I just moved to New Orleans, which we all know has amazing cemeteries, but what about the rest of the south? I have been keeping tabs on southern cemeteries for some time. Here are a few of the winners…
Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia – “If that burying-ground across the Sea of Galilee, mentioned in Scripture, was half as beautiful as Bonaventure, I do not wonder that a man should dwell among the tombs.”
John Muir, the famous American conservationist, penned these words in 1867 after visiting Bonaventure, a sprawling Savanna, Georgia cemetery that’s more like a semi-tropical forest. The place began as a private cemetery on the Bonaventure Plantation. In 1907, the City of Savannah purchased it. In 1994, Bonaventure was featured in the novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt and later in the movie that Clint Eastwood directed based on the book. Regular citizens can still purchase burial plots and there are daily tours. Most striking is the lush coastal Georgia vegetation, which hasn’t changed much since Muir’s time. “Bonaventure to me is one of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures I ever met,” wrote Muir. “[It] is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light.”
Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina – Oakdale opened in 1852, at which time Wilmington was the most populous city in the state. It was a rural cemetery, part of a movement that began in England in the 1840s and spread to the U.S. Rather than orderly rows of tombs in the back of churchyards, rural cemeteries like Oakdale were filled with trees and had winding roads, footpaths, hills and streams. Oakdale has several specialized burial areas, including a section for victims of an 1862 yellow fever epidemic, a Masonic section, a section for people with no family, a Hebrew section and a section reserved for a group called the Odd Fellows.
Some of the cemeteries stranger residents include Nance Martin, a young girl who died in 1857 on an ocean voyage with her father. Not wanting to bury her at sea, he set her body on a chair and placed it in a cask of rum to preserve it until the ship returned home. Six months later, Nance was buried—cask, chair and all—at Oakdale. There is also the grave of Captain William Ellerbrock, buried alongside his dog Boss, who rushed into a burning building to try and drag out his master. Both man and dog died, Boss with a scrap of his master’s clothing in his mouth, or so the story goes. Also buried there are Henry Bacon, the architect of the Lincoln Memorial and Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a famous Confederate spy who drowned in 1864.
Other Great Reads: How to find the perfect cemetery for your loved ones
Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama – Magnolia contains the remains of the Confederate General Braxton Bragg, the renowned physician Dr. Josiah Nott, the twice Governor of Alabama John Gayle and the Apache Indian Chappo Geronimo. Established in 1836, the 120 acre cemetery lies just blocks from downtown and contains some 80,000 gravesites. In 1986, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In July of 2007, a Confederate sailor whose skeleton was found encrusted to the underside of a cannon that was raised from the wreck of the CSS Alabama, which had been lying at the bottom of the English Channel for some 140 years, was buried at Magnolia. The Civil War reenactment group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, served as pall bearers, dressed in full Confederate Army regalia. The sailor, whose remains were unidentified, was buried in a handmade wooden coffin and pulled by a horse-drawn caisson.
Natchez City Cemetery, Natchez Mississippi – The cemetery, which was established in 1822 and is perched near the Mississippi River, has exceptionally nice nineteenth and early twentieth century ironwork as well as sculptures made by master antebellum marble workers. Odd attractions include a sculpture called The Turning Angel, which honors employees killed when the Natchez Drug Company exploded in 1908. There is also the grave of ten year old Florence Ford, who died of yellow fever in 1871. Florence was deathly afraid of storms and her casket was constructed with a glass window by the head so her mother could look in on her during ones that sprung up in the afterlife. A hinged metal trap door allowed the mother to stay dry while comforting her dead daughter as the rains beat down above. It is still there today, and shall a thunder storm erupt while you are visiting, the metal trap doors can still be opened.