I loved all of the cemeteries in Savannah that I was fortunate enough to visit, and I had expected Bonaventure to be my favorite.
But it wasn’t.
However, it is absolutely gorgeous and deserves every bit of touristy hype that it gets because as a cemetery, it just doesn’t get much better than Bonaventure in terms of beauty and ambiance. (My favorite was Laurel Grove for it’s spookiness and crumbling decay- which will get it’s own post.)
Bonaventure is rambling and shady, with very little bright sunlight, so there is a melancholy feeling to this 160 acre property which used to be a plantation. My boyfriend and I had just been to Laurel Grove which was our first stop that day, and had planned to visit Bonaventure for a couple of hours before it closed at sundown.
It really does feel like time has stopped there. It was late on a wintry afternoon and we were bundled up, and as we walked the sun slanted sharply down through the trees and I had a feeling of squinting into the shadows to see words on headstones, or to try and make out a carving on the front of a mausoleum. We visited Johnny Mercer, and then walked over to see little Gracie, who is supposedly one of the more popular monuments at the cemetery.
I had heard her described as spooky and scary, but I thought she was adorable with her plump cheeks and sweet collared dress. Her story is sad, it’s always sad when a child dies, but I liked it that she was still so popular and had lots of visitors every year who paid their respects. Part of what makes Gracie stand out are the bushes planted behind her, which are very dark, and she truly is one of the cleanest and whitest statues I’ve ever seen. In the dim light under the oak trees she practically glowed. I loved seeing her.
We made our way toward the river and felt a fresh breeze blowing against our faces, which seemed to be getting steadily colder the later it got. We passed the grave site of Corinne Lawton, with her spooky, sightless eyes. She was much smaller than I had imagined her to be, but her true glory wasn’t her face, it was the long curls hanging down her back. Like Gracie she was impeccably clean, and I wondered what the team of individuals were like who were in charge of maintaining this place. I photographed her from the back. Her blank eyes did kind of give me a little shiver so I stayed away from her face, but I did take pictures of her feet. They had the sculptor’s signature curved around her beautiful toes and they were flawless. We wandered around in the gathering dusk, holding hands and pointing things out to each other. There were a few other people walking but no one made eye contact or spoke to us, and there was a couple taking a guided tour nearby which we avoided. The tour operator sounded loud in the near twilight peace, and though she was used to projecting and it wasn’t her fault, her voice seemed like white noise in such a quiet place.
We rounded a corner and came upon the weirdest mausoleum I’d ever seen anywhere. It reminded me of an upside down mushroom, the design was just so bizarre. It was wider at the bottom than the top and had a squat metal door that seemed to be up higher than it should have been. Judging by the unusual Pyramid shape and the winged ornament at the top of the vault (one newspaper article said it’s the Egyptian God of the Dead) I’m assuming it was Egyptian Revival style of architecture, but I was unable to find out who deigned or built it. The vault listed 11 names on a marble plate at the base of the door and we stood there, transfixed and wondering how in the hell they fit all of those people in there. It just didn’t seem possible unless the floor was dropped down to another level underneath, or everyone had been cremated, which wasn’t really a ‘thing’ when these people were interred. John Mongin died in 1833 at a time where if you died, you got buried. And as quickly as possible. Embalming wasn’t popular in the U.S. until around the time of the Civil War, 1861-1865. It was also possible that the rest of the family had been left in the original burying place and the mausoleum had been moved with the name plate added to commemorate them.
I came home from the trip and did some research and found out that Mongin mausoleum has a past. Some enterprising woman named Cheryl Hackett wrote a nicely informative paper about the Mongin family and mentions that the whole vault was floated to it’s place near the river at Bonaventure in the early 1900’s. It was originally at their family plot on Daufuskie Island. The island is 14 miles from Savannah and the fact that that vault was moved at all is a miracle.
Sadly, Ms. Hackett did not mention in her paper how the bodies were arranged in the vault, which is what I wanted to know since I always ask the gruesome questions that everyone thinks but doesn’t actually ask. They fly right out of me.
On the way out we saw a beautiful red fox running swiftly through the headstones and tangled ivy, his coat glowing warmly in the last of the sunlight. It was the perfect way to end our visit.