By Lee Maltenfort, Chairman
Bonaventure Cemetery, as we are so happy to boast, has been rated the second most beautiful cemetery in the US by CNNTravel.com and among the top ten in listings provided by Travel+Leisure.com and other travel resources. We’re the top-rated free attraction in Savannah on just about every travel site evaluation found on the internet.
The cemetery’s operating hours are from 8 am until 5 pm every day of the year. Arriving Department of Cemetery staffers find people are waiting at the gate to get in and staff members tour the cemetery in the late afternoon to get stragglers out before the gates are locked.
We estimate our visitors center will record some 70,000 visitors this year. They arrive individually and in groups. The tour the cemetery on foot, on bicycles, on Segways, in their cars and in mini-buses. They stop in our visitors center to get info about our new Mobile Tour Guide, or acquire the Historical Society’s printed Guide to the historic section of Bonaventure or the new fold-out map of the entire cemetery. And many more bypass the visitors center, driving directly into the cemetery. And uncounted are those who arrive for funeral and interment services at grave sites and tourists who elect to use a commercial tour service as a cemetery escort.
Bonaventure’s great appeal has now spread to the latest craze, Pokemon-Go and, unfortunately, the behavior of some of its participants is unacceptable in any cemetery.
One of the commercial tour guides, Bonaventure Dan (who also happens to be a member of the Bonaventure Historical Society Board of Directors) reported he’d seen groups of people moving quickly through the cemetery, eyes glued to the smartphones.
Then there was a photo from Clarkston NJ that made the rounds on conventional media and the internet. It was of a woman being rescued from a tree in the Clarkston cemetery after misreading the clues to a Pokemon site and winding up needing the fire department to get her down.
So I copied the picture and sent it to the local TV news organizations, with the following comment:
Bonaventure, Laurel Grove North and South and Greenwich cemeteries are all fully functioning cemeteries, with funeral services and burials taking place daily and should not be incorporated into games that can be played elsewhere.
One of the responses I received was from a local game player who repeated the more positive aspects of Pokemon-Go: the game got a lot of people off their duffs, visiting parts of their communities they never knew existed and, in my humble opinion, it also saves some wear and tear on thumbs. He also pointed out that there were game players who kept an eye on others and picked up the trash the others left, or brought floral arrangements back to their upright positions after the others left a gravesite.
Historically, cemeteries have served and still do serve as a recreational resource for the benefit of visitors. Bonaventure’s predecessor, Evergreen Cemetery, encouraged local residents to enjoy carriage rides through the bucolic setting, picnic alongside the river that forms the eastern border of the cemetery or just relax in the quiet setting.
And today, Bonaventure provides many of the same recreational opportunities. We know of families who bicycle the cemetery every Sunday morning; there’s a local veterinarian who brings dogs recovering from surgeries to Bonaventure for rehabilitative walks; there are a variety of tour services who bring large and small groups to Bonaventure – even the local Segway dealer provides a tour after training tourists on safely manipulating the two-wheeled devices.
There are also many people who come daily or weekly, spending time at the grave of a spouse, son, daughter or other relative and who appreciate the quiet and comfort Bonaventure affords. And we are not alone in hosting mourners to whom the local cemetery has a special meaning.
And the mourners whose need for a quiet and reflective atmosphere takes priority.
When someone acquires a plot in a cemetery, they are really given no more than the right to inter one or more deceased persons in that space and are also usually responsible for the maintenance of the space under the cemetery’s terms and conditions of sale.
As attractive or interesting many monuments may be, crossing the gravesite border for a closer look is a form of trespassing. Think of having someone come into your front or back yard for a closer look at the lawn furniture, or a particular planting, or a peek inside your window.
In short, visitors to a cemetery such as Bonaventure are expected to live by a simple and unwritten code: Extend common courtesies to everyone else visiting the cemetery and assume others are there as mourners for lost loved ones and are deserving of quiet contemplation.
How to learn more about Bonaventure
Website: Bonaventure Historical Society
Facebook: Bonaventure Historical Society, Inc.
Instagram: Bonaventure Historical Society