Sunday, December 28, 2014

A New Year for Two Old Cemeteries

The Colonial Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia boasts this impressive entrance, constructed by the DAR, showing you that at one time, the Colonial Cemetery was "the" place to be buried in Savannah. The cemetery opened in 1750, still the British Colonial period in Savannah, and closed in 1853. The latter date coincided with a yellow fever outbreak, so it was probably closed for the same reason that Tolomato Cemetery was closed, in other words, because of fears the cemeteries had something to do with the spread of yellow fever. They didn't, of course, but nobody knew that the spread of the disease was connected with mosquitoes and standing water until Dr. Walter Reed's research in 1905.  So it was not uncommon in Southern cities to close the cemetery as a preventive measure.

Many of the burials are those of important colonial or Revolutionary War figures. The cemetery was restored by the Garden Club in the 1970s, and is well-maintained by the city and volunteer groups. The cemetery is some six acres in size and there are about 9000 graves, although as you can see, there's lots of open space. This is because many earlier grave markers have fallen over or have been removed because they were about to topple over.  But I suspect that the now open field was a forest of markers in its day.

On the wall above, you see rows of markers that have been picked up and placed against the wall after they cracked at the base.

There were other solutions to the problem of broken markers, such as setting the remaining fragment of the marker into a concrete base or a thick upright plaque of concrete. I also saw some more modern solutions. Several of the markers had steel frames built around them, as you see in the photo below.   While a little unattractive, in my opinion, the frame does support the marker and keeps it not only in one piece, but upright.

Many of the markers had very touching descriptions, and some even had rather dramatic inscriptions. The inscription of Joseph Vallence Bevan (d. 1830), Georgia's first official state historian, reads "There Was None, No None! Against Whose Name The Recording Angel Would More Reluctantly Have Written Down Condemnation."  Below is his ledger stone, which, as you can see, needs a little D-2 cleaner and preservation team scrubbing! 

There were many attractive ironwork features around and in the cemetery as well. Savannah has a long ironwork tradition, similar to that of New Orleans or other 18th and 19th century American cities. St. Augustine, had it had the money, would probably have featured ironwork too, since the Spanish were known for their ironwork.   As it is, there is a fair amount of iron work in St. Augustine, although most of it is from the late 19th century onwards. The style in  Savannah was the English style, although there was a French influence, too.  St. Augustine ironwork is a combination of just about everything, although it is being overtaken by the rather neutral and functional modern aluminum fencing.  This not very good photo shows you the decorative curlicues and embellishments on the Colonial Cemetery fence (if you look hard enough).

Colonial Cemetery, like Tolomato, stands as a peaceful, fenced island in the midst of a thronged, tourist filled city.  It has been a city park since 1896, but the cemetery has been on this site for some 264 years. Tolomato, first as a Franciscan mission and then as the cemetery, has been on its site for somewhat longer than that, probably more than 300 years.  Visitors can contemplate these tranquil places as another busy year comes rolling in, and we wish a happy 2015 - and many years thereafter - to all! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Last 3rd Saturday of 2014


It’s the last 3rd Saturday of the year, Christmas is almost here, and once again we have decorated Tolomato for the season. We hung wreaths on the Varela Chapel last week, no easy task, since the columns in front are coquina faced with concrete, meaning that the traditional nail or hook is out. Last year we used fishing line looped around the top of the capitals, which fortunately are flat and have a ledge around the top – so we tried it again. 


Still, it took three of us (Elizabeth, Matt and Janet, the latter of whom are in the photo), juggling the wreaths, tying the nearly invisible line…and then trying to get the wreaths winched up to the same height on both columns. But we did it!


We also placed poinsettias at a few of the more notable tombs, such as those of Bishop Verot and Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, and also in front of the sign honoring the many Minorcans buried at Tolomato.


This Saturday, December 20, is a third Saturday, so we’ll be open as usual and you can come and see these things for yourself. And feel free to bring along another poinsettia or two if there is any grave in particular that you wish to mark.


Another seasonal but less inspiring thing to keep in mind is that this is nearly the end of the 2014 tax year! This mundane consideration should make you wonder what Christmas gift you could give that might be tax-deductible, and of course, the Tolomato Fence would be a perfect recipient for such a gift. You can visit our website, , to make a donation, or if you wish to make a large donation contact us by email at to arrange it. Securities and all other forms in which you wish to donate are accepted, along, of course, with good old checks.

But whether you donate or not, consider stopping by to visit on Saturday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Our “chapel harpist,” Mary Jane Ballou, will be playing carols, and Matt Armstrong will be lending his voice (and his guitar) to the festivities. Of course, there will be the usual tours and information…and there might even be homemade cookies for a few fortunate visitors!