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Countdown to Savannah: Bonaventure Cemetery
Written by BGE
In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.
With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.
First Named Evergreen Cemetery
Originally the site of a plantation owned by John Mulryne, Bonaventure Cemetery was converted from a plantation to a cemetery around 1868, and at first, it was named Evergreen Cemetery. It was a family cemetery then. Later, it was re-named Bonaventure Cemetery in 1907, when the city of Savannah bought the property and renamed it in honor of the previous owner’s home.
Bonaventure is French for “good fortune” and it was the good fortune of both Mulryne and Josiah Tattnall that created the cemetery. Mulryne and Tattnall were large landowners in Georgia. John Mulryne built the third Tybee lighthouse in 1773 and was Josiah Tattnall’s father-in-law.
Because of John Berendt’s book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and the filming of the movie based on his book in Savannah and in Bonaventure Cemetery, the cemetery became widely known and helped to make Savannah into a major tourist destination. Some of the scenes were filmed in the cemetery, creating a small stampede of visitors and curiosity-seekers to Bonaventure.
The curious came by the hundreds to visit the cemetery and see the statue of the “Bird Girl” that graced the cover of Berendt’s book. This piece was created in 1936 by Sylvia Shaw Judson, as a commission for a garden sculpture. It is interesting to me that this elegant piece had been largely unnoticed in the cemetery for over 50 years, and then became a touchstone for visitors and fans of the movie and ‘the book’, as it is known to this day in Savannah. John Leigh, a Savannah photographer, was commissioned to take a photo for the book’s cover, and took the photo of this statue in Bonaventure Cemetery.
This beautiful statue had been placed on the family plot of Lucy Boyd Trosdal, and was finally donated to Savannah’s Telfair Museum in 1997, in order to protect the statue from all of the people who had been previously visiting the cemetery to see her.
There are 2 burial sections in the cemetery. One is Old Bonaventure, with Conrad Aiken, Hugh W. Mercer, Johnny Mercer, Edythe Chapman and Edward Telfair buried there. The other section is called New Bonaventure, and Danny Hansford, the shooting victim in 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil', is interred here. Here is a more comprehensive list of 'residents.'
As well, there is a veteran's section and 2 new extensions to the original property.
You can find Bonaventure Cemetery at 330 Bonaventure Road, and the phone number for the office is (912) 651-6843.
Here are some links that I found very interesting, while researching this topic: The Bonaventure Historical Society was formed in 1994 as a “non-profit organization comprised of non-salaried volunteers dedicated to the Evolution & Preservation of the Historical Significance of Bonaventure Cemetery." Read this comprehensive history of the cemetery.
Here is a Flickr album with some beautiful shots of the statuary, burial markers and tombstones in the cemetery.
Here are some more gorgeous photos of Bonaventure for you to enjoy!
I'm going to take time to go to Bonaventure while I'm in Savannah ... how about you? Take a few well-chilled libations and spend an afternoon.
All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)
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