The Haunted Tale of Little Gracie Watson

Behind every photograph, there is a story.

In 1993, Savannah Georgia photographer Jack Leigh was hired to photograph an image for the cover of John Berendt’s book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  Leigh’s photograph of the now famous “Bird Girl” statue became an immediate publishing sensation and put Bonaventure Cemetery on the map.  Soon people began flocking to Bonaventure Cemetery to see the sculpture. Due to concerns about the amount of traffic at the grave site, it was removed from the cemetery and relocated. Supposedly, Leigh spent ten hours in the darkroom dodging and burning the photograph to impart a moonlit feel while accentuating the halo around the statue’s head.  Leigh died in 2004 and was buried at Bonaventure, which I find poetic.

Bonaventure has a strong reputation as being one of the most haunted locations in the United States.  Unquestionably, I felt a strong spiritual vibe and energy as I leisurely walked around the cemetery grounds looking at the various historic gravestones in search of a suitable photographic subject.  While I was disappointed that the “Bird Girl” statue had been removed, I happened upon a gravestone statue that I felt was equally as powerful, if not more so.  Her name was Gracie Watson.  And I was moved to be in her presence.  Maybe it was because she was the only child buried in this hauntingly beautiful cemetery?**   Or maybe it was the tragic quality of her life and death and the fact that I have a young daughter of similar age?

The inscription on her gravestone reads, “Little Gracie Watson was born in 1883, the only child of her parents. Her father was manager of the Pulaski House, one of Savannah’s leading hotels, where the beautiful and charming little girl was a favorite with the guests. Two days before Easter, in April 1889, Gracie died of pneumonia at the age of six. In 1890, when the rising sculptor, John Walz, moved to Savannah, he carved from a photograph this life-sized, delicately detailed marble statue, which for almost a century has captured the interest of all passersby.”

According to local folklore and legend, Little Gracie Watson is among the most haunted spirits residing at Bonaventure and in Savannah.  Visitors will leave toys for her to play with, and some claim she will cry tears of blood if her playthings are removed. There is always a collection of toys near her grave area, especially around Christmas, but no sign of tear stains running down her porcelain “doll-like” marble face.  There is also a belief that if you place a quarter in Gracie’s hand and encircle her statue three times, the coin will disappear.  Like the “Bird Girl” statue, little Gracie Watson has become very popular, and the grave is now fenced off in wrought-iron to prevent further damage.

Pulaski House Hotel was frequented by Savannah’s elite, and Little Gracie Watson often played the role as hostess at the various high society parties that were held by her mother.  Gracie quickly endeared herself to Savannah’s elite, and loved being the center of attention. When she became bored,  she would often retreat to play underneath the back stairwell of the hotel.   After her death in 1889, her mother and hotel staff claimed to be able to still hear little Gracie laughing and playing underneath that stairwell.  Although the hotel has since been torn down, the location of the original hotel still boast many haunted sightings.  The haunted echoes of Little Gracie can still be heard laughing and playing where the old staircase would have been located.  And some people even have reported seeing a small girl run past them in period dress.

To this day, my visit with Gracie is still strongly etched on my soul.  For hours and without any other interruptions other than the humming sound of a distant lawnmower in the background, Little Gracie and I bonded.  Like a father to his precious daughter, we shared many conversations and moments, and I shed tears for her.  While her beautiful young life was cut way too short, she left her mark in the physical world—and now leaves her tiny footprint in the spiritual one.  The world is a better place because of Little Gracie and I am honored to have met this young lady on this one particular and mostly uneventful quiet Spring day.

Little Gracie Watson

Little Gracie Watson

Gracie Watson: 1883-1889

Gracie Watson: 1883-1889

Gravestone at Bonaventure Cemetery

Gravestone at Bonaventure Cemetery

Statue at Bonaventure Cemetery - Savannah, GA

Statue at Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah, GA

** In a post story correction, an informed reader of my blog rightfully pointed out that Gracie is not the only child buried at Bonaventure.  Maybe I was confused because it is possible that Gracie is the only one with a statue?  To clear up any confusion on my part, I contacted Lee Maltenfort, Chair of the Bonaventure Historical Society.  Lee was kind enough to send the following response:  “There are, according to best estimates, some 28,000 buried at Bonaventure. No one has ever surveyed, either visually or through the new data base, how many of them are children.  But, considering the high infant mortality rates and other health issues that affected young people over the years, a couple of thousand (give or take a few hundred) might be a reasonable estimate.”  I stand corrected and appreciate the clarification.

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29 Responses to “The Haunted Tale of Little Gracie Watson”

  1. Kaye Reese Says:

    I too was moved by little Gracie. I also have photos of the statue. While visiting Savannah recently I went to Bonaventure for the first time. It just awed me. If you have any more information on Gracie please let me know. I was so overwhelmed when I found and visited her grave site. What a precious memory.

  2. spiritualized67 Says:

    Thank you Kaye. Gracie is special!

    ~Daniel

  3. You have a talent with words as well as a camera, Dan. Your thoughts were poignant and moving for me.
    Steve

  4. spiritualized67 Says:

    Thank you Steve! I do appreciate your comments :) ~Daniel

  5. Just beautiful! I highlighted this post on my blog. I am doing a segment on Bonaventure.

    • spiritualized67 Says:

      Thank you Margaret. I look foward to checking out your blog as well. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Hi, I live in Leicester in England and last year I also visited Bonaventure and too was inspired by the cemetery. I also visited Gracie and was fortunate to go inside the railings and touch her statue as there was a lady trimming the bushes. I since tried to find out more about her and came upon this site.

    Kev

  7. What a beautiful tribute you’ve made to this beautiful lost little girl. I feel that she is so happy where she is and now is of course reunited with her loving family.

    • spiritualized67 Says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read this and comment Suzi. I appreciate your positive spiritual view! ~Daniel

  8. Anita Lyvonne Tennille Says:

    I always bring her red roses. The roses of course are fake that way they last longer than real ones. Little Gracie I am sure was sweet and kind and I am not a parent yet, but I know that her parents greaved really bad when she left them. I feel that she may still be in savannah and maybe one day on my many trips there I will one day feel and hear her sweet laughter. I look forward to seeing her again.

  9. Elizabeth Says:

    Just FYI, Gracie is not the only child buried there.

    • spiritualized67 Says:

      Thank you, Elizabeth – you are correct. I have added a correction note to the end of my blog post. I appreciate your comment. It is important to be accurate in our reporting.

  10. Edcy Lebron Says:

    i just loved your story. amazingly well written.

  11. spiritualized67 Says:

    I appreciate your feedback, Edcy!

  12. I just went to visit Little Gracie for the first time ever last week. Something about her gravesite is stunningly beautiful. I got the feeling I knew that sweet little girl. I would love to go back and tour that cemetary again but I live in Maine so I don’t think that will happen but a part of me misses being there.

  13. [...] Later Deborah rested while Savannah and I went out to Bonaventure cemetery. We seen the graves of Johnny Mercer (Wikipedia page) and the local famous girl “Gracie” Watson (another Blog). [...]

  14. Darlene Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us, Daniel. I just returned from a trip to Savannah in April 2013. I was fortunate to spend a week in the Savannah Historic District where I was able to wander & explore to my hearts content. I pushed myself almost to exhaustion each day not wanting to miss a single bit of the history & wonder of that delightful, sentimental, magical old city. Little Gracie also stole my heart on a visit to the hauntingly beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery. I suppose that because I am a mother & grandmother, when I stood there looking upon her grave & touching monument, my tears flowed like a river. I felt her presence there with me just like you did. I believe that her little innocent child spirit is attracted to & is fully able to reach out to the kindness & love that she feels from those that visit her. In fact, I think she may have come home with me to Texas for a little visit because from time to time, I just can’t stop thinking about that precious little girl. Every few weeks she pops into my thoughts quite out of the blue. The difference now is that I no longer cry when I think of her. Now my thoughts of her bring a smile to my lips & a warmth to my heart. :)

    • spiritualized67 Says:

      I’m so sorry for taking 5 months to respond Darlene. My blog has not received a lot of TLC as of late. I really appreciate your very thoughtful response about Gracie. She moved me as much as she moved you – and I hope to visit again soon. Thank you once again!

  15. I got to meet Gracie for the first time last weekend. Her grave is beautiful…the marble looks like it is brand new. The cemetery is a photographers dream. Hope to go back someday. You did a wonderful tribute to a little girl!

    • spiritualized67 Says:

      Sorry for my very slow response Debbie. Thank you for your very thoughtful comment – it was much appreciated – even four months after the fact. :)

  16. My friend and I would go there just to drive threw Bonadventure going slow just checking it out I really did enjoy it since I haven’t seen it before well when I moved back to Savannah I went back and Gracie wasn’t there I was told that they had to move her to keep it safe because people were doing mean things to like putting out cigarettes on her which broke my heart it’s really sad on how you haven’t met this little girl but you read things about her and it just grabs your heart

    • spiritualized67 Says:

      Sorry for epic slow response. Thank you for your thoughtful comment Laura. It is a travesty to see how people can desicrate sacred places like this. But Karma always has a way of paying them back.

  17. Bonnie greenfeld Says:

    Does anyone know why her parents aren’t buried with her? We visited today, such a serene place, wish I had time to walk it all

  18. Hello,

    I went to bonaventure over the weekend. I also took similar photos. I loved Gracie and her story.
    If you still keep up with this page, can you email me which program you use for post. I like the halo effect and the hue. I was trying to find a way to make her look angelic, and I think you nailed it.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Sam

    • spiritualized67 Says:

      Hi Samuel. I Use Capture NX2 for my editing. The particular effect you are referencing was created in-camera using a Singh-Ray Soft Ray filter. Thanks for commenting!

  19. I, too, was touched by Gracie. A gentle child who made such an impression on me. I think of her often and the sadness that her parents must have felt when she left them at such an early age. Thank you for posting your story of Gracie. How wonderful that, after all of these years since her passing, she is still remembered by those who continue to visit her resting place..

  20. I am related to little Gracie I am one of her cousins – when I die I will be right beside my cousin Gracie I always leave a toy when I visit I love her so much.

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