>Passport: Georgia- Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
By New York Times Best Selling Author, John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Shots rang out in Savannah’s grandest mansion in the misty,early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt’s sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.

It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman’s Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the “soul of pampered self-absorption”; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia, ca. 1901 - Exceptional Print of a Vintage Photochrom Image from the Library of Congress CollectionThe title alludes to the hoodoo notion of “midnight”; the period between the time for good magic and the time for evil magic; in “the garden of good and evil,” which refers principally to Bonaventure Cemetery.
I’ve always been fascinated by evil doings and the thin line that runs between good and bad, wrong and right. Religion is mainly where I found my compass to distinguish right from wrong. Growing up I was educated in the most unusual of ways on the subject. I went to a Catholic school Monday-Friday, but my parents weren’t really catholic, I had very religious and spiritual grandparents that went to Christian churches (and took us on Sundays), my best friends (The Fisher girls) were Jewish , and at home, there was no religion or it was anything goes. And very often it did… I remember taking trips to to various indie book stores and picking up books on metaphysical things, but that’s really besides the point. As odd as it may sound, I think that all my various influences is part of the reason this book struck a chord with me. I remember my grandmother telling me that a church isn’t a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners, that we all have both in us and all sin is equal, whether you shoot a man or say you did when you really didn’t. I won’t begin to describe how weirded out her little sayings sounded back then…yeah, I was used to having lots of crazies in my life. But, it wasn’t until years later that I recalled what she’d said and that it actually rang true to me.

Perhaps that is the real appeal then, eh? No, not religion, because it isn’t really a theme in the book, but people are. I suppose it’s the fact that the book is centered on factual occurrences with real people who went through the drama that Berendt describes in his pages that reminds me of what my grandmother had said. The eclectic array of people all seem so different from afar, but when we take a closer look at them, we find that they all have their vices and are all very human.  As their stories and personalities are brought to light, one cannot help but marvel at how fascinating reality can be and ponder the notion that sometimes life really is more like a soap opera–complete with wild court hearings, sex scandals, murders, cheating, and more!

Among memorable Savannahians depicted are singer/pianist Emma Kelly, “The Lady of 6,000 Songs” (so dubbed by Savannah songwriter Johnny Mercer); Joe Odom, a southern gentleman/lawyer who covers his bad checks with charm; an inventor (named Luther Driggers in the book) who possesses a vial of poison strong enough to kill the whole city if it were to infiltrate the water supply; Minerva, the Lowcountry “root doctor” who works spells for Jim Williams; Sonny Seiler, Williams’s defense attorney and owner of Uga, the University of Georgia’s renowned mascot; and The Lady Chablis, a drag queen who gleefully crashes an annual African American debutante ball. (From New Georgia Encyclopedia)

With all of the added attention the the book and following movie earned, tourist began flocking to Savannah for tours. Hotel-motel tax revenues rose about twenty-five percent in the two years following publication of the book, and cottage industries related to Midnight in the Garden sprang up like morning glories: trolley tours of the main sites; candles in the shape of the Bird Girl (photographed by Jack Leigh for the dust jacket); T-shirts, mugs, postcards, a newsletter, even a gift shop devoted specifically to Midnightabilia. On April 22, 1996, the Savannah Economic Development Authority honored Berendt with a special award, and Mayor Floyd Adams declared April 26 of that year “John Berendt Day.”  The book also spawned a jazz concert based on Johnny Mercer songs, which toured the country in 1996, an eight-episode series on This Old House in 1996, and a two-hour A&E documentary titled Midnight in Savannah in 1997.

In summary, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is based on real-life events that occurred in the 1980s and is classified as non-fiction. But, in the fashion of other writers like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, it reads like a novel. The book is beautifully written with fabulous, seductively- rich descriptions of Savannah, Georgia. It is among the most popular non-fiction releases of all time, proving that real life is sometimes more unbelievable than fiction.

About The Author…
John Berendt is a New York native and lived off and on in Savannah for eight years, interviewing locals and gathering material for his Pulitzer prize winning debut, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Berendt became an overnight success with the book by chronicling the real-life events surrounding a murder trial in Savannah, Georgia. The book spent a record-breaking 216 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list.


This book was purchased by Day.



4 responses to “>Passport: Georgia- Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil

  1. >Amazing book! I truly miss living by Savannah! Stationed at Fort Stewart for 5 years! Oh and River street. Could not get enough of it!!

  2. >This is a keeper on my bookshelf. A hilarious yet thought provoking novel that pretty much sums up Southern attitudes and lifestyles in a nutshell. The movie was fab but the book was incredible.

  3. >It really is a brilliant book.Ever since reading it, I can't think of Georgia and not think of Gone With The Wind, Paula Dean, and Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil!

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