Polemicscat's Weblog

Examining settled and unsettling questions.

A Few Days in Savannah

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Members of my family and I spent several days in Savannah in early April. For years it has been one of my favorite towns to visit. I’ve enjoyed the river-front restaurants and carriage tours around the old city. One summer my bride and I spent a pleasant day sailing on the Wilmington River on a twenty-six foot sailboat that we had rented at a yacht club there.

This time we were drawn to Savannah because of my daughter’s interest in several places around the city described in a book by John Berendt called Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book is on sale in many stores around the city. Also brochures and booklets about places and objects referred to in the book are featured in shops. The book is very like a novel but the story it tells is true.

My daughter, who is more organized in her travels than I am in mine, had researched on the internet the places to visit in Savannah and had made a complete itinerary for the four days we were there. Among these must-see places were the Bonaventure Cemetery and the Mercer House. Both places figure significantly in Berendt’s book .

The cemetery is very large, old, and picturesque. A life-size figurine of a young girl that had stood in the cemetery and was described in the book had to be moved to another location. Overzealous tourists had begun to go to the cemetery and put their hands all over it. Pictures and small models of the figurine are available for purchase in the shops around Savannah.

The Mercer House belonged for a while to a man named Jim Williams, the main character in Berendt’s book. Construction of the house was begun in 1860 by Hugh Mercer, a Confederate general. He was the great-grandfather of Johnny Mercer, the popular singer and song writer of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Berendt’s book has been made into movie. It was directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Kevin Spacey. No doubt the movie helps to account for the popularity of the story and an increased interest in Savannah.

Berendt spent eight years there and came to know a great many details about the city and its people. Because of the ubiquitous references to the book around the city, I get the feeling that Savannahians genuinely like it for its accuracy and its sympathetic treatment of the town and its residents. Some of the characters are eccentric, and the book captures the city’s unique atmosphere. Apparently Berendt finds these things refreshing and shows that Savannah is quite unlike other American cities today.

One character, Miss Harty, says, “No, on the whole I’d say we rather enjoy our separateness.” She adds, “People come here from all over the country and fall in love with Savannah. Then they move here and pretty soon they’re telling us how much more lively and prosperous Savannah could be if we only knew what we had and how to take advantage of it. . . . We smile pleasantly and we nod, but we don’t budge an inch.”


Written by polemicscat

August 7, 2008 at 7:33 pm

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