life’s good in the midnight garden

Savannah has a strong heritage when it comes to books, authors, and writers. Published in 1994 by Random House, John Berendt’s Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil shone a strong light on Savannah in the mid to late 1980s.

The book centered loosely around internationally known antiques dealer Jim Williams’s shooting of male hustler Danny Hansford in May 1981. It covered the four murder trials that took place over a span of eight years. Though Williams was acquitted when the dust settled, readers for the most part took great joy in the book’s characters drawn from every level of society. The book was a smash hit. No other book has had such an impact on Savannah. Clint Eastwood directed the movie version which Uga V and his owner, Sonny Seiler, played roles. (Uga V was cast to play the role of his father, Uga IV.)

Some of you will recall that Eastwood told Sonny Seiler’s wife “he would make Uga famous.” She responded, “Mr. Eastwood, Uga’s already famous,” and indeed he was.

Savannah doesn’t play second fiddle to many towns when it comes to famous natives. There’s the Uga line and notable people born there include Conrad Aiken, Gregg Allman, Paula Deen, and Johnny Mercer, lyricist and composer, widely known for “Moon River.” He was born in Savannah in 1909. He would have been sixteen years old when the writer, Flannery O’Connor, was born in Savannah March 25, 1925.

And though she’s been gone for almost 54 years, the bespectacled, prudish-looking Flannery O’Connor had me in Savannah this past weekend for the belated celebration of her birthday, which included a gathering of authors, a quirky parade, and a street fair. Since O’Connor’s birthday fell on Easter this year, the celebration was scheduled for April 10. As reported in the Savannah Morning News, the event is hosted by the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, a museum facing the square. The festival hosts local authors and artists and encourages O’Connor-flavored costumes.


“I was there” as the old reporters would say, courtesy of an invitation from the Book Lady Bookstore, and I witnessed the zany costumes, and all manner of people, including the curious, authors, transplants, and a few proud folks who call themselves natives. My friend and co-author, Robert Clark, went with me. He found ample beauty to photograph, including the heralded squares and bountiful architectural details. My friend and tremendous supporter, “Anonymous Mysterious Florida Woman,” drove up from Florida to spend time with us as well. We sat in the catbird’s seat with a grand view of all the goings on. Much to see. A zydeco group, Sweet Thunder Strolling Band, led the crowd in a parade around the square. Flannery would have been amused, I’m certain. I was. Check out the photo. All this for a writer who’s long been gone. People love the written word do they not? A writer’s work lives long after they ascend to that great library in the sky and so the critters like chickens and gorillas with which they are connected.

Flannery O’Connor seems to be one of those special people destined for fame. Her first taste of fame came in 1931, when she trained a chicken to walk backward. The Pathé News, an early form of video news coverage, featured her and her chicken. Go to youtube and you can see O’Connor (referred to as Mary of Savannah) and her backward-walking chicken.

O’Connor went on to attend Peabody Laboratory School in Milledgeville and graduate from Georgia State College for Women in 1945. Diagnosed with disseminated lupus in 1951, she returned to Andalusia, her family’s farm in Milledgeville. O’Connor died of lupus complications on Aug. 3, 1964, at the age of 39. She was buried in Milledgeville.

O’Connor authored 32 short stories and two novels in her short life. Some of the most popular include Wise Blood, 1952, and The Violent Bear It Away, 1960. Her short story collections include “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” 1955, “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” 1965, and “The Complete Stories,” 1971.

I saw several women in costume, glasses and all, doing their best to look just like O’Connor. One lady, Meredith, pranced mightily in the parade. As I sat beneath old oaks festooned with resurrection ferns, I felt that the old gal herself had been resurrected. I’ll go back next year for Flannery’s birthday. Savannah is a great town to visit and even greater when it celebrates one of its own.

Life’s good in the Midnight Garden. Great restaurants such as the Olde Pink House at Reynolds Square make you thank the Lord for being born a Southerner. And then there’s the fine East Bay Inn with its great corner suites overlooking oaks and the harbor. Best of all, going back to support independent bookstores such as the Book Lady Bookstore is reason enough. Especially, if you call yourself an author.


Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground.

He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine.
Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.”

Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Visit Tom's website at Email him at [email protected].