A few weeks ago, I wrote about my recent visit to Laurel Grove South Cemetery. Today, I’m going to concentrate on her sister, Laurel Grove North Cemetery (LGN).
When taphophiles (cemetery nuts like me) talk about Savannah, the first place they mention is Bonaventure Cemetery, and for good reason. Featured in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bonaventure gets a lot of press and tour buses run through it daily. As you may have seen from pictures of it that I’ve posted on my AICH Facebook page, it’s amazing.
Because of that notoriety, LGN is a hidden Savannah gem. The first time I visited there in February, my friend Frank and I spent many hours wandering, and we only encountered one other group of people. It’s perfect for meandering about, looking at names and poking around the old moss-laden crypts and mausoleums.
My visit a few weeks ago was no different, although Frank wasn’t with me. The mere fact that LGN is quiet and obscure makes it even more attractive to a cemetery wanderer like me.
Like LGS, LGN was carved out of the former Springfield Plantation. Named after the native laurel oak trees that once inhabited the site, LGN was developed in 1850 as the Old Cemetery (Colonial Park Cemetery), the Old Jewish Cemetery, Potter’s Field and the Old Negro Cemetery approached capacity.
All of the available cemetery lots at LGN were sold during the Victorian Era. Because of that, it probably has the highest concentration of Victorian cemetery architecture in the Southeast.
About 10 years ago, the status of Laurel Grove North was in question due to some differences of opinion on how it should be preserved and maintained. You can read about that brouhaha here. It also suffers some occasional vandalism. As with Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, some of the old iron fencing is falling apart due to age and weather. But all in all, LGN is in pretty good shape.
One of the first monuments I zeroed in on was a white bronze (zinc) marker for the Dannenfelser family. William Dannenfelser emigrated to Savannah from Germany, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1856.
After first living in Norwich, Conn., William and his wife, Catherine, moved to Savannah. William was a butcher. Together, they had three children. The youngest, William Jr., was the only child born in America. He died at the age of 14 and is buried beside them.
LGN has a large number of Confederate soldiers buried there, with one section containing about 700 graves. According to one website I read, most of the veterans’ markers were in bad shape until the local United Daughters of the Confederacy requested that the Veterans Administration replace them with new ones.
One of the markers I photographed was for Private William M. Patterson, who could have been no more than 16 when he enlisted in May 1861. Unmarried, he died at Gettysburg in July 1863. Patterson was from Sterling Bluff Plantation on the Ogeechee River in Ways Station, Bryan County, Ga. His body, along with others who died at Gettysburg, was returned to Savannah in 1871.
The large statue that dominates Confederate Field is called “Silence”. She stands among the soldiers who fought at Gettysburg. The bottom of the base reads, “Here Rest ‘Till Roll Call’ The Men Of Gettysburg.”
According to a blog Gettysburg Daily, Silence’s first home was not LGN. She was originally on the Confederate Monument in Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah, situated inside a cupola. But the locals weren’t very happy about it. Some thought being inside the cupola made her look like “a canary in a cage.” So in 1878, she was moved to LGN to stand watch over the Confederate dead.
However, my favorite area is toward the back and contains a jaw-dropping Italian statue that I must have photographed from every angle. I can’t stop staring at it when I visit.
Louisa Porter was the only daughter of Dr. Adam Alexander of Inverness, Scotland, and Louisa Fredrika Schmidt of Stuttgart, Germany. Dr. Alexander came to America in 1776 and served in the Colonial Army as a surgeon during the Revolutionary War. While tending to wounded, Dr. Alexander was briefly taken prisoner by the British at the Seige of Savannah and later released to attend to a wounded British officer.
Born in Liberty County, Ga. in 1807, Louisa had an older brother named Adam. She married Anthony Porter, who was president of the Bank of Georgia, in 1824. She was his second wife. Louisa was 18 and Anthony was probably 40.
Although the Porters had no children, Louisa was very devoted to her brother’s children. Thanks to Anthony’s wealth, she was also devoted to philanthropic causes. She was on the board of directors of the Savannah Free School three times between the years of 1833 and 1855. She was also director for the Savannah Female Society during 1843 and 1855.
But Louisa’s greatest concern was for homeless women and children, and she helped to form the Industrial Relief Society and Home for the Friendless. After her death in 1888, her heirs gave a considerable part of her estate to that institution. In appreciation, its name was changed to the Louisa Porter Home for Girls.
The angel itself is made of Carara marble, signed by Italian sculptor A. Caniparoli. I couldn’t find anything at all about him online.
From the buttons on her sleeve to her enigmatic expression, this angel is a testament to Louisa Porter’s giving heart.
Of course, there’s a lot more to Laurel Grove than Louisa Porter’s angel. Time has not been particularly kind to the metalwork that abounds. But this kind of gentle decay that’s common in some Southern cemeteries can bring out a different sort of beauty worth appreciating.
LGN also has so many interesting crypts and mausoleums, it’s hard to take them all in. This Egyptian-styled one stands out.
The Gilmer-Minis family pavilion is equally elaborate.
Finally, LGN does have a few celebrities buried there. The most famous is Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts. But I was more interested in finding a more obscure celebrity, James Pierpont. The name probably doesn’t ring a bell but the song he wrote will.
Born in 1822 in Boston, James Lord Pierpoint was the uncle of the financier and banker John Pierpont Morgan. After a stint in the Navy, James married. His wife and children stayed back east while James tried his luck as a photographer during the California Gold Rush but a fire burned his goods.
In 1853, James’ wife died. His brother, the Rev. John Pierpont, Jr., accepted a post with the Savannah, Ga., Unitarian congregation. James followed, taking a post as the organist and music director of the church. He remarried and in his spare time, wrote many ballads, polkas and minstrel songs.
In August, 1857, James’ song “The One Horse Open Sleigh” was published. The song was originally performed in a Sunday school concert on Thanksgiving in Savannah. In 1859, it was re-released with the title “Jingle Bells, or The One Horse Open Sleigh”. While it wasn’t a hit at the time, the popularity of the song grew to the point where it’s now one of the most popular Christmas songs ever.
I could spend another few blog posts detailing the beauties of Laurel Grove North. But for now, I’ll let you dwell on what I’ve written today. Maybe someday you can see it for yourself.
You won’t regret it.