Located just outside Beautiful and Historic Savannah, Georgia., Bonaventure Cemetery routinely makes most lists of “World’s Most Famous Cemeteries”. Established in 1846, the beautiful Spanish Moss covered oak trees and elaborate headstones bring a medieval gothic vibe that isn’t found in many U.S. cemeteries. Many of the headstones date back to the 1800’s and early 1900’s, with at least one dating back to 1775, making it one year older than America itself. Open daily, from 8am to 5pm, it’s located at 330 Bonaventure Rd, Thunderbolt, GA. Roughly a 20-minute drive to the outskirts of Savannah, in a more rural area, it’s an easy, quick trip.
The cemetery first became famous when it was featured in the 1994 novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, and reached an even higher pinnacle of notoriety when the movie based on the book (filmed by Clint Eastwood) was released in 1997. Eerily beautiful, it’s the quintessential deep-south, Georgian cemetery, complete with gothic architecture and headstones, all draped in the bewitching Spanish moss-covered oak trees. As the website Thrillist puts it, “Best reason to visit: It looks like a set out of True Blood”.
Ownership of the cemetery has changed hands numerous times. It was originally built as the private family cemetery for British Army Colonel John Mullryne, who founded Bonaventure Plantation in 1762. The 600-acre plantation, along with its private cemetery, was then sold to Peter Wiltberager in 1846. Two years later, Major William H. Wiltberger, the son of Peter, formed the Evergreen Cemetery Company, which took over control. Then 61 years after that, in 1907, the City of Savannah purchased the land and cemetery, turning it into the public Bonaventure Cemetery we know today.
There are some notable burials in the cemetery. Some include: Samuel B. Adams (interim Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia), Hugh W. Mercer (Civil War Army officer and Confederate general), Conrad Aiken (poet and novelist), Edythe Chapman (actress), Josiah Tattnall, Jr. (Senator and Georgia Governor from back in the late 1700’s), Edward Telfair (another late 1700’s Georgia governor), Claudius Charles Wilson (Civil War Confederate general), Gracie Watson (it’s more so her headstone), and the Spanish-American War Veterans from Worth Bagley Camp #10, which is the nation’s 2nd largest burial area dedicated to soldiers killed in the Spanish-American War. There is also a section dedicated to veterans of the World Wars.
Overall, we visited for roughly one hour, which sounds like plenty of time, but I certainly would’ve loved more. The cemetery is so large and the headstones so intricate and interesting, that it’d be easy to spend a couple of hours there. However, be aware, if you go during the summer, you will have to contend with the famous southern heat, humidity, and dreadful mosquitoes. So, for me personally, if I ever revisit, it’ll be during the fall!