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Bonaventure Cemetery: Daylight in the Garden

Thursday, January 31, 2013

I like that Bonaventure's angels are palpably sad, not blankly insipid. I almost expected to hear this one snuffle. 

Savannah's Bonaventure Cemetery really is a stunning place. The older parts of the cemetery held the kind of scenes that made me just stop and stare for awhile. There was something about it, though, that I wasn't prepared for. Most of that fell into the realm of the spiritual. It felt to me like an unsettled place, a place not so much of peace but of activity. It's hard to put my finger on it. It was so crowded, graves on top of graves, and I guess I'd expected it all to be very old. But there are new stones wedged in amongst the old kind of willy-nilly. Many of the new stones are, for lack of a better word, tacky, not in keeping with the graceful statuary and timeless themes of urn and dove, angel and olive branch. 

There was quite a bit of aesthetic tension.

Everywhere were tributes, big and small. Does everyone who passes Becky leave a pebble? 

An azalea peeks out from under a cast iron fence, trying out a couple of ill-timed blossoms..  I saw so many azaleas in Savannah. None in bloom yet. But I could imagine what the place must look like in April. Zow. Blasts of color everywhere. I'd like to see that. I don't know. Maybe they bloom in March that far south.

I loved gazing up into the faces of the angels. There weren't as many angels as I'd expected. Maybe I never found Angel Central. When I went into shops and galleries in town, though, I saw all the same angels I'd photographed on the cards and prints. 
They'd become old friends if I came here a lot.
Maybe I need an angel on my grave when the time comes.

 Or the world's largest bluebird. 

The Spanish moss in Bonaventure is so well-developed and huge and drapey (it must like being on a bluff by the river) that it became downright overwhelming for me. Maybe creepy. Something about the way it was blowing in the uncertain southwest wind, the constant motion and sighing of the breeze through the endless drapery, made me feel surrounded. There was so much motion all around me I felt as though I were constantly being crept up on. I kept catching waving gray drapery in the corner of my eye and whipping my head around to see what it was. I guess I'd have to get used to that if I lived in Savannah.

A cycad, coming into fruit. This ancient gymnosperm dates back to the Age of Dinosaurs. A bit palmy, a bit piney, a bit bromeliady. It reminded me of Audrey, the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Feed me!  (Thanks, Jennifer Hurst!)

Not an angel, but a mourning woman. Or perhaps Corinne herself. Whoever she is, she's very beautiful.

I mentioned activity. There was nobody around, yet here was a perfectly fresh, just-plucked camellia bud in her broken hands. Someone has snapped off her fingers, which makes me very sad, and yet she's so beautiful, broken, like Venus with her busted arms. 

Who put the camellia there? 

Time to head toward town and food, the company of the living. I was glad I'd come to Bonaventure, but it was one of the many times on the trip I wished I'd had a friend to share it with. Maybe I'd have handled the haints a little better with company.


Oh, Julie... this was AWESOME! I love wandering through old cemeteries, and this one was magnificent!

I know what you mean about the feel of the place, unsettled versus peaceful. In Philadelphia, there is a park called Washington Square. My husband and I wandered through it, killing time before our dinner reservations. Such an intense feeling of peace and well-being came over me! Then I read a marker that said that the park was built over the unmarked graves of soldiers who died in the Revolutionary War. That explained it for me: they are at peace now, and it still permeates the area. On the other hand, there are some cemeteries where I feel quite depressed when I leave... as if the inhabitants left physical life kicking and screaming.

The pebbles on the grave is something I had never seen until I wandered through an old Jewish cemetery. It is a tribute, although exactly where it stems from is not known. The theory that I think is the best guess is when they used to bury their dead in the desert, they piled rocks on top of the grave to keep the scavengers from eating the corpse. Some graves I saw had one lonely pebble; others were inundated with all manner of rocks.

As for YOUR gravestone when the time comes: why an angel OR a bluebird? Why not both! A hybrid bird/angel would certainly make you the talk of the graveyard!

Posted by Anonymous January 31, 2013 at 3:42 AM

Much has been written about Bonaventure Cemetary. Haunted is what they say. Never been there. "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" is set in Savannah. Forget the author. Louisana has ornate monuments in their cemetaries as well. Lots of French on the stone and above ground of course, due to the high water table.
Asaleas along the gulf coast in Lower Alabama tend to be in full bloom by 3rd wk. of March, with warm winter, things are blooming too early. Bellingrath, Gardens in Mobile Al. is a good place to visit in Mid March. People used to put them in their yards but would put the large species and they can be quite huge, but tried to make hedges out of them. They need space and I've seen them 20-30 foot high, but they are magnificient in spring.

Posted by Anonymous January 31, 2013 at 5:16 AM

I love that camellia--that touch of pink nestled in the grey stone.

NAzaleas will peak in March. Did you see blooming Camellias?

The cycad bloomed last spring. Those orangy things are seeds. Male plants have cone-shaped blooms that are less long-lasting. I prefer the years when they just put on new fronds, increasing numbers as they mature.

Spanish moss is creepy, yes, but beautiful to photograph. It also harbors chiggers in the summer. It is more plentiful near the water.

My brother always went to Savannah in late February to reassure himself that Spring would indeed come to Atlanta a few weeks later.

Thanks, NellJean, on the cycad. Duly corrected. "coming into fruit." You wanna know something weird? I took a zillion camellia photos at Bonaventure and couldn't find a damn one of them in my iPhoto files. Where did they go? Off to look again. Haints. Prolly haints.

Love your blog. One small correction. The human-eating plant in "Little Shop of Horrors" was Audrey not Seymour. He was the nerdy attendant. He named the plant after the woman he loved.

I lived up north in Savannah from 1984 to 1988 as a Ranger at Ft.Pulaski.
Awesome town and yes the azaleas are stunning when they pop.
I have so many fond memories of that town ... not the least of which is the birth of my precious Katie Bug.

As many times as I've been there, I've never visited the cemeteries! What a neat experience you had Julie. Thanks for taking us along.

Yes! When I saw that you'd been to Savannah I was hoping you'd gone to Bonaventure too. What a weird, neat, magical place.

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