Savannah, Georgia, known for its charming historic district, moss-draped oak trees, and genteel Southern hospitality, is also home to some of the most fascinating and historically rich cemeteries in the United States. Beyond their function as resting places for the deceased, Savannah’s cemeteries are open-air history museums that narrate the story of this storied city. In this essay, we will delve into the historic cemeteries of Savannah, shedding light on their captivating tales, unique features, and the profound sense of timelessness they exude.
- Colonial Park Cemetery
Colonial Park Cemetery, nestled in the heart of Savannah’s historic district, is a poignant testament to the city’s colonial history. Established in 1750, it is one of the oldest cemeteries in Savannah and serves as the final resting place for many of the city’s early settlers. The cemetery’s layout reflects the colonial period, with pathways forming a grid, evoking a sense of order and symmetry.
Colonial Park Cemetery also has a darker side. During the Revolutionary War, the cemetery became a makeshift field hospital, resulting in numerous casualties. Many of those interred here met their end in battle or due to epidemics, making it a somber but historically significant site.
- Bonaventure Cemetery
The Bonaventure Cemetery is perhaps the most famous of Savannah’s cemeteries, owing much of its notoriety to John Berendt’s book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” This 100-acre expanse of sculpted landscapes, majestic oak trees, and intricately adorned graves is a beautiful and eerie sight.
One of the most striking features of Bonaventure is the Bird Girl statue, made famous by the book. The cemetery is a repository of Savannah’s history, with graves dating back to the 19th century. The serene setting and intricate funerary art make it a favored spot for both tourists and locals, reflecting the city’s timeless beauty.
- Laurel Grove Cemetery
Laurel Grove Cemetery, encompassing both North and South sections, stands as a testament to Savannah’s diverse history. The North section, established in 1853, is the final resting place for many prominent African Americans, including Civil Rights leader W.W. Law. The South section, founded in 1852, is a grand Victorian-style cemetery filled with ornate tombs and towering statues.
Laurel Grove’s lush greenery and diverse residents reflect Savannah’s multicultural heritage and offer a glimpse into the city’s past. It is a serene place where visitors can pay their respects and connect with the history of the city.
- Greenwich Cemetery
Nestled in Savannah’s historic district, the Greenwich Cemetery is an intimate and lesser-known burial ground. It dates back to the early 18th century and has an air of quiet contemplation. The cemetery features elegantly crafted headstones, many of which display intricate wrought ironwork, indicative of the city’s artistic legacy.
Visitors to Greenwich Cemetery will find themselves enveloped in a sense of solitude and peace. The cemetery’s modest size and charming details make it a serene place for a reflective stroll.
- Laurel Grove Cemetery
Laurel Grove Cemetery, comprising both North and South sections, offers a unique window into Savannah’s rich history and cultural diversity. The North section, established in 1853, serves as the final resting place for many prominent African Americans, including the Civil Rights leader W.W. Law. The South section, founded in 1852, is a grand Victorian-style cemetery with ornate tombs and towering statues.
Laurel Grove’s verdant landscapes and the diverse individuals interred here reflect the multicultural heritage of Savannah. The cemetery serves as a serene and contemplative space where visitors can honor the past and connect with the city’s history.
- Bonaventure Cemetery
The Bonaventure Cemetery, arguably Savannah’s most renowned burial ground, is often celebrated for its natural beauty and ornate memorials. Spread across 100 acres, it is an iconic destination, in part thanks to John Berendt’s novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” The cemetery’s intricate funerary art, including statues, mausoleums, and epitaphs, offers a unique glimpse into the city’s history.
The Bonaventure Cemetery is home to various sections, each with its own distinctive character. The cemetery’s iconic Bird Girl statue, depicted on the cover of Berendt’s book, has become an emblem of the city’s unique charm.
- Evergreen Cemetery
Savannah’s Evergreen Cemetery, established in 1918, reflects a significant change in the city’s burial traditions. Unlike the historic cemeteries known for their Victorian elegance, Evergreen represents the shift towards a more modern and streamlined approach to burial. It has a more straightforward layout, with fewer elaborate monuments.
Evergreen Cemetery encapsulates the evolving attitudes toward death and memorialization in the 20th century. It is a place of reflection and simplicity, in stark contrast to the grandeur of the older cemeteries in the city.
- The Yellow Fever Epidemic Plot
In Colonial Park Cemetery, a small section is dedicated to the victims of the Yellow Fever epidemic that swept through Savannah in the 19th century. The graves here are poignant reminders of the city’s struggles with disease and death during this period. A visit to this plot offers insight into the challenges faced by the city’s residents and serves as a somber commemoration of their resilience.
- The Jewish Section at Bonaventure
Bonaventure Cemetery also houses a Jewish section, which provides a fascinating window into the history of the Jewish community in Savannah. The graves here feature traditional Hebrew inscriptions and symbols, preserving the cultural and religious heritage of this community.
- The Confederate War Memorial
Located in Forsyth Park, the Confederate War Memorial is a prominent monument dedicated to the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The monument features an impressive obelisk and statues representing various branches of the Confederate military. It is both a significant historical marker and a point of reflection on the complex legacy of the Civil War.
Savannah’s historic cemeteries are more than mere resting places for the deceased; they are living testaments to the city’s rich and diverse history. From Colonial Park Cemetery, with its colonial-era gravestones, to the grandeur of Bonaventure Cemetery, these sites offer an array of stories and architectural beauty. The cemeteries provide a unique opportunity to explore Savannah’s past, appreciate its cultural diversity, and pay homage to those who came before, all within the serene and timeless embrace of these hallowed grounds. As you wander among the graves and statues, you’ll discover that Savannah’s historic cemeteries are not just about death; they are vibrant repositories of life, history, and the enduring spirit of this enchanting city.