|(Photo: Lisa Erin Brown)|
I had visited Savannah a few times when I was a kid. Family vacations. I also visited the town's famous 'River Street', when I attended college in Statesboro. If you didn't want to party on the Georgia Southern campus, Savannah was the 'go-to' place.
I have a few Savannah based memories from those past visits. However, after 1997, when/if Savannah came up in conversation, the immediate reference point most people threw out was a movie, "Midnight In The Garden of Good & Evil". Based on the book of the same name (penned by John Berendt), the movie showed viewers a different side to the one usually seen by tourists. Based around an actual murder trial from the early-1980's, it would show a quirky world inhabited by a cast of characters who were/are indeed "characters".
My boyfriend grew up here. In Savannah. One night we were channel surfing, and we came across an airing of the film. As I remember, Glenn hadn't seen it in it's entirety, so we tuned in. The first thing I would learn was that "Midnight In The Garden of Good & Evil" the movie, is referred to as 'the movie' among Savannah's citizens. Same goes for 'the book'. I had seen the movie a few times since it's release, but with Glenn's familiarity with a number of the characters, it was like watching it for the first time.
A tidbit regarding the statue that has become a recognizable symbol for the film. Owned by the Trosdale family, the "Bird Girl" could be found in the historic and beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery. As a regular cemetery photographer, I have visited the Bonaventure many times. Unfortunately, the "Bird Girl" (named "Little Wendy" by the family) was removed not long after release of the film. Traffic to the statue's site increased (I have heard that there was fear of statue theft), so the family moved her out. 'She' can now be publicly viewed at the 'Academy of Arts & Sciences' here in Savannah.
|("Jim Williams"~ Kevin Spacey; "Billy Hanson" ~ Jude Law)|
|(Left: Jim Williams; Right: Kevin Spacey)|
|(Left: Jude Law; Right: Danny Hansford)|
Chablis Deveau, a.k.a. the Lady Chablis, is also the real deal. By far my favorite character of the film, she steals every scene she is in. Glenn (my boyfriend) had run sound/lights for her a number of times when he was a teenager. Chablis still performs here in town. I need to keep an eye out for her future shows. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a big fan of drag queens. Chablis helped pave the way for the queens of today. I look forward to one day checking out her show.
|(Sonny Seiler & Uga)|
Other characters...the Voo Doo woman, the "invisible dog" walker...all real people. Watching 'the movie' again gave me a new appreciation for the eccentric town I live in. Actually, there is a specific reason for my writing this post...a newspaper article Glenn pointed out to me.
A man answers his phone, and it's his doctor. The doctor says, "Your test results are back. I've got some bad news, and I've got some terrible news." The man says, "Okay, doc, give me the bad news first." The doctor says, "You've only got 24 hours to live." The man is stunned. After a moment he asks, "And the terrible news?" The doc says, "I forgot to call you yesterday."
Hot-cha! "He'll be here all week, people! Try the veal." I dig old jokes, so it's okay...
Savannah is a well known town, but in the grand scheme it is rather small. There are days where something happens that reminds me of just how small. Enter the newspaper article. I sit down next to Glenn on the sofa and he pokes his finger at the newspaper page in his hand. Something about Dr. Metts. It turns out that for the last 40 years, Dr. Metts has been the Chatham County coroner. This year he is planning to run for re-election to the post. Another 4 years. He says he's in great health, and doesn't plan on going 'anywhere' any time soon. (Actually, I was shocked when I found out he was 80.) Now for his connection with the story in 'the book/movie'. He was the coroner on the Williams trial. According to the newspaper article, it was Dr. Metts who concluded that Williams shot Hansford out of anger, and then tried to make it look like self-defense. (The online version of the article can be found here.) What are the odds? I'm going to be paying him a visit in a couple of days. Maybe I'll ask him about it. Interesting stuff...
As for the actual case, Jim Williams is the only person in Georgia history to be tried 4 times for the same crime. As portrayed in the movie, in 1981 Williams shot Hansford in his home, Mercer House. He was convicted a couple of times, but appeals were made; contradictory evidence got sentences over-turned, and new trial dates; a hung jury caused a mistrial in trial three; and in the fourth and final trial in Augusta, Georgia, 1989, the jury came back after one hour with 'not guilty'. At the end of 'the movie', Williams has a heart attack and falls dead next to the spot where Hanson dies. In reality? It is true that Williams died six months after his 'not guilty' verdict. He is said to have died from pneumonia and heart failure at the age of 59. Some say he fell dead in his study in the exact spot he would have died if Hansford had shot him first. The record says that he did die at home, but in the hallway outside of the study. Well, wherever Jim Williams died, it's a fascinating story.
"Midnight In The Garden of Good & Evil". 'The movie'. Whatever you choose to call it, if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. The flavor of Savannah is in there. The people of Savannah are in there. It's a fascinating case.