Known as one of the prettiest cemeteries in America, Bonaventure Cemetery should be on everyone’s tour of Savannah, Georgia. Located only three miles outside the city, Bonaventure welcomes you with peaceful, old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss — a backdrop for interesting headstones, family plots, and marble statuary paying tribute to those who have gone before.
Begin at the entrance where you’ll find helpful volunteers and docents from the Bonaventure Historical Society standing in the portico of this classic red brick Administrative Building giving directions and detailed advice to visitors. An incredible three-dimensional map (only $8.00) marks dirt paths leading to the graves you want to see. And all of Bonaventure is easily accessible by car or foot.
“Drive slowly and stop often” is our advice. Especially if you want to take in the beauty of hand-chiseled headstones, elegant statues and arches, and tributes to families who have contributed so much to the fabric of this historic area. Some of the notables include Noble Jones, physician and builder of Wormsloe Plantation; Alexander R. Lawton, member of House of Representatives and Senate; Hugh Mercer, Brigadier General and Commander of Savannah; Edward Telfair, first governor of Georgia; Conrad Aiken, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and poet; Edward Telfair, First Governor of Georgia, and his daughter, Mary Telfair, founder of the oldest art museum in the South; and Johnny Mercer, American songwriter and winner of four Oscars for movie lyrics.
One of the most sought-after graves is that of a young girl named Gracie, and you can see that people pay tribute to this beloved child by leaving flowers, coins, and small stones. The legend of Gracie holds that she was “loved by Savannah’s elite for her role as entertainer and hostess during her mother’s extravagant Pulaski Hotel parties,” according to the map we purchased from the Historical Society. Sadly, Gracie died at age six of nephritis, but her funeral was attended by thousands who loved her.
The grave of poet Conrad Aiken is marked simply with a headstone and bench, but it’s definitely one that is patronized frequently, judging from the worn area left by tourists. Aiken was the first Georgia-born author to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
One of our favorite spots was the gravesite of American lyricist Johnny Mercer, a beloved song writer and founder of Columbia Records. We recognized a number of his winning songs etched into a commemorative bench: “Moon River,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” and many others.
Wander the grounds to look for special pieces — like this towering angel that seems to be giving you a blessing just for visiting Bonaventure.
But don’t look for “Bird Girl,” immortalized on the cover of John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. She was once at Bonaventure, but had to be moved since she attracted many tourists exacting a bit more wear and tear than Bonaventure could stand. You can now find her in the Jepson Center for the Arts.
Even if you don’t look for all of Savannah’s most notable citizens in Bonaventure, you can stroll the property or drive the pathways as you soak up the beauty of a true Southern hideaway surrounded by salt marshes and populated with birds of varying species. Taking a guided tour is another option if you want additional information on Bonaventure’s past and present.
Beautiful, historic and important — Bonaventure is worth a quiet morning contemplating the brevity of life.
Rusha & Bert
For more information:
Location: Bonaventure Cemetery: 330 Bonaventure Road, Savannah, GA
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.