The Sunday Drive: A break from everything else

Bonaventure Cemetery was established in 1846

Yes, it may be said. Their dead are a lot fancier than ours.

The admin thought it best to give everyone a break and take you on a ride to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. I suspect he wants a break from his Crackberry. Just take a break, hold the posts until Monday. I’ll take the Lord’s day, you plot the barbs you’re planning for next week.

Going to the cemetery is something I was raised doing. A few times a year, we’d clean up around where our grandparents lay, put flowers on the grave, then walk around trying to find the most unusual headstone, or better yet, go toward the pauper’s end of the cemetery and see how many had been added. But inevitably, the graves that always made us pause were those of children our age. Because we were a cemetery family, there wasn’t a summer vacation where we didn’t stop in at some obscure cemetery to visit its dead. Even photographs of funeral pyres taken during a trip to Nepal passed around after dinner were not considered unusual. Which reminds me, someday I’ll have to tell you about my labrador’s ashes.

And so a trip through Thunderbolt to see one of the grandest cemeteries in the nation was a natural thing for me. It’s off the road to Tybee Island, past stately Georgian brick homes, rib shacks, a perfect 50’s Buick and Cadillac dealer and other assorted businesses. Bonaventure used to be the outskirts of town –typical placement for a cemetery, and the city of Savannah grew around it.

"Eliza Wilhemina Theus" died 1895
"Eliza Wilhemina Theus" died 1895

Locals have said that “to be buried in Bonaventure Cemetery is better than being alive in most other places.” For almost 200 years, confederates, war heroes, city founders, children and gentlewomen have been buried here. They even moved some of the colonials here, like Noble Wimberly Jones. (Which, I think, is a smashing name).

Savannah deftly combines  beauty and tragedy. This is the city  that provided the bedrock for Flannery O’Connor, Conrad Aiken,  and a wistful Johnny Mercer. From obelisks, sculptures, wrought iron fences and replicas of pearly gates, the cemetery is shaded by large trees covered with Spanish Moss. Each grave tells a story. Eliza Wilhemina Theus was the devoted wife of a southern gentleman and confederate soldier named Thomas Theus. He erected this large statue for her, then waited eight years before passing himself. Corinne Elliot Lawton died the night before her wedding in 1877. She sits waiting on the steps of her grave, the epitaph reads, “Allured to brighter worlds and led the way.”

"Allured to brighter worlds and led the way."
"Allured to brighter worlds and led the way."

There are plots with entire families, many with small graves for children, even statues that look like them. There are soldiers from every war: from The War Of Northern Aggression, the Spanish-American War, and all others after. At the end of our wander, we came across the resting place of one of my favorite poets,  Conrad Aiken, who penned these words:

I cannot remember the softness of a kiss,
The fleeting warmth of a breath.
The evening falls, and brings me only this —
The melancholy of some forgotten death.

Poet and writer, Conrad Aiken
Poet and writer, Conrad Aiken

After seeing so many graves, we finally reached the Wilmington River. With its sweeping views, tragic stories of the dead, beautiful sculptures and towering trees, Bonaventure is one of the great romantic cemeteries in the country.

Ironically, Thunderbolt is one of the areas I’ve been looking for a home in. It could be that one day, I might end up here myself. But before I do, I’d prefer to fulfill the destiny of becoming one of the local eccentrics who stops by, walks the dog, and has a chat with Miss Lawton.

For more on my trip to Savannah go to my blog. Then type in “Savannah” in the search box.

4 Replies to “The Sunday Drive: A break from everything else”

  1. Great post. This is one of the top cemeteries to visit in the US. It’s an impressiev sight and one that should not be missed. Photos do not do it justice as it’s the feeling you get while walikng through it that realy brings this cemitary to life per se.

  2. My family thinks it’s a quirk of mine (just one in a long list 😉 ), but I like taking photos in cemeteries. Interesting subjects are not difficult to find — a rock, a statue, an arc. And the general solemnity almost always easily translates into the photos.

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