Updated July 19, 2020.
How could I possibly go to Savannah during my Year of Movie Moments and not do a post about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? I couldn’t! And would you believe I watched it for the first time just two days before my trip? I did! My mom’s been nagging me to read the book and watch the movie for years now, but I insisted I don’t like murder and it would probably give me nightmares. Who wants to have nightmares spoil a beautiful city? But I gave it a shot, and now I recommend that you should, too!
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Well, it all starts out on the up-and-up. A writer comes to cover the Christmas party of the year (of every year) at Jim Williams’s home, which happens to be the Historic Mercer House. After the party there’s a mysterious murder with no witnesses. The writer stays to cover the real story of the century (forget about the Christmas party), and the subsequent investigation and trial make up the stranger-than-fiction reality upon which the book and movie are based.
It’s a bit of a twisted tale, but the real star of the show is real-life Savannah and her people! There is definitely some comic relief to balance out the terrifying portions. If you haven’t seen it yet, just wait until you meet Lady Chablis!
Because the movie was almost entirely filmed in Savannah, you can visit almost all of the sites!
Mercer Williams House Museum
429 Bull Street; Monterey Square
Open Monday-Saturday 10:00am-5:00pm; Sunday 10:30am-4:30pm
The house is, of course, central to the plotline, but more than that, it’s one of the largest in Savannah, covering an entire city block! It’s also where the murder took place.
2 W Gaston Street
Open 24 Hours
The movie opens here in this iconic public park with its grand, iconic fountain, and both are featured more than once during the movie!
Tomochichi Federal Building
125 Bull Street
This is the courthouse where the hearing and trial took place—in real life, and in the movie.
404 Abercorn Street
This is the restaurant where the writer has Christmas breakfast and learns from a local, “Honey, I’ve lived here a long time. I believe most anything about anybody.” She was a real local, not an actress.
Read on: What to Eat in Savannah
Have Your Own Good and Evil Movie Moments
You’ve come all this way, you might as well have a “movie moment” or two!
Take the Mercer Williams House Tour
If you think this tour is all about the movie, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re interested in getting a broader view of Jim Williams, the actual home’s history, and the collection of artifacts and artwork inside the house, you will be very pleased! I very much enjoyed this tour, except for the fact that no photography is allowed inside the house.
Jim Williams was an art collector, an antiques professional, and an incredible restorer of historic buildings. He bought and renovated many historic structures in Savannah. He mixed historically-accurate paint colors by hand. He repaired moulding by hand. He saved this house from demolition in the 1960s and restored it to its former glory.
Eat at Clary’s Cafe
Get a peek at the South and Savannah the same way John Kelso in the story did: at a fantastic local diner. Observe the regulars, make some new friends, but please leave your flies on a string at home! John Berendt has been known to come in for meals himself from time to time, so you might see him there!
Take a Walk Through Forsyth Park
This famous park is just two blocks from the Mercer House, so it was the perfect place for Jim to have scenic conversations with John. It also proved to be the best place to introduce John to Savannah and the people who live there, such as Mr. Glover, who walks Mr. Bowen’s dog Patrick. The thing is, both Mr. Bowen and Patrick passed away, so Mr. Glover walks Patrick’s leash in order to earn the $15 per week he was promised in Mr. Bowen’s will. Got it?
Take a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Movie and Book Tour
It’s true! A local can take you on an in-depth tour of the sites, legends, and truth of the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil story. If you’re a movie lover (or book lover!), you should definitely consider adding this tour to your trip!
Find the “Bird Girl” Statue at Telfair Academy
$20 for This and Two Other Telfair Museums
The Bird Girl was just a statue at Bonaventure Cemetery at the Trosdal family plot until she met with the ultimate in statuary fame: cover girl! Her role on the book cover gave people the impression that the shallow bowls in her hands are meant to weight good and evil, but really they are for the birds! One was intended for birdseed, the other for water. That’s why she’s the “Bird Girl.” People flocked to see her at Bonaventure after the book and movie came out in the 1990s. The Trosdales chose to remove her out of respect for and preservation of their family’s plot, and she eventually made her way to the museum for safekeeping, and so everyone can enjoy her.
Read on: 10 Things to Do in Savannah
Stay at One of Jim Williams’s Former Properties
As previously stated, Jim Williams owned and restored dozens of historic properties in Savannah. Some you can tour, but there’s only one I know of where you can actually stay, and that is Savannah’s Bed and Breakfast Inn on historic Gordon Row, a block of pre-Civil War “spec houses”. I stayed here even before I knew he was a former owner, and it was a fun experience! It’s just a block or so from the Mercer-Williams House, two blocks from Forsyth Park, and a short walk from Clary’s Cafe.
Have Your Own Movie Night
Grab the popcorn and your best snuggle-buddy, then settle in for a movie night!
Get the Book
Funny story: my parents went to Savannah a few years after the movie was released. They didn’t have time for the Mercer Williams House Museum tour, but my mom got a copy of the book in the gift shop and throught that was good enough.
Later, at the house where they were staying on Hilton Head Island, they watched the movie for the first time. Well, actually my mom doesn’t like movies, so she read the book while my dad watched in the same room (old married couples can do that). She was amazed that the movie was nearly word-for-word with the book! She said it was one of the best book-to-movie adaptations ever. Don’t believe me? Get the book!
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