It’s actually been named one of the ten most beautiful cemeteries in the world and is filled with Southern Gothic architecture.
The Bonaventure Plantation
The property initially known as the Bonaventure Plantation was one of several plantations owned by the Tattnall family between 1750 and 1842.
Sitting on the Wilmington River, the property was a beautiful location for the family to entertain. The original entrance was facing the river, now the back of the cemetery, as guests would typically arrive by boat.
Later the property became the privately owned Every Green Cemetery. Those 14.3 acres make up the cemetery’s historic district. Now the cemetery also includes a large Jewish cemetery and a columbarium for urns.
Did you know the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard? A graveyard is located adjacent to a church.
Visiting Bonaventure Cemetery
Bonaventure Cemetery is located at 330 Bonaventure Road, Savannah, GA 31404. This is about a four-mile drive from the River Street area.
The gates open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. They list a bicycle rack available just outside of the property, and parking is available on the cemetery grounds. Restrooms are available near the cemetery office.
Additionally, maps are available in the cemetery’s administrative center located near the entrance.
The cemetery is very walkable, and many areas are wheelchair accessible. However, many places are sandy, rough and roots from old trees are everywhere. We highly recommend wearing comfortable shoes, bringing some water with you and bug spray is generally a good idea.
The Bird Girl Statue
One of the things most people want to know is where to find the statue of The Bird Girl.
The Bird Girl, “Little Wendy” statue by Sylvia Shaw Judson, made famous after appearing on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, now resides at the Telfair Museum in Historic Savannah.
The statue was removed from Bonaventure shortly after the book was published in 1994. This was done to protect Wendy from the crowds of visitors causing damage to her and the rest of the family’s plot.
Bonaventure Cemetery Tours
While access to the cemetery itself is free and the available maps would help you navigate it, we chose to book a tour.
There are many places offering tours, and after a lot of research, we selected Bonaventure Ceremony Tours.
Bonaventure Cemetery Tours
415 Bonaventure Road
Savannah, GA 31404
They are located a quick walk from the cemetery entrance. They had plenty of parking and a gift shop and clean, comfortable restrooms inside.
The cost was $25, and they offer a $2 discount for active-duty military and vets.
After reading lots of reviews, we decided that their tour guides would give us way more information about the cemetery’s history, the notable people buried there, and stories we would never uncover on our own.
Dawn of Savannah’s Dead
We absolutely hit the jackpot with getting Dawn of Savannah’s Dead as our tour guide! A Savannah local, she really knows the Bonaventure Cemetery inside and out.
Dawn is a spectacular storyteller. She knows the complete history of the property as well as those notables buried there. The most fascinating part of her tour had to do with funeral customs and iconography.
On one fun note, Dawn shared more than just the stories about Savannah, notable Johnny Mercer’s grave. She breaks into song singing lines from several of Mercer’s iconic songs.
We loved Dawn’s tour and highly recommend it. The tour moves at a nice pace. Dawn is excellent at answering questions and keeps things interesting.
While the tour hour tour covers a lot of ground and history, if your schedule allows, plan some time to wander the grounds on your own after the tour.
The Grave of Johnny Mercer
As we mentioned, Bonaventure is the resting place of songwriter Johnny Mercer. A list of America’s great songwriters would absolutely include this Savannah native.
He was the founder of Capitol Records. Mercer also wrote well-known songs like “Hooray For Hollywood,” “Moon River,” “Accentuate The Positive,” and nearly a thousand others like “You must’ve been a beautiful baby” written for his late wife, Ginger.
Other Famous Graves at Bonaventure Cemetery
There are many of Savannah’s elite and families of historical significance buried at Bonaventure Cemetery.
These graves include nearly 500 markets noting soldiers killed during America’s Civil War. Many graves have grave markers noting soldiers from this and other wars.
Famous graves at Bonaventure include writer Conrad Aiken, Georgia’s first governor, Edward Telfair, silent film actress Edythe Chapman, Bishop Middleton Barnwell, and Gracie Watson.
The Story of Little Gracie
Little Gracie Watson was a Savannah darling who became well-known playing and singing in the luxury hotel where her father worked.
She died two days before Easter 1898, saddening the entire community. The sculpture for her grave, created by artist John Walz, was so lifelike that her parents couldn’t bear to see it and moved back to New England.
Today it is fenced off to keep visitors from damaging the sculpture and is one of the most visited graves at Bonaventure Cemetery.
The cemetery is filled with religious and burial icons adorning graves that tell stories we would never have known on our own.
Pillars usually symbolize a good, long life, but when they are intentionally sculpted to appear broken or unfinished, it means life has been cut short. Often used to mark the graves of young people or the graves of murder victims.
Cherubs, Lambs, and Unopened Flower Buds
These icons are sculptures that most often mark the graves of children.
This lamb sitting on a childs gravestone is surrounded by coins and stones. This tradition typically comes from Jewish cemeteries showing that someone came to visit. Unfortunately, these are starting to break down the sculptures.
Books typically denote learning, education, or spiritual study. They are often open, showing that reading and study are an essential part of this person’s life.
Lilies represent the resurrection, poppies represent sleep and rest, and roses represent youth, love, and beauty.
While often a symbol of power and wealth, they can also represent eternal life, and ascending to heaven.
Interesting Funeral Facts
Many times people were buried in a temporary grave with a Death Bell.
Sometimes a family wasn’t sure if a loved on had passed or were in what we now consider a coma. They were buried with a death bell. A wire rant from a bell to the hands, if they were to wake up and move the bell would ring. Unfortunately, if the bell did ring, the caretakers’ cottage was usually located too far away to hear the bell toll.
Up until about the time of the Great Depression families would come and visit loved ones’ graves on weekends. It was a time to tend the gardens, tell stories and picnic.
Many families had large multi-generational plots that are bordered by stone borders or fences. You’ll still see newer graves mixed in with much older family members’ gravestones.
If you are visiting Savannah, Bonaventure should absolutely be part of your itinerary.