One of my top 25 favorite books, I might add.
John Berendt’s book chronicles the death of Danny Hansford, a small time hustler in Savannah, who was shot and killed by one of his lovers, Jim Williams.
Along with the murder story, the book tells the dark secrets of Savannah, it’s a who, what, why, when book.
Williams was a wealthy and influential antiques dealer who was instrumental in the rebuilding, restoration, and preservation of the majestic homes along the many Savannah squares.
Both the city and the cemetery are beautiful and worth visiting.
Its most notable icon is the Bird Girl.
And it, like Capote’s, In Cold Blood is a non-fiction novel.
Much of the book centers on Bonaventure Cemetery, a real and currently active cemetery on the bluffs of the Wilmington River.
Once a plantation originally owned by John Mullryne, another owner, Commodore Josiah Tattnall sold all 600 acres, including its private cemetery To Peter Wiltberger.
His son, Major William H. Wiltberger, created the Evergreen Cemetery Company in 1868. Evergreen Cemetery Company was purchased by the City of Savannah on July 7, 1907, making the cemetery public and changing the name to Bonaventure Cemetery.
In 1867, environmentalist John Muir began his Thousand Mile Walk and in October stopped there for six days
He slept on the graves, finding it the least expensive accommodation. He was waiting on money from home.
He referred to the cemetery as breathtaking and included his story in his work “Camping in the Tombs.”
The cemetery is used in the book and the abysmal film that followed as the burying ground of the murdered hustler. But, if you go there, you won’t find him. He’s buried in a different Savannah cemetery, Greenwich.
The title of the book refers to the witching hour, or the five minutes before and after midnight which are best for magic according to the hoodoo doctrines.
I, as everyone should, toured Bonaventure in 1997 when The Book was new and hot, and controversial, but I didn’t go there at midnight. And I don’t recommend that you do either!
If you’ve never read the book, well, you’re one of a few. It has one of the most gripping opening lines in literature.
“His eyes were like the windows of a sleek limousine, he could see out, but you couldn’t see in.”
I was hooked. I’ve read it three times.
The hoodoo practitioners work their magic with coins, bones, and such. The promise love, magic, and other desires to those who pay them for their ‘services’.
And they only do it at the witching hour in the garden of good and evil.