If there is one place that exemplifies Savannah’s unique atmosphere and beauty, it is its magnificent Bonaventure Cemetery. This sprawling 160-acre cemetery, the largest in the city, is often described as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. As I love history and green spaces, I absolutely wanted to visit it during my trip to Savannah.
Bonaventure Cemetery is located east of the city, on the banks of Wilmington River. As it is a bit far from the city centre, we had to drive to get there. As soon as we drove through the entrance gate of the cemetery, we quickly understood why it is so famous. Its wide paths lined with live oaks and Spanish moss give the cemetery an air that is both gloomy and otherworldly.
The cemetery is located on the former site of the Bonaventure plantation. In 1846, the plantation and its private cemetery were sold, and a few years later Evergreen Cemetery was established there. Evergreen was a private cemetery designed in the traditional Victorian style, with winding paths, lots of trees and grassy areas.
The cemetery was purchased by the city of Savannah in 1907, making it a public cemetery. It was renamed Bonaventure and expanded over the following decades. Today, the cemetery is open to the public free of charge and is a highlight of any tour of Savannah.
Like Savannah, the cemetery was made famous by John Berendt’s novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I was happy to finally be able to visit it, after having read a lot about it. And even though I had seen photos of it, I was completely stunned by its enchanting beauty.
It is possible to take guided tours of the cemetery, but we opted to visit it at our own pace, walking along its long shaded paths. We tried to find some of its most famous graves, like those of singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken.
We also passed Gracie Watson’s grave, another well-known grave in the cemetery. Little Gracie was 6 years old when she died suddenly of pneumonia in 1889. The sculpture on her grave is based on a photo of Gracie taken a few days before she passed away. Even more than 100 years after her death, passers-by still lay toys, coins and flowers in front of her grave. It is said that the ghost of Gracie still haunts the site of a former hotel in Savannah where she lived.
There is no shortage of urban legends, tragic stories and mysterious symbols at Bonaventure Cemetery. This is what makes the visit fascinating. This feeling of walking in a strange place, somewhere between the world of the living and that of the dead. This atmosphere was further accentuated by the fact that we arrived at the cemetery as soon as the gates opened, at 8 a.m., and at times we were completely alone on its paths.
In all, we walked for almost an hour in the cemetery, trying to cover as many of its different sections as possible. We ended our walk along the pretty Wilmington River, on which the cemetery offers many viewpoints.
This is undoubtedly one of the places I visited in Savannah that impressed me the most. It is a curious mix of history, art and nature, with trees and vegetation so beautiful that it seems almost unreal. Bonaventure Cemetery definitely lived up to its reputation as the most beautiful cemetery in the world.