If you’re looking for something new to do with friends and relatives when they visit Charleston for the umpteenth time, Bulldog Tours will begin offering tours of Magnolia Cemetery this weekend, becoming the first commercial tour company to do so.
Magnolia Cemetery was founded in 1849 and is Charleston’s oldest public cemetery. Over 30,000 people are interred there, including authors, poets, artists, Confederate generals and soldiers, politicians, bootleggers and socialites. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and still operates as a full-service cemetery.
John LaVerne, owner of Bulldog Tours, said he had several conversations over the years about offering tours at Magnolia Cemetery with the property’s trust board, but each time he was told that it was against the cemetery’s bylaws.
LaVerne said what helped convince the board was the tour company’s “sustainable tourism model,” in which it donates part of its proceeds to the historic site it’s touring. He has used this model at The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon and the Old City Jail, as well as other sites in the Charleston area. Bulldog has donated a total of $3.7 million back into the sites it tours.
LaVerne said that as excited as he is to offer tours, he’s equally pleased that he’s able to help persevere Magnolia Cemetery.
“This landmark is a huge part of Charleston’s history,” LaVerne said. “You figure from the mid-1800s to current day, it’s a who’s who of historical figures in our history and it’s 150 acres. The upkeep is very costly, and it is our mission to help defer those costs and help them (the trust board) out.”
The most difficult part of creating the Magnolia Cemetery tour for LaVerne was narrowing down the number of stories for tour guides to tell. Bulldogs has several research-inclined tour guides, and LaVerne tasked them with finding 10 to 20 stories to tell about the cemetery.
Researchers scoured the Charleston County Public Library and the Charleston Library Society, as well as talked to residents who often come to the cemetery.
“We’ve come across some fascinating stories that I’m sure locals and visitors alike are going to really enjoy because this place is amazing,” LaVerne said.
He added that Bulldog Tours is also making sure to show reverence to the cemetery, the people buried there and their families.
“We have taken this extremely seriously and realize the significance in Charleston history and the sensitivity as well because there’s lots of people buried out here that have family still alive and we want to be very respectful of that,” LaVerne said. “And we have done a lot of work in creating a tour that honors the people that are buried here.”
The 90-minute tour of Magnolia Cemetery, offered twice nightly Friday and Saturday through Halloween, are $29 for adults and $19 for children between 7 and 12 years old.