The history of Bonaventure Cemetery dates back to 1846 when it was originally called Evergreen Cemetery, an homage to the Spanish Moss and pines of the area. Bonaventure started off as a private commercial enterprise — it was established in the nearly 70 acres of the Bonaventure Plantation when it became obvious that the city’s existing cemeteries were nearing their capacity. Now home to a statue that is said to cry tears of blood, the cemetery is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. An ethereal location, indeed, what secrets lie hidden deep within the graveyard?
A Brief History on Bonaventure
The Bonaventure Cemetery began as the Bonaventure Plantation, owned by Colonel John Mullryne. On March 10th, 1846, the plantation and its private cemetery, then 600 acres, was sold to Peter Wiltberger. The first burials at Bonaventure took place in 1850, and by 1853, Peter Wiltberger himself was entombed in the family vault. Peter’s son, William, formed the Evergreen Cemetery Company on June 12th, 1868. ON July 7th of 1907, the City of Savannah purchased the Evergreen Cemetery Company and made the private Bonaventure Plantation cemetery public, renaming it to Bonaventure Cemetery.
The cemetery is now the subject of a non-profit group, The Bonaventure Historical Society. Even though the city of Savannah is in charge of operations, the historical society ensures that the cemetery, as well as the spirits who still reside there, will be taken care of and respected.
A Cemetery Made Famous
Bonaventure Cemetery was made a national celebrity when author John Muir began his ‘thousand mile walk’ to Florida, resting for six days and nights in the Bonaventure Cemetery. He slept upon the graves overnight, stating that this was the safest and cheapest accommodation that he could find while he waited for money to be transferred from home. Muir found the cemetery to be extremely peaceful, even breathtaking. He even dedicated an entire chapter to the cemetery, titled ‘camping in the tombs’:
“Part of the grounds was cultivated and planted with live-oak, about a hundred years ago, by a wealthy gentleman who had his country residence here But much the greater part is undisturbed. Even those spots which are disordered by art, Nature is ever at work to reclaim, and to make them look as if the foot of man had never known them. Only a small plot of ground is occupied with graves and the old mansion is in ruins.
The most conspicuous glory of Bonaventure is its noble avenue of live-oaks. They are the most magnificent planted trees I have ever seen, about fifty feet high and perhaps three or four feet in diameter, with broad spreading leafy heads. The main branches reach out horizontally until they come together over the driveway, embowering it throughout its entire length, while each branch is adorned like a garden with ferns, flowers, grasses, and dwarf palmettos.”A Thousand Mile Walk
He continued on with his praises, truly capturing the energy of the beautiful southern gem:
“I gazed awe-stricken as one new-arrived from another world. Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light.”A Thousand Mile Walk
Bonaventure Cemetery’s Ghostly Residents
Savannah is well-known for its hauntings and ghostly happenings all across the city. Its cemeteries are no different. Each one is different, housing spirits from years past, all entirely unique. The cemetery is the final resting place of thousands, but one of the most well-known spirits is that of a young girl named Gracie Watson.
Born in Savannah in 1883, Gracie was the only child of W.J. and Frances Watson. Her father was the manager of the posh Pulaski Hotel in the city. The hotel was Gracie’s playground, and the staff and guests of the hotel adored her. She was often seen in the hotel lobby entertaining guests with dances and songs she had made up. But tragedy struck in 1889 — just two days before Easter, Gracie passed away from pneumonia. She was just 6 years old. She was interred in the Watson family plot in Bonaventure Cemetery, her grave marked with a traditional headstone. Her father was devastated, and decided that a plain headstone wasn’t enough for his little girl.
In 1890, he commissioned a sculptor named John Walz to create a statue of Gracie to mark her final resting place. The marble sculpture was made using a photograph of Gracie that was captured shortly before her death.
The statue shows Gracie sitting with her legs crossed, her right hand resting on top of a tree trunk that is hugged by ivy. Walz’s sculpture is uncanny, with an almost haunting resemblance. There’s also an inscription on a stone marker near her grave. It reads:
“Little Gracie Watson was born in 1883, the only child of her parents. Her father was manager of the Pulaski House, one of Savannah’s leading hotels, where the beautiful and charming little girl was a favorite with the guests. Two days before Easter, in April 1889, Gracie died of pneumonia at the age of six. In 1890, when the rising sculptor, John Walz, moved to Savannah, he carved from a photograph this life-sized, delicately detailed marble statue, which for almost a century has captured the interest of all passersby.”Atlas Obscura
Gracie’s parents never recovered from their loss. They ended up moving back to New England, leaving Gracie’s spirit alone in Savannah in the Bonaventure Cemetery. However, her grave remains one of the most visited in Georgia, and the Bonaventure Historical Society even constructed a wrought-iron fence around Gracie’s grave site. Visitors even leave small gifts and trinkets for the little girl, especially around the holidays.
So, what about sightings? Does Gracie show herself to the visitors that love her so much? She sure does! Residents and visitors alike claim to have seen Gracie throughout town or wandering around the cemetery. Reports of a small girl walking around the large oaks of Bonaventure are common — and people always seem to report a happy feeling when they see the ghost of the little girl, they’re never frightened by her presence. This just goes to show the type of energy that Gracie exuded during her life.
Her spirit is also commonly seen in Johnson Square, running through bushes and interacting with the living. She is seen wearing a white dress in Bonaventure Cemetery, and its said that if you remove one of the small gifts left for her, her statue will start to cry tears of blood. Another legend surrounding her statue tells that if you place a quarter in her hand and then walk around the statue three times, the quarter will have disappeared. Even after her death, the Pulaski Hotel staff claimed to still hear her laughing and carrying on like she always did — even today, where the Pulaski Hotel used to be is said to be haunted, with sightings of Gracie happening weekly.
Gracie isn’t the only spirit at Bonaventure Cemetery, visitors also report hearing unexplained noises, crying babies at night, packs of barking dogs, and even disembodied laughter. Colored orbs are also reported flitting around the graves, as well as the feeling of being watched.
Have you ever visited Bonaventure or any other haunted cemetery? If not, why not read up on one of America’s most haunted, Central City Masonic Cemetery.