Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Perpetual Party at Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery has been likened by many as the most beautiful cemetery in the world. Poised on a bluff above the Wilmington River, nearly 600 acres of mausoleums, exquisite statuary and ornate tombstones are veiled beneath moss-draped oaks. The massive, gnarled branches of which have witnessed more than two centuries of merriment and mourning.
Bonaventure has not always been the final resting place for many a prominent Savannahian. She was once a great plantation, and part of the original 1760 land grant of an English Colonel named John Mulryne. Bonaventure was known for its then beautiful plantation home and terraced gardens, picturesquely situated along the river. It was a colonial-era estate unrivaled in its elegance.
As with many a prominent southern family, proper breeding was held in high regards. Mary, the lovely daughter of John Mulryne wed a Mr. Josiah Tattnall, another name upon which the city of Savannah rose to prosperity. It is rumored that the mighty live oaks of Bonaventure were originally planted in a pattern which exemplified the letters M and T entwined, as a symbol of the union of these two great Savannah families.Just as the Bonaventure plantation became famous for its elegance, so did it become noted for its lavish parties. Josiah Tattnall Jr., son of Josiah and Mary Tattnall was renowned for his sense of hospitality. After returning from England, and the clutches of war between the motherland and the colonies, Josiah Jr. took up residence at the Bonaventure mansion where he held the most notable parties in the region. Perhaps it is one such party, a party which seems to go on without end, that has proven to be the most famous of all. One late fall evening around the year 1800, Josiah Jr. was hosting one of his lavish parties. The great house was decorated with dried greens and fresh flowers and welcoming fires blazed in each of the home's fireplaces. In the middle of dinner a slave approached Josiah asking to have a word with him in private. The slave then proceeded to tell his master the unfortunate news--that the mansion was on fire and there was nothing that could be done to save it. Rather than offend his party guests with the slightest inhospitality, Josiah simply requested that his servants move the table and chairs and all of the food outside to the front lawn. There the festivities continued as the house burnt through the night. It is rumored that several toasts were made in honor of the fine, dying mansion. One of which would immortalize the evening "May the joy of this occasion never end...". After toasting, the guests, as well as Josiah Tatnall, threw their crystal glasses into the fire.The first interments at Bonaventure were Josiah Tatnall Jr.'s wife and four children, followed by Josiah himself. The grounds became an official cemetery in 1869 and ownership eventually passed to the state. Bonaventure is unique in its eternal beauty and mysterious charm. She is the final resting place of poets and authors and song writers, folks who understood her peculiar allure. Today, on quiet nights in late fall, some have claimed to hear the sound of laughter and the distinct clanking of broken crystal. Perhaps Bonaventure is home to more than the dead--perhaps she is the hostess of a great party, a party which is celebrated perpetually.

Perpetual Care: A Novel

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