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Vol. 23, No. 2: Summer 2017

Taming the Wild Side of Bonaventure

Tourism and the Contested Southern Landscape

by William D. Bryan

In 1869, twenty-nine-year-old John Muir left his home in Indianapolis and began to walk south. With Florida as his goal, Muir botanized his way through Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, before stopping in Savannah. There, he ran out of money and had to spend almost a week “camping among the tombs” in Bonaventure Cemetery, a private cemetery just a few miles outside the city. Muir marveled at Bonaventure’s landscape, and declared it “one of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures I ever met”—high praise from the future founder of the Sierra Club. Although intended for the dead, the cemetery was a living ecosystem replete with Spanish moss, bald eagles, “large flocks of butterflies, [and] all kinds of happy insects,” and he observed that “the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life.” For Muir, Bonaventure showed that humans were only a small part of nature’s cycles of life and death, and he took pleasure in watching the efforts of humans fade into the timeless processes of nature. Where several owners had attempted to ornament their plots with landscaping, Muir noted “how assiduously Nature seeks to remedy these labored art blunders” by “corrod[ing] the iron and marble, and gradually level[ing] the hill,” erasing these human marks on the landscape with “strong evergreen arms laden with fern and tillandsia drapery . . . spread all over.” Muir’s final impression was of Bonaventure as a place where life was “at work everywhere, obliterating all memory of the confusion of man.”

This article appears as an abstract above, the complete article can be accessed in Project Muse
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