Hidden Savannah cemeteries

This time of year Bonaventure Cemetery and Colonial Park Cemetery are crawling with tourists hoping to catch an orb in a picture or hear a disembodied voice whispering something terrifying. But these aren’t the only cemeteries with a spooky past.

Any tour guide will happily tell you that Savannah is a city built on the dead. As the original colony grew, graves were relocated to make way for progress, but it’s a lot easier to move a headstone than to move a casket.

Even now, it’s not entirely uncommon to find bones during downtown building renovations.

I could spend all day telling you about that, but that’s what my TikTok is for. Instead, I’m going to tell you about four hidden cemeteries you should check out next time you visit.

The 1733 burial plot for Savannah’s Jewish community

Resting in the middle of Oglethorpe Avenue between The Collins Quarter and The Independent Presbyterian Church of Savannah is a marker covered in stones. This is the only visible reminder of Savannah’s first burial plot for the Jewish community in use from 1733 to 1765.

Savannah is home to Georgia’s first Jewish congregation and the third in U.S. history. Not long after the first ships carrying English colonists arrived, Jewish families started the same trek hoping to find better treatment in The New World.

Bonaventure Cemetery has a very large Jewish section, including the burial site of the cremains of Holocaust victims. But before Bonaventure, there was a burial plot on the outskirts of the colony.

Time and progress may have swallowed this cemetery, but if you walk around the back of the marker, you can see the names of those who were laid to rest there. This is by no means a complete list just the 17 names that could be found.

One name sticks out. Sheftall Sheftall “died very young”. According to the plaque, he died by being fed acorns by his nurse. I have so many questions about this.

De Lyon – De la Mota Cemetery (or the Levi Sheftall family burial grounds)

I’m not sure if Levi Sheftall and Sheftall Sheftall were related. It’s certainly a possibility.

This tiny cemetery was founded in 1773, and according to the plaque on the outside, was used for 80 years.

It is closed to the public and tucked away behind Garrison School for the Arts and some college student apartments.

You can still peak in from the outside though. Quite a few of the graves closest to the gate looked like children’s graves.

I think it important to recognize this cemetery because it’s easy to miss, and it’s important to realize how big of a part the Jewish community has played and continues to play in Savannah.

In case you’re wondering about the rock

“The Old Negro Burial Grounds” (Don’t come at me. That’s what it was historically called. I didn’t name it.)

Under the Calhoun and Whitefield Squares are countless bodies from 1763 to 1851. This property wasn’t just used as a burial ground for slaves. It’s also where free Black people were buried.

The historical documents call it “The Old Negro Burial Grounds”. Some of the graves were later moved to Laurel Grove Cemetery, but as is the case with every other old cemetery in town, not all the bodies were moved.

The two squares were built on top of the cemetery with no mention of what the land was before. There are no monuments, no statues, no plaques, no markers.

Whitefield Square has a gazebo and Calhoun Square has some benches. That’s it.

Recently, there’s been a bigger push to have the squares renamed and visibly recognized as a burial ground. I really hope that happens soon.

You can read more about it and find a link to sign the petition here.

LePageville Cemetery

I found out about this cemetery after a TikTok follower emailed me about it.

LePageville was built in 1885 as an affordable rental community for Black railroad workers in Savannah.

For decades, it was a thriving community with a church, a graveyard, and a storehouse (similar to a grocery store), but when the railroad industry took a turn in the 1930s, it was the beginning of the end for LePageville.

In 1967, the community was closed and residents moved elsewhere. The dead didn’t go with them though.

Many of the markers were simple and made of wood. Over time, they fell apart or were forgotten. We have no idea how many people are still buried there.

A news article I found from a few years ago said there was hope of coordinating with Savannah State University to scan the area with ground penetrating radar in order to identify graves, but I haven’t found any follow ups to see if they did.

If you search Lepageville Drive in Google maps, you can find the location of the cemetery. There isn’t much there right now, but my hope is that work will continue to identify who was left behind.

Trips there should always be done with a partner. There’s a homeless camp nearby, and while most of the homeless here are just people trying to get through life like everyone else, some do have mental health issues. Mental health issues + poor diet + poor sleep = unreasonable reactions sometimes. So play it safe.

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