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The True Story Behind Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Friday, August 19, 2016

"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," by John Berendt

When the author, John Berendt, wrote "The Book" as it is now referred to by residents of Savannah, Georgia, he did what many writers do. He combined fact with fiction. 

"The Book" turned into the movie entitled, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Berendt's book remained on the New York Times best seller list for 216 weeks following its debut. The movie adaptation debuted in 1997, with actor, Clint Eastwood, as director and producer and John Lee Hancock as screenwriter. With a $30 million budget, the film grossed $25.1 million in sales. 

The True Story Behind Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Berendt's book was considered "faction." This simply means it is part fact and part fiction. 

The characters in the story actually were residents of Savannah. Without realizing it, Berendt exposed the dark side of Savannah society, a relatively insular, highly traditional composition of diverse individuals. 

The truth of the story highlights the crime of murder by wealthy, gay Savannah socialite, Jim Williams, and his employee in his antique business and lover, Danny Hansford. 

The remarkable part of the crime is that Jim Williams was tried four times for Hansford's murder. This was omitted from the movie version. The actors who played Jim Williams and Danny Hansford, Kevin Spacey and Jude Law, respectively, bear a striking resemblance to the murderer and victim. 

Many of Berendt's characters such as the voodoo woman, Minerva, the transgendered nightclub entertainer, Chablis and Joe Odom were actually Savannah residents. So popular was the book that Savannah saw a large increase in tourism. One of the attractions was the "Bird Girl" sculpture seen in the movie. It was originally located in Bonaventure Cemetery. It draws thousands of tourists each year.

Highlighting the Truth

Perhaps the author intended to expose the mirror image of life in Savannah and felt the murder of Danny Hansford, shocking to residents of "this fair city," as lawyer Sonny Seiler states in the movie, created enormous interest in antebellum homes restored to classic southern elegance. Other features of this city include its deeply embedded traditions like the practice of voodoo and its love of classical and jazz music. 

The book is about people in their most naked reality and that good and evil combine to prove truth is stranger than fiction. For example, the high society in Savannah projects the image of style and "class," that covers darker characteristics in their personalities. 

In Savannah, residents are aware of homosexuals and the transgendered. They choose a cosmopolitan attitude that dismisses these lifestyles with one hand and ingratiates it into their lives with the other. 

This discloses truth in the voodoo belief as Minerva stated, "One hour before midnight for doing good, one hour after midnight for evil." This belief is wholly applicable to characters in the true story of Jim Williams and Danny Hancock. 

Jim Williams symbolizes the good in the hour before midnight and Danny Hancock the evil the hour after midnight. In the real world, the upper-class often crosses from good into evil in the garden of life.

Book a tour and learn more

The book The Lawyer Games, tells new information about the trials, and testimonies, and photographs that really went on in the court room.

Learn more about this fascinating story from expert tour guide, Angela Sergi at Savannah Heritage Tours in Savannah, GA. Unlike other tour companies, Angela focuses more on the trial than the Voodoo.

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