Adventures in Cemetery Travel

This is reblogged from the Western Legends Publishing blog, where it appeared almost two weeks ago.  I’ve been traveling and blogging from my phone was much more difficult than I expected.  This will be a new Cemetery of the Week tomorrow, though, so tune in again!

Adventures in Cemetery Travel

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How did I pick all those cemeteries I visited in Wish You Were Here? That’s a funny story…

I visited the first cemetery by accident. I found a lovely book of cemetery photos — who knew such a thing existed? — in the bookshop at London’s Victoria Station. That was toward the end of our unexpected stay in England, but my husband Mason decided he would rather see beautiful, overgrown Highgate Cemetery than the Tower of London. It was the right choice.

We’d already planned to work Pere Lachaise Cemetery into our trip to Paris, because Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, and so many other famous people were buried there. I’d found a cemetery guidebook (my first!) calledPermanent Parisians in the Rand McNally store in San Francisco. That book also led us to the cemeteries of Montparnasse and St. Vincent and the Paris Municipal Ossuary, but I wasn’t such a geek yet that we saw a single graveyard when we visited Amsterdam that same trip.

For a while after that, I simply stumbled on cemeteries. My mom saw the sign for the Pioneer Cemetery in Yosemite while I was looking for the anthropology museum. Jack London just happened to be buried at the State Historical Park that bears his name. A friend was touring St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans and encouraged me to come along.

Other places had such an impact on history that I wanted to see them for myself. When Mason and I went to Japan for the first time, I wanted to go out of our way to see Hiroshima and the Peace Park. When my mom took me to Honolulu, I went alone by tour bus on Easter morning to see Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. I ducked out of a family trip to Washington DC to visit Arlington National Cemetery.

Then I started to get a reputation. Japanese friends took us to the old capitol of Kamakura to show me a monks’ graveyard. A friend who’d grown up in Westchester County said I shouldn’t miss the Old Dutch Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow. Other friends gave us a private tour of the Soldiers National Cemetery and battlefield at Gettysburg.

By the time Mason and I went to Italy in 2001, we were building our vacations around cemeteries. In Rome, I targeted the Protestant Cemetery, final home of Keats and Shelley. In Venice, I wanted to see the island set aside as a graveyard, where Stravinsky is buried. Strangely enough, my goal in Florence was La Specola, the jaw-dropping medical museum — but we managed to score an hour alone in the English Cemetery, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning is buried. It had the most amazing iconography. Oh, and we discovered that the roads into the archaeological site at Pompeii are lined with tombs, although that story didn’t make it into Wish You Were Here.

Graveyards are everywhere you go. Next time you travel, take a look.

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Cemetery as garden and vice versa

Gardens and Graveyards of the Southeastern Seaboard: A Photographic JourneyGardens and Graveyards of the Southeastern Seaboard: A Photographic Journey by Henry Clay Childs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The lure of silent places — gardens can be as tranquil as graveyards — leads each of us more easily to reflection and remembrance, revelation and joy.” That sentiment inspires this gorgeous full-color photo book. Every page is graced by a 7 x 9-inch photo, which reproduces a rainbow of greens and grays, highlighted with bright flowers.

On his travels between Popes Creek, Virginia and Cumberland Island, Georgia, Henry Clay Childs stopped off to visit the only unaltered American colonial church, graves of the earliest European settlers as well as George Washington’s ancestors, graveyards of villages abandoned after the Civil War, and the elegant cemeteries of Savannah.

Childs saw a graveyard anywhere dreams were buried and a garden wherever flowers bloomed, so there’s a great deal of fluidity in this definitions. This book will delight anyone who takes pleasure in beauty, whether they’ve previously been cemetery aficionados or not.

Even your mom might like these beautiful photographs.

These books are going for a song on Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

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Historic Bonaventure Cemetery

Historic Bonaventure Cemetery:: Photographs from the Collection of the Georgia Historical SocietyHistoric Bonaventure Cemetery:: Photographs from the Collection of the Georgia Historical Society by Historical Society Georgia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another in the series of books which collect historic photographs of America, Historic Bonaventure Cemetery, like Images of America: New Orleans Cemeteries, contains hundreds of black-and-white photographs, all concentrated on the lovely moss-draped graveyard in Savannah, Georgia.

Bonaventure began life as a plantation three miles east of downtown Savannah. During the American Revolution, the original owners backed the wrong side and were exiled when their lands were seized for treason. One of the sons bought the land back in 1785 and was eventually elected governor of Georgia. His wife and four infant children were buried on the plantation, where their graves survive today. In June 1868, the plantation was landscaped by a cemetery company in the style of the picturesque northern garden cemeteries—accent, here, on garden.

The book’s illustrations are primarily drawn from the collection of the Georgia Historical Society, augmented with the authors’ modern photos. Some of my favorite images are the picture postcards so common from the Victorian era. Unfortunately, the writing on the backs of the cards is not reproduced; I missed being able to read, “Visited this cemetery, thought of you, wish you were here, etc.” In the spirit of souvenirs are the stereopticon cards (here represented by a single photo) of corseted young women seated along the roadside, awaiting their carriage home, or the picnickers seated before the tombstone over which they’ve flung a blanket—so not to be troubled in the graveyard by the ominous reminder of mortality?

In fact, for a book about a cemetery, Historic Bonaventure Cemetery stints on the photos of monuments. There are some beauts: the angel cradling the scallop shell birdbath in her arms, the exquisite floral wreath executed in marble by an Italian craftsman, the life-sized sculpture of Little Gracie with her nautical dress and button boots. I would have preferred if the book had showcased more of these artworks and fewer vistas of moss-swathed trees. Still, I find I cannot be disappointed when faced with so much melancholy loveliness. If anything, Historic Bonaventure Cemetery makes me yearn to see the place for myself.

You can get your own copy of the book from Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

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Cemetery of the Week #131: Bonaventure Cemetery

Promenading at Bonaventure. Vintage postcard with undivided back, pre-1907.

Promenading at Bonaventure. Vintage postcard with undivided back, pre-1907.

Bonaventure Cemetery
330 Bonaventure Road
Thunderbolt, Georgia 31404
Telephone: (912) 651-6843
Founded: 1802
Size: nearly 100 acres
Number of interments: more than 30,000
Open: Daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In Colonial-era Georgia, John Mullryne and his son-in-law Josiah Tattnall owned around 10,000 acres. Their holdings included 600 acres on St. Augustine Creek, three miles outside of Savannah. This is where they built the family plantation, which they called Bonaventure, or “good fortune” in French.

Unfortunately, both Mullryne and Tattnall were British loyalists and were banished during the Revolutionary War. During the Siege of Savannah, French and Haitian troops landed at Bonaventure, which overlooks a bend in the Wilmington River. The house was used as a hospital. Given the state of medicine at the time, it’s likely that Revolution-era soldiers were buried on the property. Their graves are no longer marked, if they ever were.

In 1782, Georgia nationalized the property of loyalists and Bonaventure was sold at auction. It took until 1788 for Josiah Tattnall Jr. to regain the plantation.

As most rural families did, the Mullrynes and Tattnalls set aside a small plot for a family burial ground. In 1802, Harriet Fenwick Tattnall was the first adult known to be interred there. The next year, Josiah was buried next to her. Of their nine children, six are buried nearby.

In 1846, the Tattnall family sold the plantation to a prominent Savannah hotelier named Wiltberger, with the provision that he would continue to care for the family plot. The following year, Wiltberger incorporated 70 acres as the Evergreen Cemetery of Bonaventure. Two years later, Wiltberger joined the Tattnalls as one of the first new permanent residents.

Modern postcard of Bonaventure Cemetery on top and Forsyth Park below

Modern postcard of Bonaventure Cemetery on top and Forsyth Park below

The City of Savannah website boasts, “This charming site has been a world-famous tourist destination for more than 150 years, due to the old tree-lined roadways, the many notable persons interred, the unique cemetery sculpture and architecture, and the folklore associated with the site and the people.”

In fact, John Muir camped in the cemetery in September 1867 and fell in love with the wildlife, birds, and the oaks draped with Spanish moss. The cemetery was, he wrote, “so beautiful that almost any sensible person would choose to dwell here with the dead.”

The city of Savannah bought the Evergreen Cemetery in 1907 and changed its name to Bonaventure Cemetery. It was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2001. The American Resting Place reports that the garden cemetery is “considered by many to be the most beautiful and romantic in the entire South.” Marilyn Yalom, author of the book, says that the best time to visit Bonaventure Cemetery is at the end of March, when “you will be dazzled by the profusion of pink, red, and white azaleas.”

Vintage postcard of Live Oak Drive

Vintage postcard of Live Oak Drive

Confederate generals Claudius Charles Wilson and Hugh W. Mercer are buried here. Great grandson Johnny Mercer, who crooned “Moon River,” is also here, beside his mother who was murdered by his father when Johnny was a child. Their plot has a curved white marble bench inscribed with some of his song lyrics. Also here is Conrad Aiken, a poet who wrote more than 50 books, but may be best known for editing a collection of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and introducing her work to the world. His grave also has a bench, where poets can sit and have a drink.

The most widely known monument in Bonaventure was the Bird Girl, which was featured on the cover of the 1994 novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It was one of a set of four bronze statues made by sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson in 1936. The Trousdal family bought one of them to adorn their family plot. After the success of the novel, the statue drew so many visitors to the graveyard that tourists disturbed the adjacent graves. The stature was moved to the Telfair Museum of Art for its own protection. It’s on long-term loan from the family. John David “Jack” Leigh II, photographer of the iconic photograph, also rests in Bonaventure Cemetery.

The Bonaventure Historical Society strongly recommends a stop at the Visitors Center, located in the lobby of the Administration Building at the entrance to Bonaventure. There you can pick up a copy of their 16-page guide.

If you visit on the weekend of the second Sunday of the month, the Bonaventure Historical Society offers free walking tours, starting at the intersection of Mullryne and Wiltberger Ways. On that Saturday, guides leave at 2 p.m. On Sunday, guides will depart at 2, 2:30, and 3 p.m. A typical tour lasts about an hour. No reservations are necessary. They advise you to bring water and sunscreen.

Useful links:

Bonaventure Historical Society’s history page

City of Savannah site for Bonaventure, with maps and directions

Trip Advisor has more than 600 photographs of Bonaventure

More photos and some ghost stories

A reasonably-priced, downloadable walking tour of Bonaventure, Laurel Grove Cemetery, and Colonial Cemetery:

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Cemetery of the Week #130: the Wooldridge Monument, Mayfield, Kentucky

Since 1899 many tourists have visited Maplewood Cemetery, according to this vintage postcard.

Since 1899 many tourists have visited Maplewood Cemetery, according to this vintage postcard.

The Wooldridge Monument
Maplewood Cemetery
East Cemetery Street at North 6th Street
Mayfield, Kentucky 42066
Telephone: (270) 251-6210
Founded: 1890
Size: 17 feet wide by 33 feet long
Number of interments: 1

Once his first and only love died in a riding accident in Tennessee, Henry G. Wooldridge never married. After serving in the Civil War, Colonel Wooldridge moved to the Mayfield, Kentucky area around 1880, when he was nearly 60. He bred, raced, and sold horses there – and outlived all of his immediate family.

Toward the end of his life, Colonel Wooldridge decided to leave an enduring monument to his family. He ordered a collection of 18 statues to be carved. One, a portrait statue of himself standing at a lectern, was carved of marble in Italy. Most of the others were carved of native Kentucky sandstone in Paducah, Kentucky between 1890-99. Will Lydon, a sculptor for Williamson and Company claimed in 1930 that he had carved two-thirds of the figures himself. Now they are recognized as important examples of Kentucky folk art.

When the statues were ready to ship, the Illinois Central Railroad supplied a special flatcar to transport the statues from Paducah to Mayfield. Legend has it that the Mayfield town drunk was in Paducah at the time, so he hitched a ride astride Col. Wooldridge’s horse, riding into town in style behind the statue of Wooldridge himself.

With Wooldridge looking on, the statues were installed on a plot 17 feet wide by 33 feet long in the Maplewood Cemetery in Mayfield. The collection includes two statues of Wooldridge – the one astride his favorite horse Fop and the other of him standing beside a lectern. Other figures represent his mother Keziah, four of his brothers, three of his sisters, and two nieces. His hunting dogs Bob and Towhead, follow a fox and a deer.

The colonel died on May 30, 1899. He is the only person buried in the plot. His coffin lies inside the stone sarcophagus, which had an Italian marble slab on top.

Ektachrome postcard from the 1950s

Ektachrome postcard from the 1950s

As you can see from the postcards, the fence around the plot has undergone several iterations. The original iron fence was replaced during the 1950s by chicken wire. That was replaced again by a fence similar to the original, placed by the Mayfield Masonic Lodge, of which Wooldridge had been a member.

The monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The historical plaque at the grave site calls Wooldridge an animal lover, famous fox-hunter, and Mason. Ripley’s Believe It or Not featured the monument on its television show in September 1984.

On January 27, 2009, a 300-year-old oak toppled onto the statues after an ice storm. Only the three female statues at the back and one of the dogs survived unscathed. The horse and several other figures, including both statues of Wooldridge, were decapitated. Federal disaster money collected by the city of Mayfield went to repair its chief tourist attraction. You can watch a lecture about the restoration of the statues on Youtube.

The monument was rededicated in October 2012.

Please watch this beautiful (and short) video about the monument:

Useful links:

A satellite map from the Billion Graves site

The City of Mayfield page about the Wooldridge Monument

Roadside America feature on the monument

Road trip article about the statues

Other monuments in the Maplewood Cemetery

More information on the postcards above


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