John Walz (1844—1922) was a popular sculptor in Savanah who was commissioned to create many monuments that can be found in the famed Bonaventure Cemetery. Walz, a talented German immigrant, began his career as a stonecutter but only as a means of saving enough money to gain a classical education in sculpture. After working as a stonecutter for eight years, he’d saved enough to travel to Europe to study in Paris and Vienna before returning to the United States to ply his artistry.
The gravestone he carved for the Wheless family depicts two children’s winged heads that appear to be floating on a cloud. The cloud is atop a cartouche with the letter “W” carved into it signifying the last name of the family. The names and birth and death dates of the Wheless children flank the carving:
June 28, 1904 – Oct 25, 1906
Sept 21, 1892—May 24, 1895
The most famous gravestone carved by Walz and most likely the most photographed in the cemetery was created for Gracie Watson (1883-1889) who died of pneumonia. The story told and re-told is that the father of the little girl was so grief stricken that he could not speak when he met with Walz to commission a monument for his sweet six-year-old girl, Gracie. Instead, he handed his only photograph of Gracie to the sculptor—who went to work creating a chillingly accurate replica of the young girl. The white Georgia marble monument depicts Gracie seated next to a tree stump with ivy leaves twinning round it. The sculpture of the little girl rests on a plinth sitting on a base. In front of the base is a small planter with a cartouche folded over with the letter “W” emblazoned on it—a noted hallmark of Walz’s work. Gracie’s gravestone is the only one in the family plot. Her parents, W. J. and Frances Watson, hoteliers in Savannah eventually moved from the city.
These two monuments represent only a small part of Walz’s legacy. His sculptures can been seen in the Bonaventure and Laurel Grove Cemeteries in Savannah as well as other works in the city.