiful statues, while leaves and branches lay where they fell across stone-lined family plots. Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia is a setting made for dark romance and Gothic ghost tales. Its history, and its legends, have lured visitors for more than 170 years.

John Mullryne’s plantation, with its tree-lined avenues, once occupied this 160-acre site (though the plantation was a total of 600 acres). Mullryne was an English colonel who was granted the land in the 1760s. He named it “Bonaventure,” which is Italian for “good fortune.” Unfortunately for him, he was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, and his plantation was subsequently seized by the Georgia government.

Peter Wiltberger purchased Bonaventure in 1846, and his son William, turned it into Evergreen Cemetery 22 years later. In 1867, a man named John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist and preservationist, camped on the former plantation and wrote, “Only a small plot of ground is occupied with graves and the old mansion is in ruins.” He admired the Long Moss, “hanging in long silvery-gray skeins.”

Not much changed after the City of Savannah purchased it and opened it to the public in 1907, except perhaps for the addition of over 5,800 burials, memorials, statues, and markers. The haunting, picturesque scenery led one statue, called “Bird Girl,” to appear on the cover of John Berendt’s novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994). The subsequent popularity of the novel and movie starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack made Bonaventure Cemetery a magnet for tourists.

The cemetery’s most infamous legend is that of “Little Gracie,” daughter of Pulaski Hotel owners Wales and Margaret Frances Watson. She died of pneumonia in 1889 at the age of six. Her life-like statue has attracted so much attention that cemetery trustees erected a fence around her grave to prevent vandalism. Visitors leave tokens of sympathy, and according to legend her eyes will cry tears of blood if the gifts are ever removed. Other legends include statues that move or smile and a pack of otherworldly hounds.

A two-hour cemetery tour takes visitors to notable and historic graves and entertains with local history and stories. The walking tour costs $25 for adults age 13 and up, or $23 for military, seniors, and students.

Bonaventure Cemetery is located at 330 Bonaventure Road, north of US Highway 80, on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River, east of Savannah, Georgia. It is open to the public daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (912) 651-6843.

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