There’s the Père Lachaise Cemetery across the pond in Paris, France. With souls who dominated their eras buried there like whirling dervish Jim Morrison from the rock band The Doors, another bon vivant and playwright Oscar Wilde, composer Frederic Chopin, and singer and French national treasure Edith Piaf, it’s easy to see why curiosity-seekers would flock there like they do. There is, however, another place of eternal rest right here in the American South that is a wonder in its own right and comparable to the grandeur of its Parisian counterpart, the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.
Located on the 17-mile long Wilmington River some three miles from downtown Savannah is a fascinatingly beautiful cemetery that has been described as a ‘natural cathedral.’ Stoic and tall live oak trees cloaked in Spanish moss line all the winding paths in this cemetery lending a haunting allure to the many elaborate and time-stained monuments throughout. To offset the grays and gloominess are vibrant azaleas and camellias bursting with color when they bloom in the spring and summer. The 100 acres of this special place have stirred the emotions of generations of visitors over a great many years and you’ll feel something stir in you the minute you approach the main gate.
The land was first purchased in 1762 by a politically active British loyalist named John Mullryne. After the American War of Independence came to an end, those loyal to the British Crown began to face persecution and Mr. Mullryne’s land was seized by local authorities and auctioned off to the public. The property changed hands another three times until 1907 when it was officially acquired by the city of Savannah in whose hands it still resides today. The city then declared the grounds a public cemetery.
A novel, that subsequently became a major motion picture, published in 1994 owes much to the cemetery and vice versa. ‘Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil,’ by John Berendt, is a first-person account of life in the Old South interwoven with a murder mystery that casts Savannah as its backdrop, and features the statue of a girl holding two small bowls, one in each hand gracing its front cover.
Legend has it that the statue is haunted by the ghost of Lorraine Greenman, the little girl who posed for the artist Sylvia Shaw Judson
Little Wendy, as the statue is also referred to, once stood sentinel over the Trosdal family plot; but she became so idolized as a result of her new-found literary fame (it wasn’t even central to the book’s plot), that the owners donated the statue to Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art to avoid her destruction.
Another famous sculpture that has elicited fantastical stories is that of Gracie Watson, or, as she is affectionately known, Little Gracie. The 6-year-old girl died of pneumonia and was memorialized in marble by artist John Walz from nothing but a photograph. For years, people have reported seeing a little girl that fits her description playing in Johnson Square where her father’s hotel once stood. The legend claims she appears as a normal, living girl in a white dress who vanishes without a trace when you get too close. To some, Little Gracie still lives. Visitors leave toys for her to play with, especially around Christmas time, and claim she cries tears of blood if her playthings are removed.
Minerva The Voodoo Priestess, an enigmatic character in the novel ‘Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, is based on an actual Savannah resident named Valerie Fennel Aiken Boles. Boles has since died but she is immortalized in the book, casting spells and hexes and collecting cemetery dirt for use in her rituals. This has led to the practice of visitors collecting souvenir soil from Bonaventure.
Visitors looking for a more in-depth experience can opt for walking or Segway tours of the cemetery. If you plan to spend a few hours in the area, this would be a great way to get the most of your visit.
If you don’t have time to make the three-mile trek from downtown Savannah to Bonaventure Cemetery for some bone-chilling fun, look no further than hopping on the Trolley of the Doomed for a Ghosts & Gravestones adventure! Widely considered by ghost hunters and paranormal investigators as being America’s Most Haunted City and seen on The Today Show and the Travel Channel, Savannah’s dark past is unveiled on this spooky tour!
Learn about the city’s origins with its founding in 1733, when it was built upon native American burial grounds. Will you encounter the ghost of Civil War General Robert E. Lee at the famous Andrew Low House? Take the Trolley of the Doomed past the burial grounds in Wright Square and try to contact the spirits at the Perkins & Sons Ship Chandlery! Your costumed ‘Ghost Hosts’ will transport you to some of the city’s most haunted sights.