Exploring and Encouraging a Healthy Life Marked with Joy

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I spent an incredibly warm but wonderfully interesting couple of hours this afternoon at the historically magnificent Bonaventure Cemetery here in my beautiful Savannah.  The day might have been heavy and muggy, but my time there was anything but–cooler than Leopold’s!  It seems that every second Sunday the Bonaventure Historical Society offers free guided tours of the cemetery, so I showed up thirty minutes early with a big water bottle and wearing my thinnest t-shirt.

Before leaving my air conditioning, I checked out the cemetery’s website and learned that …

Though not Savannah’s oldest cemetery, Bonaventure is certainly its most famous and hauntingly beautiful. Quintessentially Southern Gothic, it has captured the imaginations of writers, poets, naturalists, photographers and filmmakers for more than 150 years. Part natural cathedral, part sculptural garden, Bonaventure transcends time.

Military generals, poet Conrad Aiken, Academy Award-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer and Georgia’s first governor Edward Telfair are among those buried at Bonaventure. The approximately 100-acre cemetery is also historically significant as a reflection of changing views on death and dying in the Victorian era. As death became more romanticized and ritualized during this period, cemeteries became lush, beautiful “cities of the dead.”

Another reason behind Bonaventure’s popularity is John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which featured a cover photo of the now-famous “Bird Girl” statue, formerly located in Bonaventure. The statue has since been moved to the Telfair Museum of Art, founded through the bequest of Mary Telfair, also buried at Bonaventure. 

Our tour guide, the vivacious Ms. Elizabeth Ford …

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… oozed Southern hospitality and a spoke a delicious Southern dialect.  (After the tour, I wanted to go home with her just to hear her talk some more. But I didn’t really know how to ask.)

Elizabeth led us around the hauntingly beautiful Gothic graveyard, along the banks of the lazy Wilmington River, regaling us with stories of the history of the place and showing us gravesites of some of the more prominent folks buried there.  But what I loved most of all was the simple interplay of a deeply Southern voice leading me, slowly, on Sunday afternoon time, through such beauty.

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(In the above pic, I was aiming for a cemetery facial expression.  Did I get anywhere close?)

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(I wish I had a ponytail like that guy to my left.)

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My parents taught me to love cemeteries.  As friendly places, reservoirs of wonderful memories.  To this day, when I return home to visit them, we usually end up at one of several cemeteries in or around my hometown of Ball Ground, Georgia, where close relatives are buried.  Granny Nix and Veto.  Mama and Papa Saye.  My brother Jimmy who lived only one week.  Old Doc Saye, Ball Ground’s first doctor.    Pulling weeds around a headstone, or straightening flower arrangements, we get caught up in “Remember when’s” and “She was a pistol!” and “I still miss him so much.”  They taught me that I am standing tall today because of all of them who came before.

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Bonaventure: an afternoon of warm joy.

Bonaventure Cemetery Website

Comments on: "Sunday Afternoon Adventure at Bonaventure: A PhotoJournal" (22)

  1. Amazing carvings. The women sitting and the Celtic cross are my favorites.

  2. I LOVE the Celtic cross too. I want to go back soon to take more time looking at some of the ones which seemed less impressive at first. I bet I will discover some treasures. Thanks for your comment. Have a great week ahead!

  3. Such a beautiful and magical place! It’s like time traveling without leaving the present. We are transported to another era and we are forced to slow down, breath in and examine how much life can speak to us in a place of death (or sleep) as it was once called.

    • It REALLY is like stepping into another world … I guess because it IS another world. And yes, the required “slowing down” is part of Bonaventure’s magic.

  4. Beautiful photos and story, Neal. You look better without a ponytail!

    • Hi Jamie. Thanks! It’s an amazing place. And you’re probably right about the ponytail. But what about a fake one for special occasions?

  5. Bonaventure is so beautiful, but one couldn’t expect less from Savannah… I can’t wait to get back there. A few of my favorite photos were taken there…
    Lucky You!!!

    • Hi there! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Yes, I love Savannah SO much. Hope you can come back soon!

      • I swear I’d move there if I didn’t get so wilty in the heat!

      • Ha! Then I probably shudn’t tell you it’s supposed to get up to 97 tomorrow. I probably won’t open my front door.

      • It’s supposed to be knocking on 90 in Cincinnati!!
        I have beautiful memories of Savannah, I’d visit any time, wilt or no wilt!!

      • Did you come for a visit or live here a while?

      • Just a beautiful vacation with a lost love… 😉
        (Well he’s been lost since the trip lol)
        There was a wonderful rooftop pub that we spent several nights at and a darling bed and breakfast where we stayed.
        I’m ready to return!!
        Your post has me all silly and wistful!!

      • Aww. Sounds romantic .. and tragic. Kidding. Was the rooftop pub, Isaac’s, by any chance? I live three blocks from there in the middle of the historic district. I walk everywhere.

        Here’s my backyard (well actually an alley behind my lil place):

        https://nealenjoy.com/2012/07/06/welcome-to-my-backyard-the-alley-of-the-angels/

        Neal

      • I don’t remember the name of the the pub, there was a great bartender who’d start pouring the Guinness as soon as we arrived.
        I’m soooooooo jealous of you right now!!

      • And what is romance without tragedy anyway?? 😉

      • Ha. Very true. So what do you do for a living besides take GORGEOUS pictures? I teach at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). Mainly teach international students English skills.

      • I’m a nurse but I shuffle papers…. And in my free time I pretend to be a photographer and a writer… I could probably use your tutelage for my own English skills 😉
        The hillbilly is strong in me.
        Thanks for the compliment!! I definitely love photography!

      • I’m a hillbilly too! From the tiny hamlet of Ball Ground, GA. I visited my parents (89 and 86) last week and ate at Cracker Barrel, thinking, “Oh my god, this is SO good!” Of course, we finished “supper” by 5:00, and I was STARVING by 9:00 when they went to bed. My daughter is also a nurse. She’s married to an anaesthesiologist (sp?). That’s prob TMI.

      • That’s funny I work for an anesthesia group!
        I saw your post about your parents! I love some Cracker Barrel!
        And I appreciate DINNER and SUPPER, no one else around Cincinnati does!

      • G nite, new friend. I’m glad we met. You seem like a kindred spirit!

        Sent from Neal’s iPhone4

      • I am glad as well!!
        Sweet dreams!

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