Digging Into Cemetery Symbolism at Beautiful Bonaventure

Catherine Lanser
4 min readMay 23, 2019

After visiting Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking of another old cemetery: Bonaventure Cemetery outside Savannah, Georgia. Many heard of this cemetery after the enormous success of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I visited Bonaventure Cemetery on a trip to Savannah a few years ago and it taught me a lot about how Victorians saw death.

Bonaventure Cemetery was established in 1846 as a private cemetery and became a public one in 1907 when the city of Savannah purchased it. The bird girl statue pictured on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is no longer located there, but there are many other statues that make the cemetery seem like an outdoor museum. It is a place of beauty both because of the man-made statues and natural large oak trees, tropical plants and Spanish moss.

Hanging Out at the Cemetery

Outline of flower bed.

In touring the cemetery, it is helpful to understand how Victorians viewed the cemetery. In Victorian culture, the cemetery was more like a park and families would promenade in their finest on the way to their family plot where they would picnic. At the time, death was a routine occurrence, often even young children and mothers giving birth would pass away, so spending time at the cemetery was a way to spend time with both the living and the dead.

As cemeteries became a place to hang out, the grave markers became more beautiful, replacing the symbols that had previously adorned gravestones that were meant to scare people into living a good life. The beautiful images and statues that reminded the living that their loved ones were in a better place. Families would plant flowers to enhance their own familial plot.

Statues That Resemble the Dead

Gracie Watkins.

There were many statues in Bonaventure designed in the likeness of the individual buried beneath the ground. In Victorian culture, it was…

--

--

Catherine Lanser

Narrative nonfiction and memoir. Querying my memoir about my family, told through the lens of brain tumor.