I’ve mentioned earlier how much I adore the city of Savannah, Georgia. It is a hard place to top for a lover of the macabre and mysterious. I find much of the south like this since moving here, though. So many stories and legends hide in bustling cities and even small abandoned ghost towns. It is just the perfect mix of living legends and whispered old tales passed down from one generation to the next.
The stories of Bonaventure, once just legends passed down by locals became well known from an interest in the city and cemetery brought about from the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Many now know the cemetery as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the United States. After spending a day walking through the city of the dead it was apparent how well this moniker fit.
Bonaventure came into existence as the grounds of the Bonaventure plantation. It was a sprawling 600-acre plantation owned by John Mullryne during the Revolutionary War. The plantation originally consisted of a beautiful tract of land surrounded by oak trees and Spanish Moss located on the banks of the Wilmington River. Not only was Bonaventure an active part of the Revolutionary War but John Mullryne himself was a crucial part of the development and growth of the colony of Georgia as a justice of the peace, road surveyor, and member of the Georgia Council.
During the war, the Loyalist governor of Georgia, James Wright, escaped the rebellion through the grounds of Bonaventure. Later, in 1779 French and Haitian soldiers used the land as a hospital grounds. Many local historians believe numerous unmarked graves exist from this time.
Following the war, the plantation changed owners 3 times before finally becoming the property of the City of Savannah.
At the end of the war, the Tattnall family confiscated the property but the colony of Georgia repossessed it due to the owners Loyalist actions. After going to auction a merchant by the name of James Haversham took ownership of the land. However, Tattnall later repurchased the property and passed to his son Josiah who passed the property to his son, Josiah III
Following a devastating fire in 1846, the Tattnall family decided that upkeep of the property was not worth their time and effort. They sold the plantation to Peter Wiltberger, the owner of the Pulaski House hotel. His family would continue to work on building and maintaining the cemetery located on the plantation.
Evergreen Cemetery Company
The designation of cemetery came to light when the Evergreen Cemetery Company, established and owned by the Wiltberger family, purchased the land in 1846. At that time it covered a mere 70 acres.
In 1907, the city of Savannah purchased the Evergreen Cemetery. At that time, the cemetery grounds expanded to 103 acres to accommodate the growing city. Following the purchase the city renamed the property to Bonaventure Cemetery.
In 1909, the cemetery expanded as the Jewish Congregation Micvah Isreal added a space for Jewish burials to the grounds. In 1917, The Daughters of Kindness of Loving Truth added a Jewish burial facility and chapel.
While you can participate in guided tours of the cemetery grounds, you can also visit the former plantation on your own accord free of charge. The gates are open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily.
However, the cemetery closes to visitors after dark and individuals found on the grounds are considered tresspassing and could face fines.
The property is located just 3 miles outside of the city of Savannah but found on a smaller back road that can be easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. However, there are appropriate signs for the cemetery that are easy to find.
Located just beside Bonaventure Cemetery is the Forest Lawn cemetery which also boasts many beautiful examples of funerary art.
The Ghosts of Bonaventure
Many well-known individuals such as Conrad Aiken, Johnny Mercer, and James Neill are buried among the grounds of Bonaventure. Various notable military and political personas including Confederate general Hugh W. Mercer, and Governor Edward Telfair are also found resting there.
However, perhaps the most notable ghosts are those of lesser-known citizens of Savannah. In fact, the most commonly discussed ghosts are those of children. There have been numerous reports of the sounds of children giggling or playing near the tombstones of the young.
The most well known of these children is Gracie Watson, the daughter of W.J. Watson the manager of the Pulaski House hotel. Young Gracie was just 6 years old when she died of pneumonia in 1889. A beautiful memorial sculpture was carved for her by famous sculptor John Walz from a beloved photograph and now marks her final resting place in Bonaventure Cemetery.
There have been various reports of the statue moving, or the sound of little Gracie playing in the cemetery after dark. One of her favorite pastimes in life was entertaining the guests of the Pulaski House. Many believe that her ghost continues this.
Many other of the angels and statues throughout the cemetery reportedly change facial expression or move entirely to follow wanderers throughout the cemetery with their gaze. There are also reports of a phantom pack of dogs that roam the grounds.