By Shari Randall
Ever since John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published in 1986, many have fallen under the spell of hauntingly beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. Readers embraced Berendt’s exploration of Savannah’s mysterious dark side and the book was made into a film directed by Clint Eastwood. The iconic cover image from the book and film was The Bird Girl statue by Sylvia Shaw Judson, which had graced the cemetery but was moved to the Telfair Museum when fans trampled the graves at Bonaventure to get a closer look and selfie.
On a recent trip, I discovered that Savannah has other intriguing cemeteries and one can be found just steps from Chippewa Square.
Colonial Park Cemetery lies in the heart of Savannah’s historic district. Those interested in history will enjoy a stroll among the luminaries of Savannah’s colonial past. Those who enjoy a good spooky story will revel in a ghost tour of what’s been called Savannah’s most haunted cemetery.
The cemetery was established in 1750 and was known by several other names over the years, including the Old Brick Cemetery, South Broad Street Cemetery, Christ Church Cemetery, and simply, the Old Cemetery. Luminaries abound in Colonial Park, including military heroes, US Continental Congressmen, and the marvelously named Button Gwinnett, Georgia’s signer of the Declaration of Independence, who was killed in a duel just outside the gates of the cemetery.
I’ve found that writers have an affinity for graveyards. Cemeteries are a supermarket of names, especially for writers of historical fiction. From inscriptions, one can learn so much about a time period, including which names were popular. If I ever need to name a character with Southern charm and a Savannah pedigree, these names gleaned from the stones at Colonial Park Cemetery might turn up on the page: Patridge Adams, Preserved Alger, Oliver Anguheart, Mary Ann Victoire Armaignac, Valeria Josephine Burroughs, Philura Paine Spalding Claghorn, Missouri Douglas.
Besides being a trove of interesting names, cemeteries are full of stories.
In Colonial Park, historic plaques and markers stand by headstones and cenotaphs, offering silent history lessons, inspiration, and more mysteries. Especially evocative is the Duellist’s Grave, a memorial to Lieutenant James Wilde, who died on January 16, 1815 in a duel with Captain Roswell P. Johnson. The cause of the dispute in this “affair of honor” is undisclosed, but the disdain of Lt. Wilde’s brother for Captain Johnson is clear. What caused these officers of the same regiment to meet and exchange four rounds of gunfire? Only the ghosts know.
Do you enjoy a good stroll in a cemetery? Or is it just me?
Shari Randall is the author of the Agatha Award-winning Lobster Shack mystery series from St. Martin's Press. You can see her travel photos and learn more about her books on her Facebook page, Shari Randall Author.