Have you ever seen the movie – or read the book – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? Did you know that the story was based on true events?
And true events mean there is a real live house behind the fiction.
This is that house.
The home’s official name is the Mercer Williams House.
It is located at 429 Bull Street and stands at the southwest end of Monterey Square, in the mystical southern city of Savannah, Georgia.
It is now run as a museum house, so anyone from the public can visit this showpiece.
Here’s the back story:
Construction began on this stately brick home in 1860 but was interrupted by the American Civil War. It was designed by architect John S. Norris for Confederate General Hugh Weedon Mercer, but changed ownership in 1868 and was completed that same year for new owner John Wilder.
It changed hands again in the twentieth century and was used for a period of time as the Savannah Shriners Alee Temple. The grand house was vacant for a decade in the 1960’s until it was rescued by a fellow named Jim Williams – one of Savannah’s earliest and most ardent champions of historic restoration & preservation.
Williams was an antiques dealer and art collector. He restored the Mercer house to be his home and professional office, furnishing it with exquisite museum quality pieces.
Here’s where it gets juicy…. Williams had a young assistant named Danny Hansford. Danny was widely known to be, um, Savannah’s most popular male escort. Anyway, in 1981 he was found shot dead in the study of the Mercer House.
Mr. Williams claimed self defense.
Jim Williams was tried for Danny’s murder a record FOUR times. After his fourth acquittal in 1989, he threw an epic party at his lavish mansion. A few months after that, Jim Williams’ dead body was found almost in the exact location where young Danny had been murdered. Williams cause of death was determined to be from undiagnosed pneumonia and heart failure rumored to have resulted from AIDS.
The tragic and mysterious events that took place at the Mercer House – now known as the Mercer-Williams House – were retold in the 1994 John Berendt novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
The novel was made into a major motion picture in 1997 – directed by Clint Eastwood; starring Kevin Spacey, John Cusack and Jude Law.
Interior house scenes from the film were shot on a soundstage in Burbank, California, but exterior images of the Mercer Williams house were taken on location in Savannah using the actual mansion.
Today the house at 429 Bull Street is owned and operated as a museum by Dorothy Kingery who is Jim Williams’ sister.
She has kept the mansion exactly as it was when her brother lived there.
Have a look inside this amazing southern Gothic jewel…..
Isn’t it stunning?
Apparently, Jim Williams’ personal philosophy was: “If you like it, buy it.”
Interestingly, before the murder of Williams’ assistant/consort, the Mercer House had already been the scene of two deaths.
In 1913 a previous owner tripped over the second floor banister, fractured his hip, and suffered a concussion which led to his death days later.
In 1969, a young boy chasing pigeons on the roof fell off the edge and impaled himself on the iron fence below. *shivers*
The events that have occurred at this house do give one pause.
It is a house absolutely worthy of a novel and a Hollywood feature film.
If you visit in person, you should know that the Mercer Williams is home to some restless spirits. But you won’t be able to capture any ghostly orbs with your camera; photography inside the house is strictly prohibited.