Guide to Exploring Bonaventure Cemetery: Savannah’s Beautiful Garden Graveyard
When people are playing tourist with us in Savannah, we always bring them to Bonaventure Cemetery. It’s one of the great icons of Savannah and in general, it’s a quiet and beautiful place to visit. We’ve wandered the graveyard many times, in all kinds of weather and have some helpful tips for exploring Bonaventure Cemetery.
So, is Bonaventure Cemetery worth visiting? Is it good for kids? I’ve got all of those answers and more; everything you need to plan a visit to one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the South. This is one of the best historic sites to visit in Savannah, so be sure to add it to your plans.
If you have any additional questions or more to share, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re happy to add to what we’ve got here and love hearing from others about their experiences!
What is so Special About Bonaventure Cemetery?
Bonaventure Cemetery is a historic cemetery located just outside of the main town area of Savannah, Georgia. It was originally a private plantation before it became a public cemetery in 1907. The cemetery is known for its beautiful dripping Spanish moss scenery and unique gravestone sculptures, aka funerary art, including intricate statues, mausoleums, and gravestones.
It is also famous for being the final resting place of several notable figures, including poets, politicians, and soldiers. Bonaventure Cemetery has been featured in numerous books, movies, and TV shows, and is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
Bonaventure is quite iconic and is one of the best historic sites in Savannah to visit. It is the most famous example, and one of the first, of what came to be known as a garden cemetery. It really is a special place, and if you’re into ghosts and spiritualism, you’ll love it for a variety of reasons…
Is Bonaventure a Confederate Cemetery?
NO. Bonaventure Cemetery is NOT a Confederate cemetery, although there are a lot of Confederate grave markers among the plots. Being such an old and historic place, you’ll find a wide variety of people that were laid to rest here, including some recently deceased who still had active family plots.
As you wander through Bonaventure, pay attention to the details of different graves. You will find Confederate graves, that’s true and they are marked with a metal Southern Cross, but you’ll also find Jewish and Muslim graves in the mix. Savannah has a very diverse history, although it’s most known for its Southern/Civil War elements.
Where is Bonaventure Cemetery Located
Bonaventure Cemetery is located in Savannah, Georgia, United States. Specifically, it is situated on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River, at 330 Bonaventure Road, just east of the city center. The neighborhood is actually called Thunderbolt and there are some pretty cool homes out there.
You can walk all around the grounds and get some good exercise. The cemetery covers approximately 160 acres and is open to visitors daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
If you drive through the cemetery to the east end, you’ll find a small parking lot. Leave your car here and walk up into the cemetery. This will minimize traffic on the dirt roads and allow people to walk freely and take photos WITHOUT cars in them. We never park in the middle of Bonaventure Cemetery.
Most Famous Graves in Bonaventure
Bonaventure Cemetery is most famous for its beauty and it was made a Savannah icon with the publication and then production of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but it’s been a part of Savannah history for much longer. There are graves here dating to the late 1700s and early 1800s, even though it didn’t become a full-fledged burial ground until later. The most famous graves in Bonaventure Cemetery aren’t even the oldest, but each is notable in its own way. (get the book here!)
I’ll admit, I don’t seek out the famous graves in Bonaventure when I visit, but for many people, they want to see them and hear or read the stories about the people or the funerary art. I tend to just wander through the rows and rows of graves, but any guide to Bonaventure Cemetery will tell you to visit these sites.
Johnny Mercer was a famous American songwriter, singer, and composer who was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. He is known for writing numerous popular songs, including “Moon River,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” and “That Old Black Magic.” Mercer’s grave is located in Bonaventure Cemetery’s northern section, close to the river. The grave features a bronze statue of Mercer sitting on a bench with a pen in his hand and a piece of paper on his lap. The statue was designed by sculptor Susie Chisholm, and it depicts Mercer as if he were contemplating a new song. The inscription on the grave reads, “And the angels sing,” which is the title of one of Mercer’s famous songs.
Conrad Aiken was an American novelist, poet, and critic who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1930. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, and spent his childhood there. Aiken’s grave is located in the center of Bonaventure Cemetery, close to the main entrance. The grave is a simple headstone with Aiken’s name and dates of birth and death. Aiken’s most famous work is his autobiographical novel, “Ushant,” which he wrote after the suicide of his father. Aiken’s grave is often visited by fans of his writing, who leave flowers and notes in his memory.
Little Gracie Watson
Gracie Watson was the daughter of a wealthy Savannah businessman who died of pneumonia at the age of six in 1889. Her grave is located in the northeast corner of Bonaventure Cemetery, and it is one of the most visited graves in the cemetery. The grave features a life-size statue of Gracie, dressed in a white dress and holding a small bouquet of flowers. The statue was created by sculptor John Walz, and it is said to be a replica of a photograph of Gracie taken shortly before her death. Legend has it that Gracie’s ghost haunts the cemetery, and many visitors leave toys and gifts at her grave as offerings.
Florence Martus, also known as “the waving girl,” was a Savannah icon who greeted ships entering and leaving the port of Savannah from 1887 to 1931. She would wave a handkerchief during the day and a lantern at night to welcome sailors and bid them farewell. Martus lived on nearby Elba Island with her brother, who was the lighthouse keeper. She never married, and when she died in 1943, she was buried in Bonaventure Cemetery. Her grave is located in the northern section of the cemetery, close to the river, and it features a headstone with an anchor and a plaque commemorating her life as “the waving girl.”
Grady Stiles Jr.
Grady Stiles Jr., also known as the “Lobster Boy,” was a carnival sideshow performer who had ectrodactyly, a rare condition that caused his hands and feet to resemble lobster claws. Stiles was born into a carnival family and started performing at a young age. He was known for his sharp tongue and aggressive behavior, which made him difficult to work with. Stiles was married four times, and his family life was troubled by domestic abuse and alcoholism. In 1992, Stiles was shot and killed by a hitman hired by his son-in-law. He is buried in Bonaventure Cemetery’s southern section, and his grave features a headstone with a lobster engraved on it. The inscription reads, “Grady Stiles Jr., Lobster Boy, Born 1937, Died 1992.”
Where is the Bird Girl Statue in Bonaventure Cemetery?
Whomp whom whaaaaa. Bird Girl is no longer located in Bonaventure Cemetery. Originally cast in bronze in the 1930s, the famous Bird Girl statue was initially installed at the Trosdal family plot, but after the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil came out, people were starting to get out of hand at the gravesite, so the Bird Girl was entrusted to the Telfair Museums to take care of and display in a safe environment.
Read our article all about Bird Girl here!
How to Visit Bonaventure Cemetery
“So if Bonaventure isn’t directly in Savannah, how do I actually visit the cemetery?” Good news is there are several ways to get there if you don’t have a vehicle while you’re in Savannah. You could rent bikes in Savannah and then ride out to Bonaventure. It’s about a 25 minute bike ride from Bull Street and the Historic District to the Thunderbolt neighborhood.
You can also take the bus to Bonaventure. The Chatham Area Transit Number 10 bus goes from the historic district to just a block away from the cemetery entrance. This is a great, inexpensive option for getting to Bonaventure Cemetery from downtown.
When to Visit Bonaventure Cemetery
The cemetery is open year round and everyday of the year. The gates open at 8:00 am daily and lock at 5:00 pm. Visiting early any time of year is the best, but if you’re able to be in Bonaventure Cemetery as late as possible during the winter months when the sun is the lowest, that’s when you’ll get some of the best light for photos.
BIG TIP: the absolute best time to visit Bonaventure Cemetery is immediately after a rainstorm. I mean, within minutes before the skies clear up. Being in Bonaventure when the Spanish moss is dripping, when the resurrection ferns are opening and turning green before your eyes, and when the graves and sculptures are wet and dark, it’s amazing. Also, if you’re able to be in the cemetery during a summer rain, the moisture in the air creates the most amazing atmospheric distortion for photos.
Tours of Bonaventure Cemetery
Bonaventure Cemetery offers a range of tours for visitors who want to explore the cemetery’s rich history and unique funerary art. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who share fascinating stories and insights about the cemetery and its famous residents. Here are three different tour guides that visitors can choose from:
Bonaventure Historical Society – The Bonaventure Historical Society offers a variety of guided tours that explore the cemetery’s history and architecture. The tours are led by knowledgeable volunteers who are passionate about Savannah’s rich cultural heritage. Visitors can choose from several tour options, including a walking tour of the cemetery’s most famous graves, a tour of the Bonaventure Chapel and its stained-glass windows, and a tour that explores the cemetery’s role in Savannah’s history.
Dash Tours – Dash Tours offers a unique way to explore Bonaventure Cemetery: by electric car. The eco-friendly tours are led by knowledgeable guides who provide interesting commentary about the cemetery’s history and notable residents. Visitors can choose from several tour options, including a standard tour that covers the cemetery’s most famous graves and landmarks, and a ghost tour that explores the cemetery’s haunted history. Book it here!
Savannah Dan Walking Tours or Ghost City Tours– Savannah Dan Walking Tours offers a personalized and interactive way to explore Bonaventure Cemetery. Dan, the tour guide, is a passionate and knowledgeable Savannah native who shares fascinating stories and insights about the cemetery’s history and unique features. Visitors can choose from several tour options, including a general walking tour that covers the cemetery’s most famous graves and monuments, a photography tour that focuses on capturing the cemetery’s beauty and atmosphere, and a custom tour that can be tailored to specific interests and preferences. Book it here!
In addition to these tour guides, visitors can also opt for self-guided tours of the cemetery. Bonaventure Cemetery provides a map and brochure that highlights some of the cemetery’s most famous graves and landmarks, and visitors can explore the cemetery at their own pace. However, for those who want a more in-depth and immersive experience, the guided tours offered by the Bonaventure Historical Society, Dash Tours, and Savannah Dan Walking Tours are highly recommended. These tours provide a wealth of information and insights about the cemetery’s fascinating history and notable residents, and they offer a unique perspective on one of Savannah’s most iconic landmarks.
BONUS: if you don’t have a car and want to see both Bonaventure Cemetery AND Wormsloe Historic Site, you can book a tour from downtown that takes you to BOTH! Book it here!
FAQ about Bonaventure Cemetery
I’ve answered most of these questions above, but just in case you’re a skimmer and not a reader, here are the most frequently asked questions about Bonaventure Cemetery:
Bonaventure Cemetery is located in the Thunderbolt neighborhood of Savannah, just east of town.
The gates to the cemetery open at 8:00 am and close at 5:00 pm.
This was initially a private plantation with a few graves, but it became the first major garden cemetery in the mid 1800s.
Johnny Mercer and Conrad Aiken are the two most famous people buried in Bonaventure Cemetery, but the really attraction of visiting is seeing all of the other graves and funerary art throughout the whole area.
No, Bonaventure is open to the public, free of charge.
Yes, there are quite a few guided tours of Bonaventure. We have several listed above including links to book them.
My favorite time of year at Bonaventure is late spring when there are still flowers and the summer rains are becoming more frequent.
Bird Girl used to be in Bonaventure and was featured as the cover image for the book and movie of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but she is no longer in the cemetery. Read all about Bird Girl here!
Yes! Photography is encouraged when you visit Bonaventure, but be respectful of the graves and stay within the walking paths.
When we visit with kids (yes, it’s a very good place to visit with children) we spend no more than an hour. If you intend to walk the entire cemetery, allow yourself two hours (but you’ll get cemetery fatigue).
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