Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery is known for its lush scenery and striking monuments to the dead. Yet there is one particular headstone that stops visitors in their tracks. Surrounded by a long iron fence, sitting pensively with her right hand resting on a tree stump is the statue of a little girl.
Her name is Gracie Watson, also known as Little Gracie.
She was the only child of Wales (W.J.) and Margaret Frances Watson. Wales took over management of the luxurious Pulaski Hotel in the 1880s, though the Watsons found themselves largely ignored by the city’s upper class. Margaret longed to integrate herself into the community and began giving away food and drinks at their hotel. Soon, the family’s social status improved. Numerous parties were held at the Pulaski, to which Gracie was often invited.
The little girl charmed guests with her lovable personality, taking on the role of an adorable hostess. When she grew tired of mingling with the adults, Gracie would often slip away to play beneath the back stairwell. Her disappearing act became a running joke with the partygoers, who would ask aloud “Where’s Gracie?” as a way of acknowledging the lateness of the hour.
Then, just two days before Easter in 1889, Gracie Watson died of pneumonia. She was six years old. Wales and Margaret were inconsolable; a grief-stricken Margaret claimed that she could still hear Little Gracie laughing and playing under the back staircase. Soon there after, Wales moved his wife into the newly-opened DeSoto Hotel to escape their painful memories. But over the years, different staff members insisted that Gracie’s voice could still be heard near the stairs. Other staff members refused to go into the basement due to the ominous sound of low moaning and clanking metal.
Wales Watson, in a final tribute to his daughter, hired sculptor John Walz to carve a life-sized monument of Gracie using a photograph as a reference. The finished work became the marker of her grave in Bonaventure Cemetery. It is said to be eerily accurate all the way down to the shape of her mouth.
And as the years passed, tales of Gracie’s life—and her haunting gravestone—grew.
Visitors to Gracie’s grave often leave toys and objects for her to enjoy. Some say Gracie’s statue cries tears of blood if these gifts are removed. Numerous witnesses have claimed to see what they perceived to be a real girl in a white dress skipping through the cemetery grass before vanishing into thin air. Others have seen Little Gracie playing in Johnson Square, a public space near the Pulaski Hotel’s former location. At least one person has seen a young girl staring from the window of the building at the corner of Bryan and Bull Street, where the Pulaski stood until it was demolished in 1957.
In the spring of 2002, a Savannah tour guide led a group past the Pulaski’s former site and began to tell Gracie’s story. Suddenly she noticed an unfamiliar four-story structure reflected in the window of the building she faced. The guide spun around but saw no such building. She continued to see the same reflection in other buildings until she finished Gracie’s story. Later, after seeing a historic photo of the Pulaski Hotel, the tour guide went pale and confirmed it was the reflection she had seen.
Gracie Watson’s grave is one of the most heavily trafficked in Bonaventure Cemetery. The iron fence was specifically added to prevent damage to the sculpture. Yet if the aforementioned sightings are to be believed, Gracie Watson herself is also watching over her resting place.
So, if you are ever in Savannah, Georgia and decide to visit the beautiful, 160-acre grounds of Bonaventure Cemetery, keep your eyes and ears open for a little girl in Victorian clothing. She may just be coming out to play.