Visitors to Savannah won’t regret exploring Bonaventure Cemetery and her sister Greenwich Cemetery.
Two of the most beautiful cemeteries in the South, on any list of things to do in Savannah should be to wander their oaks and discover their secrets. From Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil to Greenwich Plantation and Greenwich Park, there’s lots to see and enjoy.
Bonaventure Cemetery is open 8:00am – 5:00pm 7 days a week
Number one on anybody’s list of famous cemeteries in Savannah is Bonaventure Cemetery, and when you drive through the stone and wrought-iron gate, it isn’t hard to figure out why.
Opened in 1846, the Evergreen Cemetery was built on 60 acres of the Bonaventure Plantation. The City of Savannah purchased Evergreen from the company that owned it in 1907.
Renamed for the plantation, the expanded 103 acres of Savannah’s largest municipal cemetery is protected by hundreds and hundreds of mature oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
Backed up to a beautiful scenic bluff on the Wilmington River, you’ll find shaded benches where you can rest and reflect while boats and dolphins pass.
Cosmos Mariner – Destination Unknown
Conrad Aiken’s Grave Bench
Nearby the serene salt marshes, if you wander to Aiken Way, you can find a particular granite bench.
American novelist, poet and playwright Conrad Aiken ordered the bench you’re looking for to be his headstone. The bench is installed next to his parents, who both died in a murder-suicide when Conrad was 11.
Melancholy is apparent in the author’s own epitaph, which he found by accident in a daily list of port activity in the Savannah newspaper: “Cosmos Mariner – Destination Unknown”.
The bench at Mr. Aiken’s grave is also famous as a location where characters from “Midnight” have drinks at night.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Relax on one of Bonaventure’s many benches overlooking the river
In John Berendt’s bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bonaventure Cemetery is featured prominently in both the book and the movie of the same name.
Fans of the book looking for the graves of murdered Danny Hansford, or the accused Jim Williams, should not waste their time looking in Bonaventure.
Danny Is buried in Greenwich Cemetery just down the road. Jim was buried in far away Wilkinson county next to his mother.
The iconic “Bird Girl” from the front cover of “The Book” cannot also not be found at Bonaventure Cemetery. Visitors to Savannah looking for her will find her on display at the Jepson Center for the Arts, downtown.
Gracie Watson – Section E, Plot 98
A cemetery as old and beautiful as Bonaventure has plenty of other real-life characters whose final resting places you can visit.
One of the most visited graves in the cemetery is that of “Little Gracie” Watson, who has been drawing visitors for over a hundred years.
Born in Boston in 1883, Gracie moved to Savannah with her parents when her father landed the position of manager at the prestigious Pulaski Hotel. One of the finest hotels in the South, Gracie quickly became the center of attention, entertaining guests at the Pulaski with charm, songs and dancing.
The little celebrity became ill with pneumonia, and died two days before Easter of 1889.
If you decide to visit her grave site in Bonaventure Cemetery, you’ll find a haunting, life-sized sculpture of Gracie. Commissioned from a photograph, the statue is rumored to be a remarkable likeness of the girl.
Gracie was left behind in Savannah, alone in death.
Greenwich Cemetery is open 8:00am – 5:00pm 7 days a week
Within walking distance from Bonaventure, is Greenwich Cemetery, the “youngest” of Savannah’s municipal cemeteries.
Smaller than Bonaventure, at 65 acres, and not as well known as other Savannah cemeteries, Greenwich is usually much less crowded, and feels more relaxing.
You will see the same protective, moss draped oaks found at Bonaventure, and enjoy the cooling breezes from Greenwich’s Wilmington River frontage.
Greenwich Cemetery provides the same peaceful setting as her more famous sister, and has secrets of her own to share.
The plantation fountain – placed here in 1898
The cemetery was established in 1933 on the former site of Greenwich Plantation as the Greenwich Addition to Bonaventure. The plantation was created by combining farm lots, which were King’s grants from King George II of England.
Discussions of Greenwich Plantation inevitably compare it in size and opulence to North Carolina’s Biltmore House in Asheville.
Had the mansion survived the fire that destroyed it in 1923, it surely would be an attraction to rival the Vanderbilt’s home today.
Picturesque lawns and gardens had on display, ornate statues, fountains and exotic plants, to impress visitors and delight the plantation’s owners.
Views of the river and surrounding marshland, as well as a central, grandiose white-marble fountain, lead people of the day to consider it one of the South’s most outstanding privately owned estates.
Not much evidence remains of Greenwich Plantation, but you can still find a few of the fountains and statues if you look hard enough.
Rudolph Valentino’s Movie
A scene from Stolen Moments featuring Greenwich Plantation
You can get a glimpse of the Greenwich Plantation’s former glory if you watch the movie Stolen Moments, which was filmed there in 1920, just three years before the fire.
Featuring Rudolph Valentino in his final role playing a villain, the silent film was set in the mansion and on it’s grounds.
Greenwich Park has many peaceful views
Exploration of the northeastern section of Greenwich Cemetery will eventually lead you to the 3.5 acre meditation park.
Featuring a large tree lined pool shaped like a butterfly, you’ll find yourself on a bridge that separates the two halves of the tidal pond. You can find benches for relaxing which face the marsh, the cemetery, or the pond.
Squirrels, birds and dragonflies keep you company while you listen to the sounds of the water.
Danny Hansford’s grave – Section 8, Row G
When your quiet moment of reflection passes, continued exploration of Greenwich Cemetery might yield discovery of the grave of the site’s most famous resident.
Though his character, played by Jude Law in the film version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was renamed Billy Hanson, his actual name was Danny Hansford.
Danny was shot to death in the study of Mercer House on Monterrey Square by Jim Williams.
Supposedly Savannah’s most popular male escort in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, his death led to a bestselling novel. What really happened that night in 1981 only he and Jim Williams will ever know.
Walking up to the simple headstone set in to the grass, you may find a previous visitor has left a cigarette or a drink for Danny.
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