Less than a 10-minute drive east of Savannah’s Historic District you’ll find one of the most peaceful, quiet, green escapes tucked away next to the Wilmington River. A massive graveyard might not seem like the kind of place you want to spend your day, but one visit to Bonaventure Cemetery is bound to change your mind.
No visit to Savannah is complete without a stroll through this serene and beautiful outdoor setting. Take a picnic (plus some sunscreen and insect repellant in the summer months) and find a shady spot to enjoy it amongst larger-than-life oak trees decked out in Spanish moss. The soundtrack here is straight out of a meditation playlist, but even better because the birds chirping and the bugs buzzing are the real deal.
What started as a colonial plantation owned by English Colonel John Mullryne and his family is now a public cemetery, where locals can purchase their own plots. In 1846, Bonaventure was opened as Evergreen Cemetery on 70 acres of the original Bonaventure Plantation, at a time when the city’s other cemeteries were quickly filling up. Designed as a traditional Victorian cemetery, Evergreen was bought by the City of Savannah in the early 1900s, expanded on, and then later renamed.
Southern folklore says the only way to be buried at Bonaventure Cemetery is if you die there, but we were able to confirm that that creepy tidbit of information isn’t true. At Bonaventure, you can even get married for a fee if an outdoor wedding amongst the dead is your thing (all weddings must be registered within the Department of Cemeteries).
When it comes to celebrity tombs, there are a few scattered throughout Bonaventure. Namely, Johnny Mercer — a lyricist known for the song “Moon River” and a co-founder of Capitol Records.
Although he died in Hollywood, Mercer was born in Savannah and so he was buried at Bonaventure in 1976. The cemetery was also featured in John Berendt’s famed 1994 novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and then again in the namesake film directed by Clint Eastwood.
The Bonaventure Historical Society started in 1992, the idea conceived by a retired Savannah teacher and his friends. The Society’s mission is to maintain the preservation and conservation of the cemetery with volunteers working at the Visitors’ Center and giving free guided tours on the weekends.
Best time to visit Bonaventure Cemetery
Admission to Bonaventure is free as are the guided tours of the 100-acre property. The rainy season in Savannah lasts from the end of May to mid-September, peaking in early August, so if you’re visiting in the summer plan accordingly; an umbrella, rain boots, and maybe a light jacket will do the trick.
And let’s not forget that coastal Southern heat – the hottest day of the year in Savannah is July 22 with an average high of 91F. Make sure you drink lots of water (and maybe even bring a cooler!) if you plan to spend extended periods of time outdoors in the warmer months.
Ready to learn? You can download the site’s mobile app on your phone for a self-guided tour and visit the graves of Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken at your leisure. You can also buy an illustrated map for just $8.
It might be surprising that one of the most visited gravesites at Bonaventure is that of Little Gracie Watson, the daughter of Wales J. and Frances Watson. The family, originally from Massachusetts, managed the Pulaski Hotel downtown in Johnson Square and Little Gracie was often seen playing at the property. She died a couple of days before Easter at just six years old.
People flock to visit her grave and it’s said that sometimes, late at night, her ghost is spotted skipping through the plants at Johnson Square near where the Pulaski Hotel once stood.
Private tours of Bonaventure are available for non-profits as well as school groups with a minimum of 10 people. Local tour companies offer tours for smaller groups, as well.
From Savannah’s Historic District, you can get to Bonaventure by car, ride service, bus (take Line 10 at Oglethorpe & Abercorn EB and get off at Georgia & Bonaventure SB; it’s a 15-minute walk from the dropoff point so the journey would be about 36 minutes total) or on foot. The walk is long, though, and will take approximately an hour and 20 minutes.
If you’re visiting Savannah for the first time, your best bet is to stay in a hotel in the Historic District, which is roughly three miles away. The Kimpton Brice Hotel is a great dog-friendly option. Mansion on Forsyth Park and Perry Lane Hotel are both a bit more luxurious.
After a long day of exploring, settle in for a magical sunset at The Wyld Dock Bar. Just 10 minutes from Bonaventure Cemetery, the Wyld is outdoors and on the water. Toast with a local beer to the living (or the dead) as you watch the sun disappear into the marsh.