Little James Dean & Mr. Hop Hop


Last night in Catholic Cemetery in Savannah, while my dog walked me under a luminous golden crescent moon and a breeze that prompted a desire to sleep in the cemetery, I suddenly stumbled upon a stuffed animal bunny that was face down on the ground. Looking slightly discarded, I gathered that one of the groundskeepers, while mowing, must’ve bumped him from his station. As I held him and scanned around, I knew right away where he belonged. This is what I do on my night patrols. I rescue and reunite grave site objects with their proper owners at no charge. As you can see, he’s seen better days, but before he was ejected from his post, he’d been looking out after his pal and being near for a very long time. He said as much! “Shannon Scott, Stuffed Animal Whisperer.” He reminded me of my own favorite stuffed animal, Justin, who was a polar bear puppet that I received for opening up a saving’s account when I was barely older than James. Justin had the same shiny black bead eyes, that to me, looked like licorice candy. I loved that stuffed animal. He wasn’t a cheap Chinese make either. Old school Taiwan synthetics! He was like my first real pet even if purely imaginary. We slept together and I loved being able to express myself with him through his puppet aspect. Some of my childhood was very lonely and internalized and Justin did seem a friend and gave me comfort. He was probably also the original source of me doing character voices. Many a depressed child has been saved by such creature companions. So yes, there was no way, haggard as this bunny was, that I was about to leave him in such a discarded state! Justice prevails!

I am used to seeing children’s graves and know that Pre-Penicillin, 1928, they were the rule of cemeteries and the majority of them went unmarked. Even so, I am never used to seeing them. The feeling is always a wide pan of gut filled emotions. You always hear the ever truthful cliche, “There’s nothing worse for a parent than losing a child.”  My response would be, “no there is nothing worse for a parent.” Made more grueling by the understanding that part of the future has died at the same time. All the same, I picked up the bunny and put him back where he belonged and I took this photo in the darkness and when I saw it later, it was as if he was looking up at me in his tatters with a grateful smile and I saw Justin all over again. And because I cannot truly speak to James or bring him back from the dead or talk to this bunny, I just felt I had to make something more of it than the picture and this little biddy came out. I am not a parent, but its deaths like these that make me hope for a God most of all and that these children like James, who died so young, are in his bosom and that they all have stuffed animals to keep them company. For you James, a much-beloved son…

Little James Dean Wise!
Who’s your friend with the beady eyes?
A funny looking bunny!
Who does he now spy?
Tis’ I, Tis’ I!
But I’m only passing by!
Tonight’s not my time to die
No, but how sad your burial belies
That sweet boyish face
Primed for life’s great race
I had to pause in my mortal haste
And ponder what made you stop?
When I found Mr Hop Hop
Guarding your grave like his den
Faithful toy friend to the end
I thought I heard him say,
“Better here than the world of men.”
— Shannon Scott

Photo By Shannon Scott (C) 2019


Old Bonaventure Cemetery Poem Discovered (c.1833)

Sublimely beautiful the scene!
And as I gaze around
I feel that nature hath proclaimed
It consecrated ground.

No rite of man, hath allowed it
But Time – who summons all
To wear the emblems of his power
And answer at his call.

These noble Oaks whose hundred arms
Are stretching wide and high;
(As if the very trees aspired
to reach the glorious sky;)

Even these are shrouded with veil
By nature lent to time;
The long grey overhanging moss
Which marks the southern clime;

O’er stately trunk and branch ‘tis threwn—
But still the bright green leaves,
Like youthful beauty, peeping through,
Seem laughing at the wreaths.

And there the ruined garden walks
Of other days declare,
And the deserted tomb-stone tells
Of valued friends that were.

The world, its follies, and its noise
To solemn thoughts give way—
We feel the power of Nature’s God,
In his sublime array –

Farewell: tho’other scenes I love,
Where nature’s beauties shine;
The tribute of my heart must be,
Thine, Bonaventure, thine!!

– M.E.C

My good friend and fellow storyteller and author of the book, “Savannah Spirits,” Louis Clausi, came across this Bonaventure poem published in the April 8, 1833 edition of The Georgian, a now very defunct newspaper.  He was perusing the fascinating and wonderful Library of Congress website Library of Congress Newspaper Search using various key words and came across it. Special thanks to them obviously! Truth-be-told I have been sitting on it for months but alas, so goes the life of a storyist with random snippets of history scattered about both in my home and on my laptops various!

I am not entirely sure how “known” this poem has been in the current sense of historians collecting things so only use the word “Discovered” in the title to draw attention to it and not to say we’re the first to really discover it. I’ve seen a lot of literature on Bonaventure Cemetery but have never personally seen a poem written about Bonaventure before it was officially a full time operating cemetery. So yes, “its NEW to me!” And I’ll gamble, “new” to many others also.

The poem, presumably titled “BONAVENTURE,” written by a mysterious signer, “M.E.C.” does indeed pre-date Bonaventure Cemetery as an actual business entity coming into play later in 1846.  And hence why he or she in this poem is observed waxing more about the natural beauty of the fauna and foliage versus monuments, not unlike later writers John Muir and Oscar Wilde who in their Bonaventure Cemetery devotions would similarly comment. This leaves me to believe that our traveler, M.E.C., was walking around Bonaventure Plantation (c.1754), and when he refers to “deserted tombstones,” he’s referring to the founder’s plot of The Tattnall family just off of what is now Colonial Garden. It contains some of the oldest burials, including that of Harriett Fenwick Tattnall (c.1802), which is considered “the oldest in-ground burial.” However M.E.C. does not specify their name or where he finds these headstones. So although its fair to say that The Tattnall ones would be the most evident in the 1833 overgrowth, might he have seen others that have gone lost or belonged to other burial situations? Perhaps those of the French Navy who buried some 800 men in a mass grave during the Siege of Savannah conflict of 1779? Did they have a few markers set down? Its unlikely but can we say with assurances that there were positively none? Its an interesting question I think. And having been a plantation that once stretched from what is now the main cemetery entrance to the State of Florida, might he have seen gravestones of former workers, staff or slaves? Although M.E.C. does not specify, much has been lost at Bonaventure, including over half of the records from fire and flood. And having been a groundskeeper myself and one who daily sees the “handiwork” of others even now? I can tell you that as solid as some headstones are? Many break easily, fall into quick negligence if there is no family to rescue them or notice they are gone. The life of a headstone is generally bleak to be frank so I wonder about these monuments M.E.C. is mentioning. Suffice to say however, that for a poet, M.E.C. probably suggesting The Tattnall stones as “the founder’s,” they were the best known and probably easiest to encounter for let’s say any fans of his poem, BONAVENTURE.

The Tattnall Family Plot (c.1860s) Photo from a stereoview by renowned Bonaventure photographer Jerome Wilson

All the same, it points to a Pre-Cemetery era and even decades before, when we know that the word “Bonaventure” was a household name in America and in Europe and much more so than people realize in the current sense of her new found fame. Individuals like M.E.C. were some of the earliest fans showing the love that became a spiritual part of everything the place is today. Kudos M.E.C. whoever you were. Not a half bad poem if I do say so myself.

19th Century Bonaventure Cemetery drawing By Harry Fenn showing what was then the Warsaw River in the distance. Made from a Jerome Wilson Photo