Savannah’s old cemeteries are some of its most beautiful and haunting sights, and any trip to the city should probably include a visit to at least one of them.
If you travel independently, Savannah’s cemeteries are free to visit (and dog-friendly too). It is also possible to take a guided tour, either walking, riding or by Segway. If you are interested in Savannah’s haunted history, however, consider a dedicated ghost tour instead, as the city does not allow ghost stories to be told inside its cemeteries.
Three of Savannah’s cemeteries are commonly visited: Bonaventure, Colonial Park and Laurel Grove. Colonial Park Cemetery is easiest to get to, in the center of the Historic District. Laurel Grove and Bonaventure Cemeteries are further away: just beyond the southern border of the Historic District, and a few miles east of it, respectively.
Despite the extra distance, few will regret a visit to beautiful Bonaventure, repository of some of Savannah’s most striking funerary sculpture. Laurel Grove is divided in two, a relic of Savannah’s segregated past. The African-American section is one of the city’s most important black heritage sites, with the graves of slaves and many of Savannah’s most historically-significant African-Americans.
Which Cemetery For...?
History & Heritage
Savannah’s oldest cemetery Savannah’s oldest surviving cemetery is Colonial Park, dating from the mid-18th century.
Slave graves Laurel Grove South Cemetery. Unmarked graves are also located beneath the present city: Savannah’s old African-American burial ground was at the site now occupied by Whitefield and Calhoun Squares.
African-American graves Laurel Grove South has served as the principal burial place for Savannah’s black citizens since the mid-19th century.
Jewish graves Over the years, Savannah’s Jewish citizens have been buried in several different sites, the largest of which are the Jewish sections in Laurel Grove North and Bonaventure cemeteries.
Departed spirits Although believers in the supernatural will tell you that all Savannah’s cemeteries are haunted, the city frowns upon the association of its burial grounds with ghosts and the like. Ghost tours of the cemeteries are forbidden.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
The cemetery from “The Book” Savannah’s most famous cemetery is Bonaventure, brought to the national attention (together with Savannah itself) by John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
The Bird Girl statue The Bird Girl statue, subject of the iconic image on the cover of Midnight is no longer in Bonaventure Cemetery, where the picture was originally taken by local Savannah photographer Jack Leigh. It is currently in the Jepson Center, downtown.
Jack Leigh Jack Leigh, who besides taking the well-known photograph of the Bird Girl, chronicled life in lowcountry Georgia through his widely-praised photography, now resides permanently at Bonaventure. He died in 2004.
Jim Williams’s grave Jim Williams is not buried in Savannah, but instead beside his mother at Ramah Baptist Church Cemetery, near Gordon, GA, a small city 18 miles east of Macon.
Danny Hansford’s grave Danny Hansford, famously killed by Jim Williams, is buried in Greenwich Cemetery, immediately north of Bonaventure.
Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer is buried in Bonaventure Cemetery. His grave is marked by a memorial bench, another copy of which is in Johnson Square. Mercer is also commemorated by a statue in Ellis Square.
Juliette Gordon Low The grave of Girl Scouts of the USA founder Juliette Gordon Low is in Laurel Grove North Cemetery.
Gracie “Little Gracie” Watson is buried in Bonaventure Cemetery.
Colonial Park Cemetery
201 Abercorn Street. Open daily, 8am-5pm. Extended hours March to November, 8am-8pm.
Colonial Park Cemetery, right in the center of the Historic District, is the smallest and oldest of Savannah’s historic cemeteries. It was created in 1758 as the official burial ground of the Christ Church parish, used for Savannah’s white burials for nearly a century, until its closure in 1853.
City officials turned the cemetery into a park in the 1890s, at which time many of the remains were removed to the newly opened Laurel Grove Cemetery, leaving behind numerous headstones and vaults by then already considered historic.
Although it contains far fewer graves than Savannah’s other burial grounds, Colonial Park Cemetery is of great historic significance, particularly for its Revolutionary-era graves.
Colonial Park Cemetery contains the vaults of many of the most important figures in Savannah’s early history: William Scarbrough, one of the principal backers of the historic Steamship Savannah; Button Gwinnett, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who died the losing man in a duel; also, his opponent, the Revolutionary War General Lachlan McIntosh.
Other generals in the War of Independence buried in Colonial Park include Samuel Elbert (for whom Elbert Square is named) and Nathanael Greene, whose remains have since been removed and placed under his monument in Johnson Square; Greene Square is named in his honor. The noted miniaturist Edward Greene Malbone, who died at only 29 whilst visiting Savannah, is buried here too.
330 Bonaventure Road. Open daily, 8am-5pm.
Bonaventure, with its Gothic landscape of arching oaks and moss and beautiful statuary, is the most well-known of Savannah’s cemeteries, famed since the 19th century for its beauty and atmosphere and more recently for its role in the highly popular Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil.
Bonaventure is beautiful year-round, but is at its very best in the spring, when the azaleas that line the cemetery’s streets are in full bloom. Visitors can either walk or drive along the cemetery’s tree-lined avenues; a map and brief guide are available from the visitor center, inside the administration building at the main entrance.
Bonaventure Cemetery is the burial place of many widely celebrated figures, including Conrad Aiken, Savannah-born writer and poet; silent film actor Edythe Chapman; Jack Leigh, writer and photographer; and Johnny Mercer, Savannah songwriter, lyricist and singer.
People important in Savannah and Georgia history include Edward Telfair, Governor of Georgia and one of the electoral candidates for the first presidency of the United States; his daughter Mary Telfair, heiress and philanthropist whose benefactions to the city include Savannah’s Telfair Academy of the Arts; Peter Wiltberger, the prominent Savannah businessman who bought Bonaventure Plantation with the intention that it be turned into a cemetery; and many more besides.
Please note that the Bird Girl statue, as seen on the front cover of Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, is no longer located at Bonaventure. It has been moved to the Jepson Center.
Numerous tours of Bonaventure – including both walking and riding options – are offered by Savannah’s commercial guides. The Bonaventure Historical Society also offers monthly free tours. More information about available tours
Laurel Grove Cemetery
Laurel Grove North: 802 West Anderson Street.
Laurel Grove South: 2101 Kollock Street.
Both cemeteries open daily, 8am-5pm.
Laurel Grove Cemetery, divided into white and black sections (with separate entrances) lies to the southwest of Savannah’s Historic District. Both cemeteries are significant places in the city’s history, providing an insight into the lives of its residents from the mid-19th century onwards.
Laurel Grove North Cemetery was the burial place of most of Savannah’s white citizens through the second half of the 19th century. Among the memorials and vaults (which include interesting and beautiful examples of funeral statuary and sculpture), you may find many names that you recognize from the historic homes downtown.
Laurel Grove South Cemetery is an unmissable site for anyone with an interest in Savannah’s African-American history. One of the largest surviving black cemeteries in the South, it is the resting place of Savannah’s African-Americans from the slaves and free people of the years before the Civil War through to citizens important in the Civil Rights movement.
Savannah’s Jewish Cemeteries
Since the time of its founding, Savannah’s Jewish population has used five main burial places for the interment of their dead. The two most recent are parts of larger cemeteries, established in Laurel Grove North and Bonaventure. The earlier three were small graveyards dedicated to members of the Jewish faith, of which two survive.
The two surviving cemeteries are both located just off Cohen Street, to the west of Savannah’s Historic District not far from the Georgia State Railroad Museum and the Visitors Center. A small, mid-18th century plot, enclosed with a gated wall, is on Cohen Street itself. At the end of Coyle Street, just yards from the earlier graveyard, is the 1773 Sheftall Cemetery, also enclosed with a wall.
The earliest graveyard, set aside by permission of James Oglethorpe in 1733, no longer exists. A memorial in the median strip of Oglethorpe Avenue, west of Bull Street, marks its location.