Mercer-Williams House

You may already be familiar with the Mercer -Williams House from the book written by John Berendt or the 1997 movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack. You may also be familiar with the murder of Danny Hansford that took place inside the home, but did you know this house is the site of other strange deaths and occurrences? I got a chance to visit the home a few months back, and what I learned is wildly fascinating.

mercer-williams

This hauntingly beautiful home is located at the southern end of the Historic District on Bull Street, in Monterey Square. Nowadays it is a living museum, which you can tour, but for years, it was a private residence. The house was first designed by John S. Norris for General Hugh Weedon Mercer (great-grandfather of the songwriter Johnny Mercer). Construction of the house began in 1860. However, the building of the house was interrupted by the American Civil War, and was not completed until around 1868 by the new owner, John Wilder.

For a period of time, in the 1900’s the building was used as the Savannah Shriners Alee Temple. It then lay vacant for a decade until 1969 when Jim Williams bought the house and restored it.

Jim Williams
Jim Williams in front of the Mercer House on Monterey Square in this Jan. 12, 1980 Savannah Morning News photo.

Jim Williams,  played by Kevin Spacey in the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was an antique dealer and restorationist who was described as being very “eccentric”. He would host Savannah’s most extravagant parties inside of the Mercer -Williams House and by all accounts was well liked.

This all changed after May 2, 1981 when Jim Williams shot his assistant Danny Hansford with whom he had a sexual relationship with.

Williams was subsequently charged for murder and tried an astounding four times before finally being acquitted in 1989 by a jury in Augusta, GA.

July 1985 Jim Williams leaving with lawyer S. Seiler
July 1985 Jim Williams leaving with lawyer Sonny Seiler

Jim Williams supposedly believed in Voodoo and would often call upon the services of Valerie Boles, known in the book and movie as Minerva. Valerie was the wife of the infamous Dr. Buzzard. When performing a ritual, Valerie would do it at her husband’s grave, which is located in the Beaufort, SC area. She claimed that from 11:30 to midnight it was the best time  for working good magic. From midnight to 12:30 is for working evil magic. There are a few scenes in the movie where Williams (Kevin Spacey) goes to see Valerie “Minerva” in the graveyard to talk about Danny Hansford.

Minerva
Savannah attorney Sonny Seiler stands with Valerie Fennel Aiken Bowls in this photograph dated 2002. Bowls was better known as the voodoo priestess “Minerva” in the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

While on a Ghost Tour, our guide told us that right before Jim Williams died, Minerva was seen leaving the Mercer-Williams house. It is rumored that during the trials, Williams asked Boles to work her magic and get him acquitted but once he was, he did not honor the payment arrangement. Some believe this angered Boles, and that she placed a death curse on Williams.

On January 14, 1990, six months after the trial, Williams died unexpectedly in his home, at age 59, from “pneumonia and heart failure”. Reportedly, Williams fell dead in almost the same spot where Danny Hansford was shot to death nearly a decade earlier…

Even before Hansford’s death in 1981, the Mercer-Williams house had already been the scene of two deaths. In 1913 a previous owner “tripped” over the second floor banister, fractured his hip,  suffered a concussion,  then died three days later.

In 1969, a boy chasing pigeons on the roof fell over the edge and impaled himself on the iron fence below.

The kid falling off the roof, and impaling himself was also told to us while on the Blur Orb Ghost Tour. However, it was told a little differently. Apparently when Jim Williams bought the house in 1969, the house was always left opened and not one, but two kids went up on the roof of the house to chase pigeons. According to our very enthusiastic guide, one of the kids started “acting funny” as if possessed. The boy then walked to the edge of the roof and threw himself off. Either way the child did in fact fall from the roof impaling himself.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor, read the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil , then watch the movie. After that, book yourself a tour of the home (usually takes about 30 minutes ), then that night, book yourself a ghost tour. All tours will go by Mercer-Williams house.

To me, the Mercer-House is an amazing place with a fascinating backstory and if you believe in ghosts and curses and the like…this is your place.

 

 

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