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 News & Opinion

| Lead Story by Jim Morekis

photos by Brandon Blatcher

A bury good time

Connect Savannah July 11th, 2007

Sunday event celebrates 100 years of public ownership of Bonaventure Cemetery


ot every city would dedicate an entire day to celebrate a cemetery. But then again, Savannah’s not every city. This Sunday, a remarkable and unique event will take place in Bonaventure Cemetery, as the city, the Bonaventure Historical Society and other groups join forces to offer a Bonaventure Centennial Celebration marking the cemetery’s hundredth year of public ownership. There will be refreshments, information booths, history lectures -- and of course the beautiful, poignant vistas of Bonaventure itself. “There will be an incredible amount of activity,” says event organizer Beth Delnostro, who stresses the educational nature of the event. “We’re not going to have a bunch of blowup things waving around,” she says. “Nothing will be sold -- the refreshments are free. We’re making this about education. ” From noon until 4, historical elements of Bonaventure Cemetery will be showcased, as well as modern-day exhibits from over two dozen organizations involved with the

history and operation of the cemetery. At 2 p.m. a more formal program takes place, with presentation of the colors by the American Legion, a short speech by Mayor Otis Johnson and a talk by local historican Hugh Golson. Though burials took place there as far back as the 1700s, Bonaventure didn’t become a true community cemetery until 1907, when the city acquired the acreage from a private firm which had run the site for much of the previous century. “It wasn’t until then that it became a public cemetery, but Bonaventure has always been a landmark site that has fascinated people,” says Jerry Flemming, the city of Savannah’s director of cemeteries. “When it became a public cemetery that’s when it opened up to the Greek community, the Jewish community, and a number of other groups.” Interestingly, Savannah’s Greek community is also celebrating a centennial this year, marking the establishment of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox church here. By the time of the city’s purchase of

Bonaventure in 1907 and the establishment that same year of St. Paul’s in its original site at Duffy and Barnard, over 100 Greek immigrants lived in the Savannah area. (The congregation purchased the Lawton Memorial Building at Bull and Anderson in 1941, where it’s based to this day.) While most early burials were in Laurel Grove, in 1918 the community decided to buy eight lots in Section K of Bonaventure, and that section grew to be largely occupied by Greek burials and a few others of Eastern Orthodox background. “What’s unique about this Greek section K in Bonaventure is that many of the tombstones were carved with Greek lettering,” says Helen McCracken, a St. Paul’s parishioner who’ll be staffing an information booth this Sunday about the Greek presence in the city and in Bonaventure. “The Greek lettering on the monuments indicates the name, place and date of birth of the deceased,” she says. “Sometimes they also include a short sentiment.” McCracken explains that while the Greek presence in Savannah goes back to the mid-

1800s, the main wave of Greek immigration was from 1907-1920. “Most of the early immigrants were single men, since it wasn’t acceptable for women to travel on long and difficult trips,” McCracken says. “Most of those early immigrants didn’t plan to stay away from their homeland forever.” Instead, their hope was to make enough money to provide financial help for their families back in Greece, and especially to provide dowries for unmarried sisters. “A Greek man couldn’t marry unless his sisters were first married,” says McCracken. Indeed, while Bonaventure is known for its beauty, what keeps people coming back again and again are those individual names carved on those individual stones. Some lived to very old ages after a lifetime of accomplishment. Some were buried as children in tiny plots, victims of disease, drowning or misfortune. But all had stories to tell. When you stroll through that Greek Section K -- or the nearby Jewish cem-

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Connect Savannah July 11, 2007  

Connect Savannah July 11, 2007