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The Mercer Williams House Museum
429 Bull St.
Savannah, GA 31401
A little early for one of the regularly scheduled tours, we were in the gift shop long enough to hear a man explain that his Southern wife made him salute a portrait of Robert E. Lee at their guesthouse that morning, and still calls him “damn Yankee” even though he’s been living in the south since 1961. We found the latter amusing but the former just seemed wrong. We held our tongues anyway if for no other reason than this house has already seen its share of violence.
So the house was built by Johnny Mercer’s grandfather, but no Mercer ever lived there. The key owner was Jim Williams, an antique dealer and restoration expert who saved the place from rack and ruin almost fifty years ago.
As detailed in the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (and later a movie of the same name directed by Clint Eastwood), Williams was accused of shooting his assistant/lover in the house in 1981, was tried a record four times, eventually acquitted, only to die in the same room where the shooting occurred a few months later.
Naturally, that room is what we all want to see on the tour, but we listened politely to genuinely interesting lectures about china and portraits until we got there. The guide identified the room as being the place where the thing from the book happened (and where the pivotal scenes in the movie were filmed), saying “It was self defense and he was acquitted,” to which we silently added in our minds “After three trials, two convictions, one hung jury and two years in jail.”
The décor of the home isn’t precisely our taste—too cluttered antique dealer—but it is a splendid place (still owned by Williams sister, who seems to live there, and not be bothered by daily tours), and seeing the interior was a fine glimpse into gracious Savannah living.
Monterey Square - that's Mercer House in the background.
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