The Macabre Grim Reaper at Bonaventure Cemetery

On May 26, 2015, Tom the traveler published a post on HubPages detailing Bonaventure Cemetery and the notable burials in the gravesite. In particular, a statue of a Grim Reaper was captured and posted as one of the “interesting pictures captured at Bonaventure”. The post was subsequently posted on several social media platforms including Pinterest and Facebook, sparking a huge interest within the local community in Georgia.

Shortly after the publishing of the article, many visited the cemetery for a glimpse of the macabre statue of the Grim Reaper.

grim reaper statue bonaventure
Grim Reaper by August Schmiemann | Image credits:

As it turns out, the ominous sculpture of the Grim Reaper is not located in Bonaventure Cemetery. Rather, it can be found 4,500 miles away at Melatan Cemetery (Melatenfriedhof) in Cologne, Germany. The statue is the work of August Schmiemann, a German sculptor who created several notable statues including the Monument of the Cowherd in Bochum and Kiepenkerl in Münster.

That said, Bonaventure Cemetery is still home to several remarkable statues that will make your trip to the cemetery an unforgettable one.

History of Bonaventure Cemetery

The history of Bonaventure Cemetery dates back to 1846 when the site was Bonaventure Plantation, a 600-acre plantation founded by Colonel John Mullryne in 1762. A mansion named Bonaventure (which means “good luck” in French) was reportedly built on the mansion to house the Mullryne family. After the passing of John Mullryne and his wife Claudia Mullryne, the plantation was handed over to Josiah Tattnall Sr., who had married Mary, the youngest daughter of the Mullryne family. In 1846, then-owner Commodore Josiah Tattnall III, who was born on the estate and was the grandson of Josiah Tattnall Sr, sold the plantation to hotelier Peter Wiltberger. Wiltberger passed away four years later and was interred in a family tomb in the estate’s private cemetery.

entrance to bonaventure cemetery
Entrance to Bonaventure Cemetery | Image credits: Dusk Before The Dawn blog

In 1867, adventurer and naturalist John Muir embarked on a 1000 mile walk from Indiana to the Gulf Coast. It was reported that John had spent six days living amongst the graves at Bonaventure Cemetery while waiting for money to be sent to Savannah. Muir later penned down his stay at the cemetery in a the “Camping in the Tombs” chapter in his book A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.

Ownership of the site was eventually transferred to Major William H. Wiltberger, the son of Peter Wiltberger. In 1868, William Wiltberger fulfilled his father’s dying wish to turn the plantation into a public cemetery by transferring the ownership to a newly established firm called the Evergreen Cemetery Company. In 1933, the neighbouring Greenwich Cemetery was added to Bonaventure Cemetery.

Bonaventure cemetery tombs
One of the tombs at Bonaventure Cemetery | Image credits: Viator

Four decades later, on July 7, 1907, the City of Savannah purchased Evergreen Cemetery Company for a sum of $30,000. With it, Evergreen Cemetery was renamed to Bonaventure Cemetery to recognize the contributions of the Mullryne family. Bonaventure Cemetery was made available for public burials.

Th cemetery entered the limelight in 1994 when renown author John Berendt published a non-fiction novel titled Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The cover photograph of the book featured Bird Girl, the sculpture of a young girl created by professional sculptor Slyvia Shaw Judson in 1936. While several versions of the sculpture exists, the most famous one was set up at the Trosdal family’s plot in Bonaventure Cemetery. Savannah photographer Jack Leigh’s photo of the bronze sculpture eventually made it to the cover of Berendt’s novel. After the release of the book, fans began swarming to the cemetery for a glimpse of the famous Bird Girl sculpture. Due to the huge influx of visitors into Bonaventure Cemetery, and for fears of vandalism, the bronze sculpture was relocated to Telfair Academy. As of 2021, it is on display at a special exhibit in the academy.

bird girl sculpture savannah
Bird Girl sculpture | Image credits: Roadside America

Today, Bonaventure Cemetery remains an active cemetery. Citizens of Savannah are able to purchase interment rights in the cemetery. The cemetery is opened everyday from 8am to 5pm. Visitors interested to learn more about the history of Bonaventure Cemetery may visit the Bonaventure Historical Society (BHS) located within the cemetery grounds. Free tours are conducted on every weekend by volunteers of the organization. To find out more about BHS, visit here.

Famous Graves at Bonaventure Cemetery

Over the course of its 124 years of history, several notable politicians and luminaries have laid rest in this historic cemetery. It includes:

  • Samuel B Adams, interim Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia
  • Josiah Tattnall, senator and 25th Governor of Georgia.
  • Marie Louise Scudder Myrick, owner, and editor of Americus Times
  • Edward Nathaniel Packard Padelford, Confederate officer and prominent businessman of Savannah
  • Gracie Watson, whose life-like monument became one of the most visited grave in Bonaventure Cemetery. She passed away from pneumonia at the age of six.
  • Hugh W. Mercer, prominent Confederate general and former owner of the haunted Mercer Williams House
  • Noble Wimberly Jones, American physician, statesman, and delegate to the Continental Congress
  • Edward Telfair, Governor of Georgia, and signer of the Articles of Confederation
  • Mary Telfair, American art collector and prominent citizen of Savannah
  • Hugh Comer, president of Central of Georgia Railway and co-founder of Bibb Manufacturing Company
  • Rosa Louise Woodberry, journalist, educator, and founder of Woodberry Hall. Woodberry was also the first woman to attend the University of Georgia.
  • John Herndon Mercer (or Johnny Mercer), Academy Awards winning songwriter, co-founder of Capitol Records, and great-grandson of Hugh W. Mercer.
  • Conrad Aiken, Pulitzer Prize winning author and United States Poet Laureate
  • Anna Colquitt Hunter, preservationist and co-founder of Historic Savannah Foundation

Apart from the famous figures who now call this place home, the cemetery is also the resting place of over 500 Confederate soldiers who fought during the American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865).

little gracie watson monument grave
Grave of little Gracie Watson | Image credits: Bonaventure Historical Society

Reported Hauntings

Over the years, Bonaventure Cemetery has attracted a slew of paranormal investigators and thrill seekers to investigate the hauntings behind one of Savannah’s oldest cemetery.

Locals who frequent Bonaventure claims that the spirit of Gracie Watson haunts her grave. Many visitors reported seeing a little girl in a white dress roaming around the cemetery grounds, only to see an eerie resemblance between the child and the monument of little Gracie. Marching sounds have also been heard by tourists visiting the grounds, leading some to believe that the site is also haunted by Confederate soldiers who perished during the Savannah campaign in 1864.

Visitors who have been on the Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery After Hours Group Tour hosted by Shannon Scott have reported many inexplicable events such as voices of men and woman, and dogs barking into the air.

Can You Drive Through Bonaventure Cemetery?

Yes, visitors with a vehicle are able to drive around the 103-acre large Bonaventure Cemetery. In fact, visitors are encouraged to drive into the site to get a full view of the cemetery grounds. Also, many of the notable graves such as the monument of Gracie Watson and tomb of Johnny Mercer are located towards the back of Bonaventure Cemetery, half a mile away from the entrance.

Dedicated parking lots are conveniently located around the cemetery for visitors who are driving. Alternatively, you may park your vehicles at the side of the road, so long that it is not parked too close to the graves or obstruct the road. There are no charges to park inside Bonaventure Cemetery.That said, visitors are encouraged to stop by the the Bonaventure Historical Society Visitor Center (located at the entrance) to grab a map of the cemetery.

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