Day Thirty-Two: Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, Redoubts, Cemeteries

Before I start today’s blog, I want to answer a question. Almost every day, I get an email (thanks, Mom!) telling me I should turn these blogs into a book. The good news is, that’s been the plan all along. 🙂 I think of these blogs like extended notes, reminding me what happened in each place. The book, which will also be called A Lap Around America, won’t just be a compilation of these blogs, though. The book will be (I hope) much more in-depth about many subjects, along with my typically off-kilter observations and perspectives. I plan to have the book out before the end of the year, hopefully in early December.

Okay, today then! We woke up in Savannah. For Dawn, Savannah meant one thing: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. If you haven’t seen the Kevin Spacey/John Cusack movie, based on true events, you’re about a dozen viewings behind Dawn. In short, she loves the movie. I also happen to love it, which meant that setting up a tour through the Mercer Williams House was a must.

Before we walked through the Mercer House (where, Ironically, no one named Mercer ever lived) we hit the Savannah History Museum. It was a typical museum, but there were a couple of displays that were interesting to me, starting with this:

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If that looks like an old-timey dentist’s equipment, you are correct. It is the complete office set up of Dr. William Bedford. Here’s what’s interesting about it: he bought this complete setup in 1919 for $600. He then practiced dentistry for sixty years – until 1980. During those sixty years, he never changed or updated his equipment. He finished his last day with the same equipment he was using in 1919. I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure there were a few updates in dental technology over those six decades. As I stood staring, I kept thinking of those last patients, and wondering, “Why in the world didn’t they find a different dentist?”

We also found this little piece of pop culture memorabilia:

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Yes, that is Forrest Gump’s bench. Well, kind of. If you read the material closely, you learn that this is a copy that Paramount Pictures had made. The original is somewhere on the Paramount lot. I still included a picture, because, well… Forrest Gump. Still love that movie.

We walked from the museum to the Mercer House, but on the way, we came across another piece of history – the site of the Battle of Savannah. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of the players without a scorecard, and The Battle of Savannah is one of those times. In 1779, the British held Savannah, and they were intent on keeping it that way. They built defensible positions around the city called redoubts. They looked like this:

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It’s basically a little earthen fort that is relatively easy to defend. On October 9, 1779, the combined forces of American revolutionaries, French, Haitian, and Irish forces attacked the redoubt. An hour later, the battle was over, the attacking forces had lost badly, and 800 men were dead. The British continued to hold Savannah, took great cheer from this victory, and the war continued for four more years.

On to the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book and the movie are based on the killing of Danny Hansford by art dealer, historic restorer and bon vivant, Jim Williams. It was a case complicated by the reputations of Hansford (rumored to be a male prostitute) and Williams, who was very much a part of upper crust Savannah society. Eventually, there were four trials, and Williams was acquitted. Jim Williams continued to live in the house (which he had restored in meticulous detail) until his death by heart attack in 1990.

I don’t have any pictures of the inside of the Mercer House, because they forbid them. Bummer. It is a magnificent, if odd, home, and I wish I could show you pictures. I asked the tour guide why they didn’t allow photos inside, and he admitted that it is because of the internet, and that they want to protect their property from widespread viewing.  In any case, here’s a picture of the outside:

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The interior of the house was decorated in a completely over the top manner that couldn’t be farther from my own taste, so I am not the right person to ask about it. There were a lot of old paintings in gold frames hanging as if in a museum, and a lot of no doubt very expensive furniture and knick knacks, but beyond the perspective of the story, the house didn’t do much for me. Because of the age of the house (originally built during the civil war) there weren’t typical kitchens or bathrooms, so Mr. Williams had a bathroom put in just off the main hall, decorated to his taste. I so wish I could show you a picture of it, but I will just say that everyone in the tour gasped at the garishness of the red and gold wallpaper, and seventies-era fixtures.

Clint Eastwood chose to film the movie right there in the house, so if you’ve seen the movie, you’ve already seen the interior, anyway, although I don’t remember any shots of that bathroom. As soon as Dawn and I are home, I know we’ll watch it again.

We had a couple of delish Cuban sandwiches for a late lunch, then headed to one of the most impressive cemeteries we’ve been to – Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure was also featured in several scenes in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and I suppose that’s why we went, but in the end the cemetery itself was the star. It’s immense. I think we could have spent all day there and only seen about half of it.

Do you know how some places just have a good vibe? That’s what I got at Bonaventure. It was peaceful, beautiful, and well-maintained. Here’s a couple of shots I took there:

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I just loved the shape of that tree that is arcing over the Silver Bullet and wanted to take a picture of it, as it is scheduled to be taken down by the arborist soon.

We left Bonaventure and lit out for South Carolina. As usual, we stuck to the back roads. I don’t often write about this, but the late afternoon drives are just about my favorite part of the trip. We so often find ourselves on quiet, twisty back roads, in that golden hour before the sun sets. We are tired, and even I am talked out, so we just listen to our music and let the miles roll under our wheels. I love that time.

Today, midway between Savannah, Georgia, and Aiken, South Carolina. we saw a small, abandoned church and cemetery off to the side of the road. The church wasn’t much to look at, but we paid in blood to see the cemetery, and it was worth it. Truth is, Dawn paid in blood sacrifice to the mosquitoes, but they ignored me. She’s much sweeter tasting than I am. Here’s the abandoned cemetery:

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It looked like the beginning of a horror movie – the cemetery just before the zombies rose from the graves and ate our spleens. It was an old cemetery – we saw a number of people born in the 1780s or 1790s – and there were the typically heartbreaking stories in evidence. This one got me:

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So many stories. So many mosquitoes.

We made it to Aiken, South Carolina about 7:30. I lived in Aiken for about a year, back in 1990. So far, I don’t recognize anything. I honestly don’t have many memories about Aiken, and the two places I worked when I lived here are out of business now.

I do have one offbeat memory of Aiken. In the summer of 1990, I was working for Blockbuster Video, and legendary singer James Brown was serving a six year sentence for leading police on a two-state chase. I passed the prison every day on my way to work, and after months of looking, I finally spotted Mr. Brown in his prison jumpsuit, out in the yard. That was probably the highlight of my year in Aiken.

Where to tomorrow? No idea! Stay tuned, same bat time, same bat channel.

Cheers, and safe travels.

Shawn

 

 

13 comments

  1. I would have sworn that in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – the book, not the movie, you Philistine 🙂 – they said the Mercer house got its name because of some connection to either Johnny Mercer or one of his ancestors. Or maybe my brain made that up. Wouldn’t be the first time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I guess I could have explained that cryptic comment. The house was originally scheduled to be built for General Hugh Mercer, (great grandfather of Johnny Mercer) but it wasn’t completed before the Civil War broke out. The General left to fight in the war, and when he returned, he was so ill that he never moved in. The house was finished, he sold it, and never occupied it. So, both are true – no Mercer ever lived there, but it was to be built for a relative of the great Johnny Mercer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm;.

    http://mercerhouse.com/history.htm

    “The Mercer House was designed by New York architect John S. Norris for General Hugh W. Mercer, great grandfather of Johnny Mercer. Construction of the house began in 1860, was interrupted by the Civil War and was later completed, circa 1868, by the new owner, John Wilder.”

    So I guess no one named Mercer ever lived there, but my memory (at least on this) isn’t faulty. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed today’s tidbits of history, photos, and happenings. Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing. Continued safe travels. Can’t wait to read about where you end up tomorrow!

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  4. I, too, love the arcing tree…so sad they’re taking it out! Also loved the picture of the old cemetery. Loving this armchair trip!

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  5. Those old trees with the Spanish moss are both beautiful and a little creepy. When we lived in Conway, S.C., across from the Bank of America was a little old cemetery with the biggest old oak tree with long, very long Spanish moss. They even built the cemetery wall to accommodate the root base. As we use to kayak along the Waccamaw river, there were lots of trees like this and it just gave me the creeps. Anyway, enjoy your day today. I’m just loving this trip…❤️

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  6. This has been the most interesting trip. I have not been a person that liked reading blogs until I started reading yours. Your writings are informative as well as humorous and that is truly refreshing. I can’t wait to read your next installment. You really have the makings of a good book.

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  7. I am a little behind here as we have been out of town, but I am going to catch up. Just one comment on this story – a young man by the name of Michael Rosenbaum was in the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” He is from the town where we live here in Southern Indiana. He was also Lex Luther in the Smallville. By the way, I have never seen the movie, though I have intended to on many occasions.

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