Savannah Heritage Tours Blog

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Don't Tour Bonaventure Cemetery On Your Own

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bonaventure Cemetery is the largest municipal cemetery in Savannah and boasts over 100 acres. That alone is a good reason to visit it with a tour guide rather than on one’s own. The guide, Angela Sergi can point out such famous statues as that of Gracie Watson, who died in 1889 at the age of six. Many of the statues in the cemetery, including that of Gracie, were sculpted by the artist John Walz (1844-1922).

The cemetery is famous for its beauty and for its appearance in the popular book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," which told the story of a murder and its impact on the residents of Savannah. The book’s cover image depicts the "Bird Girl," which was then a statue in the cemetery.

The language of flowers and other symbols
Many of the tombstones and statues have fascinating stories behind them. While modern grave markers tend to be plain and include only the name and dates of the deceased, older grave markers were more elaborate and contained more information.

There was also symbolism behind the artwork. The different flowers depicted had different meanings:
• Rose – Love
• Lily—Peace
• Bud—Child
• Flower in full bloom – Adult
• Wilted Flower -- Death

Flowers weren’t the only symbols depicted. When Robert Nicholson drowned off the coast of Tybee Island in 1881, his family bought a statue that depicted a broken column with a burial shroud draped over it. The broken column represented a life that had been cut short.

Jewish and Greek Orthodox citizens are also buried at Bonaventure. Jewish graves are sometimes marked with a Star of David and/or Hebrew scripture. Greek Orthodox headstones depict a tree cut in half.

Famous People
The Bonaventure Cemetery has its share of famous denizens. Among them are Edward Telfair (1735- 1807), who had been the first governor of Georgia, and Johnny Mercer, a lyricist who had founded Capitol Records. The poet Conrad Aiken is also buried at Bonaventure. The cemetery also includes its share of figures from the Civil War like General Robert Anderson and Josiah Tattnall, Jr., who was a captain in the Confederate Navy.

Stories of the dead
Many of the graves have stories behind them that only a local would probably know. One example is the grave of Corrine Elliott Lawton (1846 – 1877), who was born to a wealthy family. According to local legend, she fell in love with a poor man, much to her family’s horror. Her parents insisted that she marry the wealthy man they had chosen. Corrine took her father’s favorite horse and rode to the banks of the Savannah River. She leapt in the water and drowned herself. Her family had her buried outside the family plot, and her statue faces away from it. She is sitting by the cross and a garland has slipped out of one hand.

In contrast to Corrine, two other women buried at Bonaventure lived to be over 100 years old. One of them died at 104 and had outlived her son by a wide margin; he died at the age of 19. The other woman has a grave marked "Beloved Aunt Isabell," and she lived to be 103. As these graves aren’t particularly popular, people tend to miss them unless a guide points them out.

Book a tour with Savannah Heritage Tours next time you're in Savannah, Georgia.

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