Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil

By | Category: Travel destinations

Savannah – a Southern belle of a city and the backdrop for John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – will steal your heart says Kaye Holland

Barmy about John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – an enticing Savannah-based combination of travelogue and true crime tale? You’re not alone. Berndt’s book spent a record 216 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Ever since I first read the sharply observed Savannah tome in which the eccentric protagonists (think voodoo practitioners, drag queens, antique dealers and charming, if amoral, entrepreneurs) live their lives against a backdrop of moss-draped oaks and shady squares,  I’ve been obsessed with visiting this hothouse of the south.

Happily, towards the end of 2014 – aka the 21st anniversary of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – I finally made it to steamy Savannah, in search of the settings that had seduced me.

Want to follow in the real life footsteps of Jim Williams, Joe Odom, Luther Driggers, Lady Chablis and co? Here’s where to head…

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Clary’s cafe
Located over on Abercorn Street, Clary’s was a favourite haunt of Luther Driggers – one of Midnight’s most memorable characters. (Legend has it that Luther carried a vial of poison 24/7 and well known to walk flies on strings…) Driggers breakfasted at this former drug store on a daily basis and it’s at Clary’s  cafe – which today features a stained glass window depicting the cover of Berendt’s famous book – that the eccentric and author first met. Want to make like Luther? Order The Georgian – a hearty portion of ham, bacon or sausage, egg, cheese, toast and grits (so good, I’d fly back tomorrow for this side alone) washed down with a super-sized cup of Joe. Savannah, it seems, runs on caffeine, so expect to be offered a refill at no extra charge.

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Mercer Williams House Museum
Savannah’s grandest mansion was the home of Jim Williams – a prominent arts and antique dealer and Midnight’s protagonist – up until his death in 2004. This is where Williams hosted his legendary annual Christmas parties and, allegedly, shot and killed “his young lover” Danny Hansford one fateful night in May 1981. Williams’ infamous home, today owned by his sister Dorothy, is open for tours although access to the upstairs part of the house, where the Williams family still reside is forbidden. Even if you’re not mad about Midnight (maybe you’re from Mars or something), the downstairs will delight art lovers – adorned as it is with furniture and art from Mr. Williams’ private collection (including 18th and 19th century furniture, 18th century English and American portraits), drawings from the 17th century and a wide collection of Chinese export porcelain.

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Bonaventure Cemetery
Though not Savannah’s oldest cemetery, the quintessentially Southern Gothic, Bonaventure – part natural cathedral and part sculptural garden    is certainly its most beautiful. And its most famous: military generals, poet Conrad Aiken, Academy Award-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer and Georgia’s first governor Edward Telfair are among those buried at Bonaventure. But the 100 acre cemetery’s biggest claim to fame is for being site of the voodoo rituals – vividly depicted in Midnight – that were designed to get Williams off the hook(Jim Williams was prosecuted four times in the shooting death of Danny Hansford before his acquittal.) The cemetery is also associated with sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson’s ‘Bird Girl’ statue which features on the cover of every copy of Midnight. -The statue was bought by  Savannah resident Lucy Boyd Trosdal as one of three copies for the family plot in Bonaventure back in 1938. But don’t expect to see the statue in Bonaventure – the tourist attraction has been moved the Telfair Academy, to help persevere its art work.

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Club one
“Rumours and whispers carried through the streets of Savannah and across the globe. But, The Lady Chablis, The Doll, The Grand Empress has never changed, never waivered and never backed down from having her say and saying it with wit, wisdom and flair…”
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is chock full of colourful character,s but none more entertaining than Lady Chablis  – a black transvestite nightclub performer – who became an overnight sensation upon the book’s publication. So much so that Chablis played herself in the Clint Eastwood film adaption of John Berendt’s non-fiction best-seller and went on to appear on several talk shows, including Oprah, in addition to writing a bestselling book of her own – say hello to Hiding My Candy: The Autobiography of the Grand Empress of Savannah.
No visit to Savannah is complete without seeing the Lady Chablis at least once. You can catch the outrageously charming drag queen perform at Club One. It’s not a show for the faint hearted (some of her vocabulary will turn the air blue) but it is sassy, spirited and a Savannah must see.

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Armstrong House
“Armstrong House was a lion of a house. It gloated and glowered and loomed. It even had a curving colonnade that reached out like a giant paw as if to swat the Oglethorpe Club off its high horse across the street.”
Built at the turn of the century, Armstrong House was one of Jim Williams initial real estate acquisitions and today, Sonny Seiler –  Williams’ lawyer who, like Lady Chablis, played himself in the film – has an office here. Originally owned by the Armstrong family, the historic four story building was built in a beautiful Italian Renaissance style. Seiler’s office itself is replete with 18th-century furniture, marble floors and gold-framed portraits of the lawyer’s five white bulldogs -all named Uga after the University of Georgia, and all of whom served as the university’s mascot. Want to experience Armstrong House for yourself. Tours can be arranged by calling(912) 232-7193

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