Friday, September 9, 2016

My Trip to Savannah and the Midnight Garden of Good and Evil

Front cover art for the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, Random House, or the cover artist.--from Wikipedia
This summer, I had the pleasure of reading The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. This nonfiction book is Berendt's first and was published in 1994. It became a New York Times Best-Seller for 216 weeks following its debut and remains the longest-standing New York Times Best-Seller. The book depicts a wide range of eccentric personalities in and around the city of Savannah, Georgia. The center of the story line is the killing of Danny Hansford, a local male prostitute by an important Savannah socialite, respected antiques dealer Jim Williams. This results in four murder trials of Williams, with the fourth ending in acquittal after the judge finally agreed to a change of venue to move the case away from the Savannah jury pool. The book describes Williams' version of the killing, which is that it was in "self-defense" and not murder, pre-meditated or otherwise. The death occurred in Williams' home, which was originally built by West Point graduate and US Army and CSA Colonel Hugh W. Mercer, grandfather of songwriter and Savannah native Johnny Mercer, and grandson of Hugh Mercer of Pennsylvania, who was a hero of the Battle of Trenton and adjutant to General George Washington of the Continental Army.

The book was made into a movie in 1997. It was based loosely on Berendt's story. Prior to reading the book, I had seen the movie many years ago. I remembered that I liked the movie, but not too much else.

My daughter lives in Atlanta and visits Savannah often. I had never been there, but I have wanted to go. The opportunity came shortly after a conversation with my daughter about this book. She was reading it for the first time and invited me to go with her to Savannah. I jumped at the chance and I began to read the book in preparation for my trip.

I became so engrossed in the book that I made it my mission to visit some of the places in the book.

Bird Gin Statue
I had to go see The famous Bird Gin statue, originally designed both as art and as a birdseed holder.   A Savannah photographer, Jack Leigh, was commissioned to take a photograph for the cover of the book, and the photo subsequently became quite famous, as did the statue. The statue was originally located at Bonaventure Cemetery, in Savannah, but was later moved to its present location in  Jepson Center for the Arts on West York Street, in Savannah.  It had to be moved to avoid the cemetery being disturbed by the number of visitors interested in seeing the statue.
Tree lined path in Bonaventure Cemetery
Bonaventure Cemetery was a must see on my list. The peaceful setting rests on a scenic bluff of the Wilmington River, east of Savannah. The site on a former plantation was purchased for a private cemetery in 1846 and became a public cemetery in 1907. This historic cemetery has been a world famous tourist destination for more than 150 years due to the old tree-lined roadways, the many notable persons interred, the unique cemetery sculpture and architecture, and the folklore associated with the site and the people.

Aiken Grave and Scene of Martini Drinking
A famous spot at the cemetery is the grave of author Conrad Aiken.  There is a scene in the book where 2 characters in the book sit on the bench over Conrad Aiken's grave and drink martinis.
author Conrad Aiken and wife

Wilson's house was built by songwriter and Savannah native Johnny Mercer and he and his family are mentioned throughout the book.  The Mercer family has a plot in Bonaventure. The Mercer family plot became another spot to visit.
Johnny Mercer's grave
The visit to this cemetery made me think about a statement in the book, “But I never think about dead people. Looking at these old graves makes me think how generation after generation of the same family are all gathered together. And that makes me think about how life goes on, but not about dying. I never think about dying.”  ― John BerendtMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story
The title alludes to the voodoo notion of "midnight", the period between the time for good magic (11 pm to midnight) and the time for evil magic (midnight to 1 am), and "the garden of good and evil", which refers to the cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina, where Dr. Buzzard, the husband of Minerva, the voodoo priestess who figures in the story, is buried. It is over his grave that Minerva performed the incantations to provide a more successful result in the retrial for murder of which Jim Williams is accused.

Grave of Little Gracie
There were a number of graves that made me wonder if some of the sights in the cemetery were related to voodoo. A example is the grave of Little Gracie who had all sorts of stones, toys, coins etc. by her grave.

Mercer House
No visit could be complete without a tour of Wilson's house, the Mercer House. The art work and furnishings in it can put the holdings of some small museums to shame.  Wilson had great taste and wealth to create an impressive collection. Wilson also saved many historic homes from ruin in his short life as well.
Olde Pink House Restaurant, Savannah Georgia
One such home that Wilson saved is now the Olde Pink House Restaurant.  No trip to Savannah can be complete without a visit and a meal there.   It is Savannah's only 18th century mansion.  It is famous for memorable dining experiences featuring seafood caught daily in local waters, prime aged beef and traditional southern fare.    

A fountain in Forsyth Park
There is a lot of green space in Savannah.  The city was developed with 4 original squares and as it grew more squares were added.  They are lovely spots to stop and enjoy the views.  There is also a large park called Forsyth Park. It occupies 30 acres in the historic district and it t is close to the Mercer House. These squares and the park are mentioned in the book. 

          Chartreuse green earrings by BayMoonDesign

 These green spaces served as an inspiration for a pair of earrings that I made after returning home.  The variety of greens inspired a charteuse green earrings are made with handmade Ming porcelain beads by artisan Scorched Earth. Sterling silver ear wires are used to compliment the gray in the chartreuse porcelain beads.  I love the rustic look of these handmade boho earrings.


Now, being a beader, I looked for some bead shops while there.  I found lots of jewelry, but not too many beads.  I did manage to locate an interesting shop called Folkorico.  It is an eclectic shop that is full of items from more than 30 different countries. There are artifacts, iconography, accent furniture and wonderful collections of folk, traditional and contemporary art which includes ceramics, pottery, blown glass, textiles and jewelry, and beads.  These are fair trade items which means that artisans are paid a fair living wage, have safe and healthy working conditions, engage in environmentally sustainable practices.  All the items in the shop are either purchased directly by the owners on buying trips or through Fair Trade and socially conscious importers.  “The shop is our way of helping and giving our customers an opportunity to help as well each time they make a purchase.”  I bought some interesting metal beads made from scrapes of metal found on the streets.  I intend to use some in my jewelry.

Fair trade metal beads made in South America

I highly recommend the Pulitzer Prize winning book and a trip to Savannah!


  1. I have heard of this book but haven't read it. Now I am going to have to. Love those earrings too.

    1. Hi Shaiha-I bet you would enjoy the book. Thanks for the compliment about the earrings.

  2. We took a family trip there 2 years ago, and it was on my bucket list because I had read and enjoyed the book so much. It is such a lovely little city with so much to see and so much history! I looked for beads as well while I was there and found a small little shop over on 'the wrong side of the tracks' where I picked up some beautiful clasps.

    1. I agree it is a great little city with beaches nearby. It has a lot going for it!

  3. Very interesting post. Love your earrings!

  4. I read the book ages ago and loved it too. When we made a trip to Tybee Island, I requested to see the statue and the cemetery. Alas, we took this visit just as we were leaving the area and didn't realize that the statue wasn't in the cemetery any longer. However, we did enjoy the view of the lovely cemetery. It was very unique situated on the river like it is. I'm glad you went so many steps further with your sightseeing based on the book, and even more glad that you shared it with us! :)