The Mysteries of the Bonaventure Cemetery

Good evening Gals and Ghouls and welcome back, or welcome if you are new! In my last post, I highlighted some of the high points of my trip to America’s Most Haunted City: Savannah, Georgia last year. Today, I want to expand on one of the main places that we explored, Bonaventure Cemetery. So get cozy, turn off the lights and let’s get into it.

The Basics

Bonaventure Cemetery is located just outside of Savannah, Georgia, USA. It is known to be one of the largest cemeteries in the area, covering nearly 160 acres of land right near the water and surrounded by the beautiful trees and Spanish moss that is common in the area creating a picturesque view while you roam the “streets”.

The cemetery is open to the public from 8:00am to 5:00pm every day for locals and visitors to experience its beauty, pay their respects and even try to experience the supposed supernatural beings that supposedly roam the property. For more information once at the location, you can go to the visitor’s center just outside of the Cemetery grounds, or the picturesque Administrative building that was originally built to be the superintendent’s home.

The site of what is now the cemetery used to be the plantation of a man called John Mullryne. After the property was passed around from hand to hand for many years, in 1907, the City of Savannah purchased the property and dubbed it the Bonaventure Cemetery.

The Interesting Design

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Visitor’s Map of the Cemetery that can be obtained at the Visitor’s Center

This map is meant to give a 3D-esque picture of the entirety of what is currently standing of the Bonaventure Cemetery, although the map contains much more information than this. A lot of this I will cover in the subsections below, however, there are a few things I would like to note based on this map specifically.

The map shows us all of the “street” names as well as a longitude/latitude mapping format that will make navigating your way to certain locations within the cemetery easier. However, it also shows us something interesting. When we went to the Visitor’s Center before entering the cemetery grounds to get maps and more information (and maybe some souvenirs as well), the lovely woman we spoke to gave us some insight into the history of the site and its’ historical link to the Freemasons.

For those of you who don’t know (or are ill-informed and think that Freemasons are the Illuminati) Freemasonry is a type of fraternity that stems from the brotherhoods of stonemasons at the end of the fourteenth century. There is a lot of misinformation about the group out there, but I happen to have multiple Freemasons in my family who have given me all of the information that they can. The group is secretive and exclusive to men over the age of 21. There are rituals (not like black magic shiz) and ceremonies that occur and different tiers of being a mason.

A large part of Freemasonry is based around symbolism, including their signature compass with a G (seen below):

freemason compass

As well as the All-Seeing-Eye, triangles (which is why many people link them to the Illuminati) and finally, skulls. Take another look at the map above. Can you see the skull? A portion of the roads are made to be in the shape of a skull as an homage to the Freemasons. Many of the gravesites also have some of these symbols carved into them, showing that the deceased were Freemasons in their own right.

One more thing to notice is that there is a separated section of the cemetery that is designated specifically for Jewish gravesites. I am not sure as to why as it was not explained to us, but I am assuming that it was probably a sign of the times from when the cemetery was first created.

Important Tombs and Burials

Little Gracie Watkins

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Gracie Watson’s Memorial: Photo taken by myself

The gravesite of the beloved “Little Gracie Watson is one of the most visited locations at Bonaventure. The beautiful statue depicts a lovely young girl sitting amongst beautifully coloured flowers and around her is a wrought iron fence with a gate adorning her name, “Gracie.” Just inside the fence is a stone that tells Little Gracie’s tragic story, and many people choose to leave small gifts of candy, toys, and money for her spirit. 

Gracie Watson died in 1889 just a few days before Easter. She was only 6-years-old. Her cause of death was pneumonia, which became so severe that her small body simply couldn’t handle the illness any longer. All of Savannah mourned her death as she was the daughter of Frances and W.J. Watson, the latter of the two managed a luxury hotel in town called the Pulaski Hotel. Based on my knowledge, this building has since been demolished. But while her father was working in the hotel, Gracie became well known by everyone who passed through and everyone in the surrounding neighbourhood as being a happy, beautiful little girl. Her death is still mourned by locals to this day.

Corinne Lawton & The Lawton Family plot

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Corinne Lawton’s Memorial: Photo taken by myself

Although this lot at Bonaventure is large and consists of many different graves, the most notorious and well known on the plot is that of Corinne Elliott Lawton. Corinne was the daughter of Confederate Brigadier-General Alexander R. Lawton. His monument and burial site is the largest on this plot and is often referred to as Heaven’s Gate, which overlooks the nearby river.

Corinne was born in 1846 and died at the young age of only 31, in 1877, from an “illness” which was likely to be pneumonia. She was sadly engaged to be married when she passed away after lying sick in bed for only five or six days. The family sought out the work of a Sicilian sculptor by the name of Benedetto Civiletti to create this beautiful memorial to their lovely daughter. Her mother said that she is seen kneeling at the cross with the flower crown in her hands to symbolize that she was due to be married before her untimely death.

This family still lives on to the present day, as when I visited the site, the most recent marker was for a death in 2017.

Johnny Mercer

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Custom Bench with Johnny’s portrait located at Mercer family plot: Photo taken by myself

Jeepers Creepers gals and ghouls, where’d you get them peepers? This next important monument is that of famed songwriter Johnny Mercer.

Born in 1909 in Savannah, Georgia, Johnny Mercer grew to be known as one of the best songwriters of the 1940s, writing over 1500 songs, many of which were huge hits and performed by the most popular artists of that time. Although he also wrote many songs for himself to perform and a southern-jazz/blues singer. Many of his own songs also ended up being hits and carved his name in music history. Some of his most popular written songs include; One For My Baby (and One More for the Road), Autumn Leaves, Fools Rush In, I Guessed It Was You All The Time and of course, the one we all know, Jeepers Creepers.

Mercer died in 1976 in Los Angeles, California and his body was brought all the way back to good ol’ Savannah to be buried in his family’s plot at Bonaventure. In addition to his actual tombstone over his burial site, this bench was made with a caricature carved in the top that was drawn by Johnny himself, with a quote on the top. Around the edges, you can see the names of some of his most well-known songs engraved as well.

Conrad Aiken

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Custom bench at the Aiken family plot: Photo taken by myself

Many of you may not know who Conrad Aiken is, but I assure you, you should. Conrad Aiken is an extremely famous American Pulitzer-prize winning author and poet who was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. Many of his works include psychoanalytic theories but are stories that are fictional in nature. He was fascinated by self-need and self-awareness in people.

Aiken was born in 1889 into a very troubled household. Even he believed that he was traumatized in his childhood even before the horrendous deaths of his parents, where his father killed his mother and then committed suicide. Many believe that this is what he would draw from to complete his prize-winning works. Unfortunately, Conrad himself passed away in 1973, still in Savannah, and was then buried in Bonaventure where beside his headstone lies a bench.

The interesting thing about this bench that makes people seek it out when visiting the cemetery, is that it is used in a scene in the Clint Eastwood movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (based on the novel written by John Berendt).

The Bird Girl and Hollywood Ties

Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil

Speaking of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this novel and subsequent film are one of Hollywood’s ties to Savannah. Although many movies were filmed on location in the city, most notably in the Bonaventure Cemetery (you will see Conrad Aiken’s memorial bench, as well as the infamous Bird Girl statue which we will learn about more below), the book is a whole other story.

The Book

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a tale based on real-life events, centering on the time that the author, John Berendt, spent living in Savannah during a major historical event. More specifically, a murder, multiple trials, and a subsequent death. The main character is Berendt himself, who meets with a man named Jim Williams. Williams is a wealthy man and is partially responsible for the renovations of downtown Savannah in the 1950s. When meeting with Jim Williams, he also meets a rugged young man named Danny Hansford who works for Williams part-time.

Long story short, Danny is murdered in William’s home, more specifically in his study, and Jim Williams is being charged for the crime. Many people believe the two had romantic ties and something went wrong in the relationship leading to a fight where Jim ultimately ended up shooting Danny. Anyway, Jim goes to trial for this and it ends in a hung jury. Then he is tried for it a second time (this is before the Double Jeopardy laws) and it ends in a hung jury yet again. At the end of all of the drama, when Jim is finally acquitted for the murder of Danny, he ends up falling down dead inside of his study during a party to celebrate his freedom, seemingly of natural causes.

One thing to note if you are ever in Savannah is that this book is so notorious that you can go into any shop (especially gift shops) and simply ask if they have “the book” and they will know exactly what you are looking for.

The Film Adaptation

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In 1997, a film adaptation of the novel was made and directed by Clint Eastwood. It starred John Cusack, Kevin Spacey and Jude Law and was filmed in Savannah, including at the Bonaventure Cemetery and the actual house where Jim Williams lived and died, as well as his might-have-been lover Danny Hansford.

Some notable differences between the novel and the movie include the following; the first major change is the name of our main character, who in the novel is John Berendt himself, but in the movie is named John Kelso. The murder that takes place also happens extremely early on in the movie, whereas in the novel, it happens at least halfway through, after the author has introduced some key “characters” in Savannah from his time living in the city. We also see in the film that John Kelso almost takes on a role as a detective in the murder case and is very heavily involved in the investigation, which never actually happens in the true accounts as depicted in the novel. Berendt very much took a back seat during the crime and subsequent investigation and spent his time with Jim and friends without getting too involved at all. We also see Kelso have a significant romance in the movie, which is likely just to add drama and love into a story that initially had none at all.

In addition to all of these rather major changes to the true story, the film also doesn’t give us the rich history of Savannah that the novel does. You do get to see a lot of the beautiful city and its landmarks as the movie was filmed completely in Savannah, however, you don’t get as full of a picture as you would if you read through the book. The movie, in some people’s eyes (including my own) is very much a glorified Hollywood rendition of the book and the true story behind it.

If you want to see an in-depth review and comparison of the book and the film, I highly suggest watching this YouTube video linked here.

The Bird Girl

In the images shown above of both the book and film adaptation of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you will see a statue of a young girl holding a bowl in each hand. This statue is known as “Bird Girl” and was sculpted by Sylvia Shaw Judson in 1936.

When the statue was made, there were actually four copies that came out of the mold, all made of bronze and used for different things. The one we see in the images above was purchased by a family in Savannah, Georgia and nicknamed “Little Wendy” before being placed in their family plot at the Bonaventure Cemetery.

Unfortunately, after the film was released in 1997, people started visiting the statue in Bonaventure and a lot of people actually defaced or attempted to vandalize the statue for unknown reasons. After this, as an apology to the family whose plot this statue was placed on, Clint Eastwood paid for the Bird Girl to be cleaned up and she is now housed in a museum in downtown Savannah for the general public to view in a controlled environment.

The Ghosts of Bonaventure

Gracie Watson

One of the most notable ghosts of the Bonaventure Cemetery is that of Little Gracie Watson who we discussed earlier in this post. As I mentioned, many people leave money and/or toys for Gracie at her burial site and it is rumoured that you can hear and see her cry if someone takes any of these toys away from her. Some people have even claimed to see the statue cry tears of blood!

After these rumours began to spread and more visitors flocked to her gravesite, the fence that can be seen in the picture above that I took while visiting was built and placed around her to try to deter people from touching the statue or messing with the memorial in any way as she was known to be a treasure of the town of Savannah.

Corinne Lawton

The story of the ghost of Corinne Lawton is one that is short but sweet. Although the eyes of the statue of Corinne are completely blank and quite frankly eerie to look at, she is known to smile at the visitors of which she takes a liking to. So if you ever pay her a visit, be extra nice and see if you can get her to crack a smile for you.

Crying Children

One thing you will notice if you ever get the pleasure of visiting the Bonaventure Cemetery is the vast amount of children’s or even baby’s tombstones and gravesites. This is largely due to the Yellow Fever epidemic that struck Savannah in the year 1820 when almost 4000 people passed away due to the disease, many being young children.

People often report sounds of children giggling or crying or even the feeling of a child running behind you while visiting some of these sites. I personally had a strange moment while taking a photo of the site of a small child:

 

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Photo was taken by myself

 

When I leaned down and snapped the photo, I heard a young child yell “Hey!” and giggle while running past, behind me. This seemed normal to me as quite a few families were visiting that day with young children. But when I turned around to look for the kid, there was absolutely no one else in the row we were in except myself and my family members, none of whom are children.

Thank you for visiting me again (or for the first time) for some spooky tales of the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. This was my favourite location during my trip and I wanted to expand on the small bit of information that I provided to you in the last post. Have you ever been to Savannah? If you have, please leave a comment below with any experiences you may have had or if you had no experiences at all. I would love to hear your stories! 

Until next time… Keep it spooky!

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