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Grave situations
New doc explores the history buried in local cemeteries
'Gracie' of Bonaventure Cemetery fame

A local production company is bringing the dead back to life with a new DVD called "Savannah's Historic Graveyards" that explores the rich history buried in our cemeteries.

"This opens the door for Savannahians to all the magical things that are right under their noses that they don't even know about," says Michael Jordan, president of Cosmos Mariner Productions.

The film, which will be sold in stores throughout the historic district, will have a premiere on Thursday, October 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Savannah History Museum on MLK Jr. Boulevard.

While a stroll through Bonaventure or Colonial Park are common place activities for residents and visitors alike, Jordan's film explores some of the history that might not be immediately evident during an afternoon in the cemetery.

"If you're actually a local blue blood and you're related to these people, then you probably know, but if you're somebody who moved here like I did, you're gonna be astounded at the complexity of the stories," says Jordan. "It's overwhelming."

He enlisted the help of several local historians, including former School Board President Hugh Golson, to help shed light on some of the interesting stories interred in the local burial grounds.

While dead men might tell no tales, the passing centuries have produced their fair share of anecdotes, including discovering that Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene, a close friend of George Washington was sharing a grave with the British hero from the Battle of Savannah.

"They moved [Greene] to the obelisk in Johnson Square in the early 20th century, and it was a major Savannah event. People came out in their Victorian finest to watch it happen," explains Jordan. "But low and behold he had shared that grave for a hundred years with the British hero of the Battle of Savannah, Colonel Maitland. Nobody knew."

Although Bonaventure and Colonial Park are two of Savannah's most recognizable graveyards, the film also delves into the history of Laurel Grove North and South, as well as the two 18th Century Jewish cemeteries tucked away behind Savannah Station, which served as the rallying point for French troops during the Revolutionary War.

Besides providing the final resting place for a veritable who's who of Savannah's long history, the graveyards paint an interesting portrait of life and death through the inscriptions, many of which have faded into illegibility or, in the case of Colonial Park, were tampered with by Union soldiers who camped there during the Civil War.

"The inscriptions are crazy," Jordan says. "One girl died after being struck by lightning. Another died when her Bible caught fire on her breast while she was reading it. You can barely read those things, but I interviewed the historians and found out what they say."

The movie, which will primarily be marketed toward tourists, took about four months of research to compile and produce. It's the second in a series of historical films about Savannah, following the release earlier this year of "Savannah's Historic Homes."

While it doesn't seem like graveyards would offer too much perspective on life besides that it will end someday, how the cemeteries have changed over the years, and how hundreds or thousands of graves have been lost over the years makes Jordan wonder what the future holds for our own efforts at preservation.

"The lost graves - how does that happen?" He asks. "It shows how differently our descendents may see what's important. 100 years from now, our children may have a completely different idea, and they'll say, ‘what the hell were they thinking?' What did we throw away that people are gonna think was treasure?"

Premier of "Savannah's Historic Graveyards"

When: Thursday, Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Savannah History Museum, 303 MLK Jr. Blvd.

Cost: Free