Saturday, November 8, 2008

Southern Cemeteries

I've loved Southern cemeteries since I was a young girl. There’s just something about them that I find intriguing. I’ve been to cemeteries in lots of other places but most seem very cold and not a place you’d want to stay for long.

In the South, we visit cemeteries even if we don’t have anyone buried there. We go and walk through them and look at the names and admire the headstones. It’s really rather bizarre if you think about it but seems perfectly natural to those who do it. Quirkiness is quite common in the South.

We make cemetery visits to pay respects to family members when we go to Savannah but occasionally we’ll visit some of the other cemeteries just because they are so beautiful. We were in Savannah recently and found ourselves out driving near Bonaventure Cemetery and decided to visit. My younger brother is buried at the adjoining cemetery and we had gone to visit there so we were in the neighborhood. Even the drive in is beautiful. There are huge oak trees lined with Spanish moss hanging down like massive beards on an old man. The cemetery is on a bluff overlooking a river and there are benches by the water to sit and relax. I don’t think I’ve ever been there that there weren’t several people just sitting and looking out over the bluff at the river. Occasionally a boat will come by and the people on board will wave as they pass.

Bonaventure Cemetery is very old and over the years the trees have become monstrous in size. They provide shade and also provide homes to the many squirrels that live there. I’ve wondered what the squirrels get to see at night when the place is so dark. Do you suppose the residents come out to play? I’ve wondered about that as I’ve walked through during the day and I’ve decided I might not like it as well at night.

The Colonial Cemetery downtown dates back to the early settling of Savannah. It’s a treasure trove for history buffs looking to do tracings of old headstones. The story is that during the siege of Savannah by the Union army during the Civil War that the Union soldiers used the cemetery to camp in. They reportedly burned fires in the crypts and removed bodies in the mausoleums so they could sleep in them to keep warm. Considering the age of the cemetery, it really is in remarkable condition and is very interesting to visit. One of the popular ghost tours visits this cemetery and tells some tales of the various residents living there. It’s pretty spooky at night.

When I was in junior high (I’m really dating myself because there was no such thing as middle school), my school was two blocks from the cemetery. We didn’t have an outdoor area for physical education class so we walked to the cemetery and used the back side to play dodge ball and any other activities our teacher decided we needed to do to stay fit. This same spot is called the dueling grounds because that is where duels were conducted back in the colonial days. There are many stories of those killed there before dueling became illegal but we never even thought about it as we played there. This goes back to the affinity for cemeteries that we Southerners seem to have I suppose.

Now the cemeteries are all fenced and gated and I personally think that this is to stop the kids from going there to park and make out. Cemeteries were very popular make out spots when I was a teenager. Not that I ever went, mind you, but I knew lots of kids that did. I’m not sure why but somehow parking in a dark and spooky cemetery while fighting off some pimply faced kid with hormones stuck in overdrive doesn’t sound nearly as romantic as it did back then.

Maybe being older, now I just enjoy the peace and quiet of walking through during the daylight hours. I like to think about the people who are buried there and what their lives had been like. But I have noticed that I will always reach for my husband’s hand and it is a nice place to stop and have a little kiss. Hey who knows, maybe some of that make out appeal is still there.

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