Perhaps no book has played more of a role in tourism in Savannah, Georgia than John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The Southern Gothic book, known simply as “The Book,” is based on true events surrounding antiques dealer Jim Williams and the murder of Danny Hansford in Savannah.
The subsequent four trials and eventual acquittal stirred up the quiet city and left a permanent impact on its legacy. Today you can go on Midnight tours of Savannah, but it’s just as easy to find the landmarks yourself.
Mercer Williams House
The scene of the crime plays a major role in the book. The home was owned by relatives of musician Johnny Mercer before being purchased and renovated by Williams. Today you can tour the Mercer Williams House, but won’t hear any information on Williams’ sexual orientation, the murder, or the book.
Visit the Mercer Williams House on the Deeper into ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ and Savannah Hop-on Hop-off Trolley Tour.
Savannah’s spookiest place is Bonaventure Cemetery, where Savannah’s most notable residents are buried. The bench at Conrad Aiken’s grave is where characters have drinks at night.
You can also find the Mercer family plot, the family of singer Johnny Mercer and the original owners of the Mercer-Williams House. You won’t, however, find Jim Williams buried here, as he’s buried in Gordon (near Macon), around two hours drive away.
Visit the cemetery with Bonaventure Cemetery Tours, the Bonaventure Cemetery After Hours Tour, or Bonaventure Cemetery Journeys with Shannon Scott.
The Bird Girl
The famous statue that graced the cover of the book was once found in Bonaventure Cemetery on a family plot but was frequently trampled on after her rise to fame. You can see souvenir versions in shops all over town, including around the City Market.
The statue was relocated to the Telfair Academy art museum, which was founded in 1886 in a former home with a previously private collection of European and American works. It was the first art museum in the region and now includes a modern wing, The Jepson.
Visit the Telfair Museums with Jepson Center and Telfair Museums Admission.
The former drugstore turned cafe is where the locals gossiped about what was going on in town and was a hangout of Luther’s. Clary’s Cafe hasn’t changed much in this regard, as it’s a favorite breakfast joint, but also serves lunch. They have memorabilia from the book and subsequent movie and the author himself has been spotted here over the years.
Danny Hansford’s Grave
The young male escort shot to death nine times by Jim Williams is buried in Greenwich Cemetery, located in a separate section next to the more famous Bonaventure. People leave mementos on his grave in honor of his young life cut short.
The late and great Lady Chablis was a trans performer featured heavily in the book as one of the first people Berendt befriends. She passed away in 2016 after giving frequent performances at Club One, a gay cabaret venue. You can still visit the club where a new generation of dancers and singers are now found.
While not featured in the book, the authentic British pub was used in a bar scene in the film version. The original location of Churchill’s burned down in 2003, but they reopened the next year on West Bay Street with additional seating.
Go on your own Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Walking Tour of Savannah or Movie Tour of Savannah’s Historic District. Looking for a place to stay during your trip to Savannah? Check out one of the historic inns like the Kehoe Inn, Mansion on Forsyth, and the President’s Quarters Inn.
Incredible write-up! I LOVE traveling to literary/historic gardens and am grateful to find photos on the gardens I haven’t quite made it to! Thank you!
Christian Hallberg says
You write that Jim Williams wa buried in Macon, it doesn’t fit, he was buried in Gordon.
Regards / Christian Hallberg, Sweden
The “real” garden of good and evil is a short drive from Savannah in Frogmore, better know today as St Helena Island in a small forgotten overgrown area once known as Coffin Point Cemetery. To those of us who grew up there it’s well known but not discussed.
Shade Rupe says
Jim Williams is buried in Ramah Church Cemetery in Gordon, Georgia.