“The trees have been the topic of conversation, legend, news articles, literature, poetry, prose, folklore, paintings, stereo views, photo gravures, post cards, photographs, reports, meetings, brochures and other paraphernalia, frequently throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The trees survived two local wars and five major hurricanes, not to mention lesser hurricanes and tropical storms, too numerous to count. Approximately one-third of the original trees remain.”
“The Tattnall graveyard is but a few rods from the garden. The wall around it is entire and the names of the silent inhabitants are engraved on slabs of marble surrounded with trees. But nothing struck me more strongly than the venerable old trees which everywhere adorn this desolate spot. They are covered with a species of moss, a light brown color which hangs about a yard from the branches. It waves with every breeze and reminded me of the gray hair of nature. We approached the place by an avenue of live oaks whose branches formed a complete arch where the roof waved in solemn grandeur.”
– Mary Telfair (buried in Bonaventure Cemetery), 1828
A poem written during Josiah Tattnall III’s ownership of Bonaventure:
“Sublimely beautiful the scene!
And as I gaze around
I feel that nature hath proclaimed
Its consecrated ground.
No rite of man, hath allowed it
But Time – who summons all
To wear the emblems of his power
And answer at his call.
These noble Oaks whose hundred arms
Are stretching wide and high;
(As if the very trees aspired
to reach the glorious sky;)
Even these are shrouded with veil
By nature lent to time;
The long grey overhanging moss
Which marks the southern clime;
O’er stately trunk and branch ‘tis threwn—
But still the bright green leaves,
Like youthful beauty, peeping through,
Seem laughing at the wreaths.
And there the ruined garden walks
Of other days declare,
And the deserted tomb-stone tells
Of valued friends that were.
The world, its follies, and its noise
To solemn thoughts give way—
We feel the power of Nature’s God,
In his sublime array –
Farewell: tho’ other scenes I love,
Where nature’s beauties shine;
The tribute of my heart must be,
Thine, Bonaventure, thine!!”
“Bonaventure by Starlight,” The Orion, 1842:
Along a corridor I tread,
High over-arched by ancient trees,
Where, like a tapestry o’erhead,
The gray moss floats upon the breeze; –
A weary breeze, that kissed to-day
Tallulah’s falls of flashing foam,
And sported in Toccoa’s spray,
Brings music from its mountain home.
The clouds are floating o’er the sky,
And cast at times a fitful gloom –
As o’oer our hearts dark memories fly –
Cast deeper shade on Tatnall’s tomb; –
While glimmering onward to the sea,
With scarce a rippling wave at play,
A line of silver through the lea –
The river stretches far away!
And ‘tis the hour when stars above
Reflect the spirit’s inner light,
And the lost Pleiads of my love,
Are kindling in my heart tonight.
I hear a football on the sand,
I feel an arm within my own; –
Full often, in a distant land,
I’ve listened to that trembling tone.
Night darkens into deeper shade,
As on, with solemn pace, we stroll; –
I hear the teachings of the dead,
Like sacred music in my soul; –
So live and act while thou art here,
That when thy course of life is done,
Above the stars thou may’st not fear.
To meet thy father’s face, my son!
– Henry Rootes Jackson (buried in Bonaventure Cemetery)
“Long rows of venerable oaks meet the eye on every side…forming extensive avenues…The hand of man has done this much in planting these living colonnades…richly festooned…with a magnificent drapery of moss which hangs in all possible forms.”
– James Rion, son of Pulaski House hotel employee, hired by Wiltberger to lay out the cemetery, 1849
“Never has a place more beautifully adapted by nature for such an object.” The hanging moss is like “The tattered banners hung from the roofs of Gothic cathedrals as trophies of war in the olden time.”
“This hallowed burial place is like a natural cathedral, whose columns are majestic trees; whose stained-glass is its gorgeous foliage; whose tapestries are draperies of long gray moss; whose pavement is the flowery turf; whose aisles are avenues of softened light and shade; whose monuments are these elaborate and tasteful marble shafts, which tell in simple lines the names of those who here repose in dreamless sleep.”
– unknown early visitor
“I went yesterday to see Bonaventure, which is an old Cemetery used by the aristocracy of Savannah. It is one of the most picturesque, as well as gloomy places I was ever in! I wish I could describe it to you. It is planted with live oak and cedar, so thick that they make very dense shade. The trees are large and tall, and have very long branching boughs, which are hung thick with moss. I never saw it grow so long, or the trees so loaded with it before. This gives a gloomy spectral appearance to the place that seems very appropriate to the last resting place of fallen greatness.”
– Jacob Ritner of the 25th Iowa U.S. Infantry, accompanying U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman on his march through Georgia, 1864
“The most conspicuous glory of Bonaventure is its noble avenue of live-oaks. They are the most magnificent planted trees I have ever seen, about fifty feet high and perhaps three or four feet in diameter, with broad spreading leafy heads. The main branches reach out horizontally until they come together over the driveway, embowering it throughout its entire length, while each branch is adorned like a garden with ferns, flowers, grasses, and dwarf palmettos. But of all the plants of these curious tree-gardens the most striking and characteristic is the so-called Long Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). It drapes all the branches from top to bottom, hanging in long silvery-gray skeins, reaching a length of not less than eight or ten feet, and when slowly waving in the wind they produce a solemn funereal effect singularly impressive. There are also thousands of smaller trees and clustered bushes, covered almost from sight in the glorious brightness of their own light. The place is half surrounded by the salt marshes and islands of the river, their reeds and sedges making a delightful fringe. Many bald eagles roost among the trees along the side of the marsh. Their screams are heard every morning, joined with the noise of crows and the songs of countless warblers, hidden deep in their dwellings of leafy bowers. Large flocks of butterflies, flies, all kinds of happy insects, seem to be in a perfect fever of joy and sportive gladness. The whole place seems like a center of life. The dead do not reign there alone.”
– John Muir, “Camping Among the Tombs,” 1867
“All the avenue where I walked was in shadow, but an exposed tombstone frequently shone out in startling whiteness on either hand, and thickets of sparkleberry bushes gleamed like heaps of crystals. Not a breath of air moved the gray moss, and the great black arms of the trees met overhead and covered the avenue. But the canopy was fissured by many a netted seam and leafy-edged opening, through which the moonlight sifted in auroral rays, broidering the blackness in silvery light. Though tired, I sauntered a while enchanted, then lay down under one of the great oaks.”
– John Muir, “Camping Among the Tombs,” 1867
“Bonaventure today, after nearly two centuries, is more beautiful than ever for the oaks have grown until they overlap, forming cloistered aisles resembling a great outdoor Cathedral veiled with curtains of Tillandsia (Spanish moss) gently swaying in the breeze, creating an atmosphere of natural mourning.”
– Eva J. Barrington, The Savannah Morning News, 1950