If the citizens of Savannah Georgia had to choose a single, iconic image to represents the city, you would be hard pressed to find a Savannahian that would not choose photographer Jack Leigh’s 1993 image titled “Midnight.”
midnightLeigh’s photograph depicts a grave monument in Bonaventure cemetery featuring a bronze statue of a slender girl in a full length dress, holding a pair of bowls in outstretched arms. Commonly known as the “Bird Girl,” the statue is one of four, originally cast in 1936 by sculpture Sylvia Shaw Judson. Savannah’s “Bird Girl” was purchased by a local family, who named it “Little Wendy” and set it up at their family plot in Bonaventure Cemetery.
Little Wendy sat in Bonaventure Cemetery for over half a century, virtually unnoticed, until Random House Publishing commissioned Leigh to shoot the cover image of John Berendt‘s new book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Berendt suggested Leigh search Bonaventure Cemetery for a suitable subject. After two days of searching, Leigh located Little Wendy on a family plot towards the back of the cemetery. Since it was nearly dusk, Leigh had to compose quickly to get his shot, but the resulting image would make Leigh famous.
When “The Book” (as it’s known to local Savannahian’s) was released, it became an immediate international hit, and the eerie cover photo only added to the book’s legacy and mystique. Berendt called Leigh’s image “one of the strongest book covers I’ve ever seen.”
As the book became a runaway best seller, fans soon began flocking to Bonaventure Cemetery to see the Bird Girl for themselves. Out of concern about possible vandalism or theft of the statue, not to mention increased foot traffic the grave plot was receiving, the family removed Little Wendy from Bonaventure, and donated her to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah for public display. In December of 2014, the statue was moved from the Telfair, to the nearby Jepson Center for the Arts, at 207 W York Ln, Savannah, where it is currently on public display as of May, 2015.
As of the writing of this, you can even catch a glimpse of Wendy from the back side at the corners of Oglethorpe Avenue, and Barnard Street.
“Little Wendy the Bird Girl” on display at the Jepson Center for the Arts, May 2015
The Bird Girl as seen from street level, at the corners of Oglethorpe Avenue and Barnard Street.
By: Patrick Burns