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‘Midnight in the Garden’ Mercer Williams

District Staff
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Written by Gracie Williams/ Photos by Lumia Tang/ Illustrations by Lily Chambers

If walls could talk, they would surely have something to say in the Mercer-Williams House. The walls of the historic home have seen their fair share of odd occurrences.

Tucked quietly in the corner of Monterey Square, it didn’t always look as picturesque as it does today. Construction began in 1860 for General Hugh W. Mercer, great grandfather to Savannah’s beloved Johnny Mercer. Due to the Civil War, construction halted, and the home was left unfinished until 1868. By then it had a new owner, John Wilder, who completed the job. So, despite its name, no Mercer ever lived in the house. James Arthur Williams, also known as Jim, later bought the then dilapidated house, and transformed it into what stands today.

Photos by Lumia Tang

On May 2, 1981, Danny Hansford (also known as Billy Hanson in the film) was shot dead in Mr. Williams’ study. John Berendt’s novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” centers around the shooting and the chaos that follows. A few years after the book was released, Clint Eastwood created a film adaptation. In both the novel and the film, the house itself seems to play a central role, practically becoming its own character.

Many scenes from the movie were filmed in the actual house, including the Christmas party and shooting scenes. While the death of Danny Hansford (a.k.a. Billy Hanson) was captured accurately in the study, the death of Williams was incorrectly portrayed. Zach Keller, tour guide of the official Mercer-Williams home, sets the record straight on differences between the actual history of the home and the novel and film adaptation.

“Hollywood changes a lot of things,” said Keller, “and the book is a bit of fiction and nonfiction, intended to be that way. That’s one of the reasons why the book is so entertaining. I couldn’t put it down the first time I read it.”

But despite the inconsistencies of the novel and film adaptation in relation to the real story, Keller gives credit where it’s due. “Both have done a lot of good for the city of Savannah, Georgia, but a lot of things have been changed for the sake of making it more marketable,” said Keller.

Photos by Lumia Tang

As far as the rumors of the house being haunted go, Mercer-Williams House staff member and SCAD student, Simone Kaplan, believes that the “ghost sightings” are nothing more than that, rumors.

Today, the Mercer-Williams house stands firm and more magnificent than ever in Monterey Square. Daily tours of the home are available, and there is a quaint gift shop in the old carriage house, located on the back of the property. Take a stroll around Monterey Square, and then make sure to see this historic treasure for yourself. It has never been easier than now to be a part of the story.

For more information, or to schedule a tour of the historic home (students get a discount), visit http://www.mercerhouse.com.

Edited by Nick Thomsen

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