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Explore Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah’s Hauntingly Beautiful Burial Ground

Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 10:57 am

If you are visiting Savannah, then you must explore Bonaventure Cemetery. A hauntingly beautiful burial ground, Bonaventure Cemetery is adorned with live oaks which are themselves draped in Spanish Moss. Add to that the architecturally beautiful monuments and fascinating stories and you have a wonderful microcosm of Savannah’s history.

A visit was high up on my Savannah itinerary and I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s my guide for when you are ready to explore Bonaventure Cemetery.

Image of one of the graves to be seen as you explore Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

How To Get To Bonaventure Cemetery

The entrance to Bonaventure Cemetery is at 330 Bonaventure Road, east of Savannah in an area called Thunderbolt. It’s about 6 kilometres (4 miles) from Downtown Savannah and easily accessible by car. The trip takes 20 minutes or so depending on traffic.

If you don’t have access to a car, I would suggest taking a taxi or rideshare. I would advise against walking. Alternatively, bus line 10 runs from the Historic District in Savannah, although the relevant stop at Bonaventure Road is about a 10 minute walk from the cemetery. Note – there may be an absence of pavements.

A further alternative, and one that I took and would highly recommend for those without a vehicle, is to book a tour that includes transport.

Bonaventure Cemetery is open daily from 8am to 5pm and is free to enter.

Image of some of the wrought iron gates to be seen as you explore Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

Best Time To Explore Bonaventure Cemetery

Overall, it would seem the best time to explore Bonaventure Cemetery would be March – May and September – November. Essentially, these are the best times to visit Savannah to avoid the summer heat.

I visited in September so it was still hot and humid, but not as hot as earlier in the summer! It did not rain which was good, however I understand that seeing the Spanish Moss, resurrection ferns and live oaks not to mention the grave monuments following the rain is beautiful. So, there may be a bonus to experiencing some wet weather!

Visiting in the spring will give you a good chance of seeing all the azaleas in bloom.

Organised Tour or Self Guided Visit?

Whether you choose to explore Bonaventure Cemetery with an organised tour or on a self guided basis will depend on a number of factors, including your transportation situation, budget and the time you have available.

As I indicated above, I joined an organsied tour run by Savannah Bonaventure Dash Tours. The main selling point for me was the inclusion of round-trip transportation from my Downtown Savannah hotel. As it transpired, the tour has many more selling points and I am more than happy to recommend Tim Rowell, the owner, as your tour guide!! Prices start at $35 for adults (concessions available and transport included). A private tour can also be arranged.

Other tours are of course available. The Bonaventure Historical Society offer free guided tours on the second weekend of every month, beginning at 2pm on both Saturday and Sunday – check the BHS official site for further details.

Two other popular options leaving from the Cemetery are Shannon Scott cemetery tours and Bonaventure Don, a ‘name your own price’ walking tour run by Don Teuton.

Tours can take various forms, including walking, golf cart and by Segway. I found Get Your Guide a good starting place when looking for options to tour Bonaventure Cemetery.

If you would rather explore Bonaventure Cemetery on your own, then consider paying for and downloading the Bonaventure Cemetery Tour mobile app or visiting the BHS Visitors Center to get a map. There’s also a very simple Bonaventure Cemetery map available on the BHS official site. The Cemetery measures well over 100 acres in area so a map will be useful!

Note – the BHS Visitors Center opens at 10am and closes at 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

A Brief History

Bonaventure Cemetery is located on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River on the site of a former plantation from which it takes its name. The plantation was sold in 1846, with the first burials taking place in 1850.

The Cemetery was originally named Evergreen, but in 1907 the City of Savannah acquired it and changed its name to Bonaventure. The Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

The profile of Bonaventure Cemetery grew in the wake of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (1994) and subsequent movie and is now a ‘must see’ attraction when visiting Savannah. 

Notable Burials

As you explore Bonaventure Cemetery, you will see and learn about many notable burials including:

  • Conrad Aiken – Pulitzer Prize winning writer and poet, he died in 1973. His burial site is featured in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. Legend has it that he wanted his tombstone in the shape of a bench so visitors could stop and enjoy a martini at his grave!
Image of the burial site of Conrad Aiken, one of the famous graves in Bonaventure Cemetery.

  • Hugh W. Mercer – a Confederate General in the Civil War and the man for whom the infamous Mercer-Williams House was built – read my post 4 Outstanding Historic Houses to Explore in Savannah for further details on this beautiful property. Mercer also worked at The Planters Bank, now known as The Olde Pink House which also features in my post! He died in 1877.
  • Johnny Mercer – lyricist, songwriter and singer as well as co-founder of Capitol Records. You may recognise one of his most famous songs, Moon River. He was also the great-grandson of Hugh W. Mercer. He died in 1976.
Image of the Mercer family burial plots you can see as you explore Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia
Mercer Family Graves
  • Edward Telfair – one of the American Founding Fathers, he was also a politician and slave trader and Governor of Georgia between 1786 & 1787 and again from 1790 to 1793. He died in 1807. His eldest daughter was the benefactor of the first public art museum in the American South, now 3 buildings known as the Telfair Museums.
  • Gracie Watson – a young 6 year old girl who died in 1889 from pneumonia. Her father commissioned a sculpture of her. The monument, created from a photo, is one of the only funerary monuments in Georgia sculpted in someone’s exact likeness. The grave became very popular and was surrounded by a gated fence in 1999. Gracie’s parents moved from Savannah and are each buried elsewhere, adding to the poignancy.
Image of the grave of Gracie Watson, one of the famous graves to be seen as you explore Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

Hidden Gems

As you explore Bonaventure Cemetery, look out for some interesting historical markers including:

  • the grave bell at the burial site of Charles F. Mills. This bell would have been attached to him so he could ring it if he was in fact not dead when buried! In the 19th century there was a real fear of being buried alive which led to the invention of safety devices such as bells.
Image of a grave bell which can be seen as you explore Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

  • graves with a Daughters of the American Revolution grave marker. These indicate the burial site of American Revolutionary soldiers, patriots, their wives and daughters.
  • graves with a Confederate star indicating that a Confederate soldier rests there

There is plenty of symbolism evident as you explore Bonaventure Cemetery. Statues representing the 7 virtues – chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, patience and humility – can be seen. Look out also for monuments of shortened tree trunks representing a life cut short, pillars representing a pillar of the community and obelisks indicating wealth.

A life cut short

One of the monuments that you won’t see as you explore Bonaventure Cemetery however is the famous Bird Girl statue that graces the cover of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. It was originally located within the Cemetery but in order to better protect it, you will now find it on display at the Telfair Academy.

Tips for Visiting Bonaventure Cemetery

Here are my tips for when you visit the Cemetery:

  • summer months are very hot and humid so take water
  • wear a hat and sunscreen
  • take bug spray!
  • allow at least 2 hours at the cemetery – an organised tour with transport will likely be just under 3 hours
  • there are restrooms at the front by the entry gates but not in the Cemetery itself so plan accordingly!
  • there is parking available and it is free
  • most of the paths in the cemetery are dirt and gravel and may cause accessibility issues. You may therefore want to consider a golf cart or Segway tour
  • it goes without saying that visitors should observe cemetery etiquette and be respectful – although the cemetery is very old, descendants and families of the deceased do still visit and funerals are still held (including on the day I went)
  • Check the BHS official site for current visitor information and rules
Image of the live oaks and Spanish Moss seen as you explore Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

Final Thoughts

Hopefully I have convinced you to explore Bonaventure Cemetery! A hauntingly beautiful burial ground with a fascinating history, both its own and that of its inhabitants, it feels very much like an outdoor museum. This, together with its location overlooking the Wilmington River, make it one of the most beautiful cemeteries you will see.

With its profile having grown as a result of a true crime novel, allotting time in your itinerary to explore Bonaventure Cemetery is now a must do during any visit to Savannah.

Disclaimer – information correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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