Excerpt from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

A Savannah Story

by John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
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  • First Published:
    Jan 1994, 386 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 1999, 255 pages

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"But it really isn't so wonderful at all. The moviemakers pay local extras the minimum wage, and Savannah doesn't get publicity after all, because the audiences usually haven't the vaguest idea where the movies have been shot. In fact, the costs to Savannah turn out to be greater than the return if you add up the overtime pay for sanitation men and police and the disruption of traffic. And the film crews are invari-ably rude. They leave piles of litter. They destroy shrubbery. They trample the grass. One crew even cut down a palm tree across the square, because it didn't happen to suit them.

"Well, the rudest bunch of all came to town a couple of years ago to film a CBS made-for-TV movie about the assas-sination of Abraham Lincoln. They selected Monterey Square for an important outdoor scene, but naturally we were not consulted. The night before filming was to begin, the police went around and abruptly ordered all of us to move our cars out of the square and not to enter or exit our houses between ten in the morning and five that afternoon. The film crew then dumped eight truckloads of dirt onto the street and spread it around to make it look like the unpaved streets of 1865. The next morning we awoke to find the square full of horses and wagons and ladies in hoopskirts and a thick coating of dust all over everything. It was intol-erable. The cameras were in the middle of the square aimed directly at this house.

"Several of my neighbors asked me, as a founder and past president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, to do something about it. I went out and asked the producer to make a thousand-dollar contribution to the Humane Society to show his good intentions. He said he would think it over and get back to me by noon.

"Noon came and went. The producer never responded. In-stead, the cameras began to roll. I decided to ruin his shot, and this is how I did it."

Williams opened a cabinet to the left of the window and took out a bolt of red cloth. He held it up over his head and unfurled it with a snap of his wrist. It was an eight-foot Nazi banner.

"I draped this over the balcony outside the window," he said. He held the banner up so I could get a good look at the big black swastika against a circle of white on a field of bright red.

"I bet that stopped the shooting," I said.

"Yes, but only temporarily," he said. "The cameraman switched to the other side of the house, so I moved the flag to the window in the study. They eventually got the shot they wanted, but at least I made my point."

Williams rolled up the banner and put it back in the cab-inet. "The furor it caused was something I hadn't expected. The Savannah Morning News splashed the story across its front page, complete with photographs. They wrote vituper-ative editorials and published angry letters. The wire services picked it up too, and so did the television network evening news.

"I found myself having to explain that, no, I was not a Nazi and that I had used the flag to create a time warp in or-der to stop some very inconsiderate filmmakers, who were not Jewish as far as I knew. But I did make one terrible over-sight. I had forgotten that the Temple Mickve Israel syna-gogue is located directly across the square. The rabbi wrote me a letter asking how I happened to have a Nazi flag handy. I wrote back saying my uncle Jesse had brought it back as a trophy from the Second World War. I also told him I collected relics of all sorts of fallen empires and that the flag and a few other World War Two items were simply part of that group."

"Then I wasn't mistaken," I said. "That was a Nazi dagger I saw on a table in the rear parlor."

"I have several," said Williams, "plus a few sidearms and a hood ornament from a Nazi staff car. That's about the ex-tent of it, though. Artifacts of Hitler's regime are not popu-lar, but they do have historic value. Most people understand that point and know there was nothing political about my protest. The firestorm abated after a couple of weeks, but every so often I encounter a smoldering ember in the form of glaring eyes or people crossing the street to avoid me."

Excerpted from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Copyright© 1994 by John Berendt. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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