If you know the story about little Gracie Watson then you know that John Walz beautifully sculpted the life-sized and extremely lifelike monument that marks her grave from a photograph Gracie’s father gave to John. This statue from 1890 is probably his best known work, but he has over 70 sculptures in Bonaventure Cemetery alone. Other sculpted pieces can be found in other local cemeteries and Savannah itself.
John was born in Wurttemberg, Germany on August 31, 1844. When he was thirteen, his parents died and he moved to Philadelphia to live with his sister. Once he decided to learn how to sculpt, he went to Paris and Vienna to study the art.
Four sculptures were commissioned to be featured in the Telfair Museum of Art, and after helping complete them, John Walz accompanied them to Savannah and remained once he arrived in 1890. After a successful career he built for himself from his studio, Walz married a widow, Sarah Bell Gilmore, when he was 63 in 1907.
When he passed away in November, 1922, he was buried two days later in the plot originally purchased by his wife’s first husband in Bonaventure Cemetery. Sarah died in 1931 and was buried between her two husbands.
Somehow, John Walz didn’t end up with a marker on his grave for 93 years. Finally, on April 30, 2015, a marker to match his wife and her previous husband was agreed upon with a little homage to Walz’s work. His marker appears to be incomplete with the right quarter not smoothed out and the tools he so often used over the years are incorporated into the design.
While his marker may have taken nearly a century to be placed, the cemetery did make a John Walz Memorial Garden in 2001. The studio on Liberty Street where he created his art has become a vacation rental as well. The beauty John Walz left for the world may be enjoyed in numerous ways throughout Savannah.