Sunday, April 23, 2017

Savannah, Part IV: Bonaventure Cemetery

If there is one thing you'll see plenty of when you visit Savannah in late winter or early spring it's oak trees adorned with Spanish moss and azalea bushes in beautiful bloom.

On our third and last full day in Savannah in early March, we invested in an afternoon guided tour of Bonaventure Cemetery, which was generously sprinkled with -- you guessed it -- oak trees adorned with Spanish moss and bountiful azalea bushes. The cemetery is along a scenic bluff overlooking the Wilmington River on the eastern outskirts of town.

Bonaventure became well-known after being featured in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and in that vein, it no doubt sparks interest in the various "haunted Savannah" tours that are available to tourists (we didn't do any of those -- this time). Bonaventure is the final resting place for novelist and poet Conrad Aiken; Julia Backus Smith, dubbed Savannah's fastest woman runner; and Johnny Mercer, a multi-hit songwriter (Accentuate the Positive, One for My Baby, Moon River, The Days of Wine and Roses) as well as the founder of the Capitol Records label.

Also interred there is sculptor John Walz. Many examples of his craft can be found in grave markers throughout the cemetery. Before he died in 1922, Walz had carved scores of tomb monuments for those interred in Bonaventure Cemetery. One of the most notable of Walz's monuments can be found at the grave of Gracie Watson.

Gracie's parents ran the well-known Pulaski Hotel in Savannah, where young Gracie amused and charmed guests and local residents during her short life. Gracie contracted pneumonia in 1889, and after she died at the age of 6, her father, W.J. Watson, visited Walz and handed him a picture of Gracie. According to the tour guide, so overwhelmed with grief was Watson that he turned and left without saying a word.

Walz understood, however, and he proceeded to make the monument. Watson would say later, our guide told us, that Walz's sculpted likeness of his daughter was perfect. The monument has been at her grave ever since, and the only damage it has sustained through the many years is a slight nick on the girl's nose, apparently caused by the impact of a toy tossed at the marker by a visitor. Many visitors, in fact, stop at the grave every day and leave some form of remembrances -- pebbles, toys, etc. Today, the grave is protected by an iron fence with a locked gate.

Walz's grave marker in the cemetery is not anything close to the many elaborate works he created for others. So simple is it, in fact, that I failed to even notice it and photograph it while I was there. The one thing that distinguishes his market, however, is a representation of three sculptor tools carved into the top of the marker. You can see it at the Find a Grave website.

As always, click on any picture to pull up a larger, sharper version, which is particularly important if you access the blog from a mobile device. To view a full gallery of my shots in Bonaventure Cemetery, click on the link in this sentence.

Photo geek stuff: I shot everything you see here with a Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 28-300 f/3.5-6.3 Di VZD VC lens equipped with a polarizing filter. I bracketed all shots for three exposures, melding a good number of all three for each composition in post-processing using Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software. In some situations where using HDR software was impractical, I composed a shot with single frames.

Above is the full Mercer family plot, with Johnny's marker the second from the right, next to that of his wife (on the far right). Despite years of Mercer's rumored romantic attachment to actress Judy Garland, Mercer never left his wife, and they were buried together. A close up his marker appears in the first photo below. Nearby is a bench (second below) etched with his best-known songwriting credits. 

Above: This section of the cemetery is dedicated to military personnel.

Above is the full burial plot of beloved 6-year-old Gracie Watson, with a closeup (first below) of the girl's story in the marker just inside the gate. The grave was so heavily visited that cemetery officials at some point erected the iron gate to protect it from intentional or unintentional vandalism after a toy tossed at the marker by one visitor chipped the nose on Gracie's face (third below). People still bring her toys, which -- if small or pliable -- they can squeeze through the iron bars (second below). 

Not far from Johnny Mercer's plot is the one for Conrad Aiken and his parents. His parents died together in a homicide-suicide when Conrad was just a boy; their grave is the first photo below. Conrad's death info is etched into the slab on the bench (above and second below). In the upper left corner of the slab is the curious words "Cosmos Mariner, Destination Unknown" (third photo below). On one of his many visits to the cemetery and his parents' graves, Aiken would often sit on the bluff overlooking the Wilmington River watching shrimp boats come and go. One day, one of the ships that passed was named Cosmos Mariner. Curious about the name, Aiken looked up the ship in the shipping news, where the entry read simply "Destination Unknown." The story is relayed at this link.

 Above: A strikingly scenic fork in the cemetery road. 

Wymberley Jones DeRenne was a heavy collector of history books and historical documents who built libraries to house his collection, much of which contained duplicates. He and his family were buried in the plot shown below which contains shelving for a library that holds at least one copy of many of his collection. He made arrangements for workers to periodically check on the condition of his books in the tomb and to address any issues that would imperil the collection's quality.

One view of the Wilmington River (above) from the cemetery bluff, and a view of a bridge over the river from another point in the cemetery (below).

 Above: Another scenic vista featuring oaks and azaleas.

Next up: Tybee Island

Previous posts in this series:

Part I: Savannah's Forsyth Square

Part II: Savanahh's old-city neighborhoods 

Part III: Savannah's Riverwalk

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