Midnight Garden

Peaceful Southern Gothic at Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery. (Photo/Tom Poland)

Perhaps you recall the book and movie, “Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil.” If you do, you will recall, too, that I was set in a special Southern locale. Drive 3 hours south, about 191 miles, and you’ll arrive in a distinctive Southern city, Savannah, Ga.

We have to go way back to the early 1980s to a time when Savannah found itself in the midst of a social firestorm. John Berendt, a one-time editor at Esquire magazine, found Savannah so fascinating he moved there and documented the unbelievable characters and their shenanigans in a book that Clint Eastwood turned into a movie.

Now let it be said that there’s much to do and see in Savannah and its popular riverfront, but this column focuses on a part of Savannah deservedly described as quintessential Southern Gothic and hauntingly beautiful. This column takes a look at one of the memorable settings in the book and movie, Bonaventure Cemetery. It was there that a voodoo scene took place in the “Garden of Good and Evil.”

Bonaventure’s story goes back to two early and prominent colonial families, the Mullrynes and the Tattnalls. In 1771 John Mullryne, and son-in-law, Josiah Tattnall, owned well over 9,000 acres of land, including 600 acres 3 miles from Savannah on St. Augustine Creek. This site became the family plantation, Bonaventure, French for “good fortune.” A subsequent owner set aside 70 acres of it as the Evergreen Cemetery of Bonaventure, a public burial ground. The City of Savannah bought Evergreen Cemetery in 1907 and much later, in 1982, the city’s Department of Cemeteries took oversight of it.

Today Bonaventure is more than a beautiful place of eternal rest. It’s historical. Buried there are Johnny Mercer, the songwriter of “Moon River” fame, poet Conrad Aiken and Georgia’s first governor, Edward Telfair. I’ve been there and it’s historically significant for another reason. The nearly 100-acre cemetery provides a walkabout reflection of how views changed on death and dying in the Victorian Era. Death, romanticized and more ritualistic, led to cemeteries becoming opulent “cities of the dead.”

I walked the cemetery one green April afternoon. Spanish moss, ancient oaks, beautiful monuments and a view of the marsh give this cemetery an atmosphere rivaled by few. The Bonaventure Historical Society poetically expresses all that the cemetery is. “Part natural cathedral, part sculptural garden, Bonaventure transcends time.”

You can transcend time too if you visit this magnificent setting of mausoleums and more. Savannah is close by with its great shops and seafood restaurants. One more thing: Berendt’s book made the “Bird Girl” statue in Bonaventure Cemetery so famous it had to be moved to the Telfair Museum of Art. Another good stop on your trip.

If You Go …

330 Bonaventure Road, Thunderbolt, Ga. 31404

912-651-6843

www.bonaventurehistorical.org

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]