The battery in my car was brand-new. It had been replaced just the day before … but more on that later.
Beneath the moss-shrouded arches of heavy live oak limbs and hidden among a riot of azalea and other southern shrubs lies the city of Savannah. Or rather there lies the former city of Savannah.
A soft, salty breeze stirs the air and sends a skittering of leaves across the sandy path as a small pile is disturbed where someone has been raking. A simple movement of the air or something more?
You are standing in the middle of Historic Bonaventure Cemetery, so it could either mean that the groundskeeper has a little more work to do or something more mysterious.
Surrounded by this city of stones and a forest of lightly manicured coastal beauty, it is not hard to imagine how this could be. A chill may touch the back of your neck and the tiny hairs on your arm may stand up — even in the sunny warmth of an early summer’s day in the Lowcountry.
Covering 160 acres, Bonaventure rests atop an airy bluff overlooking the Wilmington River. Sited on the location of former colonial plantations, Bonaventure began as a family plot for landed gentry. The tides of war came and went, and, sinces the original owners had been loyal to the king, the land was seized by the state and purchased by a more patriotic buyer.
The cemetery continued in its use. By mid-19th century, as the land gained popularity as a burial ground for the plantation class, a company was formed to facilitate this. In 1907 the company was purchased by the city of Savannah and became public. The name was changed to “Bonaventure” after one of the original plantations from which the land had been set aside.
From there, Bonaventure began to accumulate and grow as the decades marched by. In time, ornate statuary, massive crypts, stately stones and a few famous names spread among the plots laid out in an orderly yet jumbled manner that highlighted both the beautiful southern woods and the nature of the inhabitants of so eclectic a city as Savannah.
You may know Bonaventure well, even though you may never have visited.
In recent years, popular novels and movies have brought it unforeseen notoriety. You may recall the simple lovely statue of “The Bird Girl” that stood unknown in Bonaventure until fame catapulted it onto the book cover and movie poster for “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” — and into the Telfair for safe keeping. This Bonaventure landmark is now as iconic as the city’s famous “Waving Girl” statute overlooking the river.
When you visit Bonaventure, you will nearly be overcome with the beauty of the place.
Songbirds dart among tree limbs, springtime azaleas create embankments of color and the sunlight filters down though the canopy to form dusty rays resting on quiet stones.
Statuary angels and other figures stand watch and provide an air of peace and even companionship as you wander about.
I visited recently and, after spending an hour or so wandering about, got back into my car to leave.
It was 5 p.m. and the gates were soon to shut. As I turned the key, nothing happened.
My car with its new battery was dark and silent. After a frantic moment or two under the hood it cranked right up. I had no explanation to give, but as I drove through the stone-pillared gate and re-set the clock on the dash, I was convinced that somehow my visit had been noted.
I will return to enjoy Historic Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah again but next time I may not linger quite as long.
Historic Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah is just 27 miles from Bluffton at 330 Bonaventure Road. From Bluffton, take the Talmadge Bridge into Savannah. Take Oglethorpe to Liberty Street and and then Skidaway Road to Bonaventure Road. Bonaventure Cemetery is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and there is no admission fee. Driving is the best way to visit Bonaventure, but parking and walking is encouraged. The Visitors Center is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Free guided tours provided by the Bonaventure Historical Society take place on the second Sunday of each month, and the preceding Saturday. Saturday tours begin at 2 p.m. Sunday tours begin at 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.. Maps are available. There aren’t many modern conveniences so be prepared and as always visit with respect. See bonaventurehistorical.org/bonaventure/ where an excellent website provides maps and other info.
Songwriter, lyricist Johnny Mercer rests in Bonaventure
A son of Savannah who rests in Historic Bonaventure Cemetery is songwriter, lyricist and singer Johnny Mercer. Statesmen and artists come and go but Mercer may have exerted more influence over 20 th century American culture than all of them combined.
Mercer was born in Savannah in 1909 and soon showed his talents as a musician.
However, he gravitated to writing and composing rather than playing instruments and soon hit on his gifts as a songwriter. In 1928, Mercer moved to New York and landed in the middle of the Jazz craze. A star was born and soon many more were born through Johnny Mercer’s work. Over the years he wrote, composed, collaborated and produced over 1,500 songs, ballads and tunes, many of which are ingrained in our culture of movies and music today in ways that we may not even realize. He won Academy Awards and other prizes and his legacy lives on. Johnny Mercer passed away in 1976 and was buried in Bonaventure. His grave and simple family plot can be found in Section H, Lot 48, of Historic Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah.