Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Trip Start Aug 24, 2011
37Trip End Sep 30, 2011
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I was a very snappy little Miss barking directions out to Chris when we were in the car in search of our breakfast stop this morning. Don’t quote me but there may have been a few eye rolls and huffs and puffs in there too. The cafe we were in search of, ‘The Sentient Bean’ had been recommended by many locals and travellers alike and got a mention in the Lonely Planet USA guide so I figured it had half a chance. Not only did they promise good espresso coffee, it was fair trade and they served home made foods
We found the cafe after I had a few explosions from Chris taking wrong turns and getting lost because he wasn’t listening to the directions I was giving him. We walked in and....I felt right at home. This cafe could have been anywhere in Newtown, Surry Hills or Redfern in Sydney and was full of funky patrons and servers. The walls were adorned with all manner of art and it just had a good vibe. I spend loads of time in cafes so I can be certain I know a good one when I find one. You could see the relief in Chris’ eyes. We’ve been together for a long time yes, but we don’t spend a lot of time together in the mornings due to work, sport or Uni commitments so I think he forgets every now and then just how much I need that coffee to get my day going. Addiction? Perhaps, but I’d say more it’s a ritual that makes for relaxation and me time. Me getting into the zone of the day and preparing myself for whatever is coming my way, so not having that has given me the shits quite frankly!
Sigh, what do you do? You keep searching for the gems and hope you find them. We ordered our coffees and a couple of breakfast items to share and waited. Waited to see what we would be presented with. Coffees arrived and I just stared at mine for a moment wondering whether I would be bitterly disappointed or whether this would in fact hit the spot
We contemplated how to spend our last day in Savannah over breakfast because with such a good coffee on board I was actually becoming civil and could speak. We discussed having a look inside a few museums then going over to see the Bonaventure Cemetery made famous by the film ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ and Tybee Island but then thought we hadn’t really seen enough of Savannah’s Historic District. We came to the conclusion that the day would be best spent by going to visit the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil War Museum to get some history on the town, move on to visit the Mercer Williams House to get another side to some of the Historic District’s history and then just walk the city squares of which there are 22 (I’m pretty sure, if not a couple more).
Plan in place and we were off. A lot of parking around this cafe was free street parking so we left the car where it was and hit the town on foot. We went straight to the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum which was named in honour of Savannah’s modern day Civil Rights Movement and leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Again this is not a part of America’s history I know much about but I simply cannot believe all these things happened. It’s impossible to me to think that someone is treated differently or has different rights because of their skin colour. What has that got to do with anything?! I grew up in a very liberal household and my parents appreciated people for who they were and what they had to offer the world, not whether they were black or white, gay or straight, religious or atheist. My sister and I were brought up to appreciate the same so walking through this exhibition made me both sad and furious. These poor people! What a ridiculous situation to have forced upon them and how strong they were to fight for their rights, get through it and prevail.
From the Civil Rights Museum we moved on to the Mercer Williams House. For those of you who have not seen the film, or read the book by John Berendt ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’, you should because both film and book are fabulous. The story depicts a wide range of eccentric Savannah personalities and is based on a true story that occurred in the 1980’s, the killing of Danny Hansford a local male prostitute by Jim Williams a noted Savannah antiques dealer and restorer of historic homes
The Mercer Williams house was originally built by an ancestor of a Savannah native, Johnny Mercer who also happened to be the songwriter of the award winning ‘Moon River’ amongst hundreds of other songs. There are Williams family members that still live in the home so only the ground floor and the garden are open to guided tours and no photos or note taking are allowed. I did my best to keep as many mental notes as possible though!
We learned that Jim Williams was indeed a little eccentric but that he also stepped in to preserve Savannah's historic district, beginning in the mid-1950s when lots of other people were trying to pull the majority of these stunning homes down. Williams bought his home after it had remained empty for nearly 10 years, restored it completely and operated his antiques restoration business out of the carriage house in the rear of the mansion which is now the gift shop.
Jim was a collector of many things and felt the best way to undertake interior decoration was to put all types of collections together
The house, his collections and the garden were all gorgeous and displayed some of my favourite types of design. In the house there were 10 foot ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, panoramic doors providing cross breeze, and lots of chocolate and other deep colours. The gardens and terraces were covered in ferns and ivy which was beautiful and quite dramatic. Sigh, one day.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and gave us good history on Williams and what he was like. She also had the thickest Southern accent and manner of speaking which was a joy to listen to.
One other little interesting piece of information we got before leaving was the info on the famous Bird Girl statue. The sculpture was commissioned as a garden sculpture for a family in Massachusetts but four statues were made from the original cast. Three of the statues were sent to specific places or families in America, but the fourth and now most famous statue was bought by a family in Savannah who set it up at a family plot in the Bonaventure Cemetery. Replicas are seen all over town and every conceivable thing is printed with a picture of it
The statue is both haunting an interesting at the same time. It was moved from the Bonaventure Cemetery to the Telfair Museum (also in Savannah) in 1997 for display and to ensure it wasn’t defaced in the cemetery. Fascinating stuff and I love the statue! If only we didn’t have to travel so far, I would have taken one of the larger replicas home for the balcony.
I so wanted to go to the museum and see the original statue but we’d missed the last tour, and you weren’t allowed to take photos of it. I’m struggling with that a lot this trip. For someone who loves her photography it’s been impossible. A lot of places we’ve been to won’t allow any photos. Usually you just have to take them without a flash so none at all is a bit of a let down.
We were in the early hours of the afternoon and needed a lunch stop. Suggestions from the locals had lead me to the Mellow Mushroom which was a pizzeria / American diner so we stopped in there and had a pretty tasty lunch
We didn’t linger over lunch and since we missed the last museum tour we figured we’d start our stroll through all the town squares. We slowly made our way through almost all of them enjoying the quiet spaces and the surrounding architecture. The homes in the Historic Centre here really are show pieces. They’re well thought out and very graceful old buildingd. I think these have been some of my favourites.
We made a dessert stop to get some Limoncello gelato from Cafe Gelatohhh and whilst it was good, I’d have the real thing any day.
When we’d made our way through all the squares we walked down a big street just by the waterfront where we found an outlet for a local brewing company called Moon River. We stopped in for a refreshment with Chris trying a local brew that arrived with a slice of orange in it! Hmmmmm, not sure if that’s right for beer drinkers but it did taste good.
We were right down the other end of town here and completely exhausted after about 5.5 hours of walking
I had to leave you with ‘Moon River’ today after getting all the background on the Mercer Williams house and the eccentric Mr Williams! I plan to find out more about his restorations throughout Savannah because he’s done a spectacular job.
Savannah is absolutely a place I’d recommend visiting, if only just to sit and listen to the local accents whilst enjoying the old homes. It is quite different to other parts of America that we’ve seen and has a certain grace and style that you just need to experience for yourself.