If there can only be one house in all of Savannah that is to be considered the city's most mysterious, that distinction would have to go to the Mercer-Williams House. In its many years of existence, the Mercer-Williams House has seen many tragedies, and the people who have called it home quite possibly have been more affected by hauntings than any other citizen of Savannah. The tragic events that have occurred throughout the Mercer-Williams House's history are a clear indication as to why the house is said to be haunted.
This spooky yet majestic house on Monterey Square is a place shrouded in mysteries and a vessel for a thousand ghost stories, ranging from the libelous to the downright nonsensical. The Mercer-Williams today is most associated in the mind of society via its infamous mentioning in the John Berendt novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was later turned into a film directed by Clint Eastwood. The infamy related to the house stems from the murder of Danny Hansford, who was the assistant (and lover) of the home's owner, Jim Williams.
As a result of its tumultuous past, the Mercer-Williams House has become a favorite attraction for those visiting Savannah. But, don't just go on any tour and listen to the ramblings of misinformation spewed as gospel. Ghost City Tours is the place to book with, because our mission is to share the truth with all seekers of the paranormal.
The History of the Mercer-Williams House
The Mercer-Williams is now owned by Jim Williams' sister Dorothy Kingery, who runs it as a museum. The Mercer-Williams is located at 429 Bull Street and stands on Monterey Square (also haunted) in Savannah, Georgia.
The house was designed for General Hugh Weedon Mercer by architect John S. Norris. Norris was New York born and raised (on the playgrounds he spent most of his days), before coming to Savannah where he enjoyed success in building houses, churches and lighthouses throughout the area. In 1860, ground was broken on the Mercer property, but construction was halted due to the Civil War. As for Norris himself, he quickly moved back to his home state just before the war began.
Around the year 1868, the house was completed by its new owner, John Wilder, as the Confederate General Hugh Weedon Mercer was unable to finish his dream home. Interestingly enough, no member of the Mercer family ever actually had the chance to live at the Mercer-Williams house.
During a period of time in the twentieth century, the house was home to the Savannah's Shriners Alee Temple, (you know, those old guys in the funny hats who drive those really tiny cars). After, the Shriners' tenure, the house rested in a vacant state for nearly ten years before it finally found a new owner in 1969.
The Jim Williams Era
The new owner was the much talked about Jim Williams. Williams was known about town as an antique dealers and preservationist, who had a love affair with Savannah's history and architecture. In the year 1955, Williams (just twenty-four at the time) bought three houses on Savannah's East Congress Street. In 35 years, Williams bought and restored over 50 houses, including the one that now bears his name—Hint: I’m talking about the Mercer-Williams House, of course.
After a meticulous two-year restoration process, Williams successfully renovated the house, making it once again a grand site. So satisfied with its outcome, Williams decided to make the house his permanent residence, while using the carriage house out back for his antique restoration business.
Williams was also known to throw wildly extravagant parties that would have surely made Daisy Buchanan swoon (although it's doubtful Williams would have been interested). These good times came to an end in the year 1981, after the shooting death of Williams' assistant and lover, Danny Hansford, a former prostitute with a past almost as questionable as the Mercer-Williams House itself.
Williams was charged with Hansford's murder, and subsequently tried four times for the crime. The first trial ended with him receiving life in prison, though many people speculated that Williams was only convicted because he was a gay man. The judgment was later overturned upon the discovery of contradicting police reports. It was far from over, though. Yet another trial (this one the third) ended in a hung jury. But, two years later, the fourth and final trial ended with Williams being found not guilty.
About six months after his not guilty verdict, Williams, who was at home stricken with pneumonia, died from heart failure. He allegedly collapsed to his death near the spot were Hansford was shot dead. In the years to follow, no one else was ever charged with the murder of Danny Lewis Hansford.
The Death of Tommy Downs
Williams and Hansford apparently are not the only two deaths that the property has seen over the years. In 1969, before Williams actually bought the house, a boy named Tommy Downs (only eleven years of age) entered the abandoned house, supposedly to chase birds. Somehow, the boy fell from the house. Rumors suggest that he fell from the roof, while others believe he fell from the second story balcony.
The fall in itself would prove deadly for most kids, but Tommy's tragic fall was made all the more gruesome, as the boy landed on the wrought-iron fence, with the spiked top lodging in his head. Many are suspicious of the claim that the boy was chasing birds on the rooftop of the abandon house, and some even wonder if maybe little Tommy was pushed or possibly thrown to his grisly death. Though there is no evidence to support that this tragedy was anything more than in accident.
However, it has been alleged that a friend of Tommy’s claimed that he saw the whole thing, and that it was as if something or someone had pushed Tommy to his death. The only problem with that is that Tommy was alone. Could some sort of unknown presence pushed little Tommy? Is there a true evil in the house? Could this force have also led to the story behind the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil?
The Ghosts of the Mercer-Williams House
Like many of the historic houses in Savannah, there have been reports of paranormal activity at the Mercer-Williams. These reports usually include commonalities like apparitions, disembodied voices, phantom footsteps and that unnerving feeling that someone is watching you.
The Mercer-Williams House Museum, while open to the public, is not highly excited about the home’s ghostly reputation, as well their association with the novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The current owner of the house, Dr. Dorothy Kingery (Williams' sister) is usually rather tight-lipped when it comes to stories about her notorious brother, and even more dismissive when it comes to paranormal activity at the house. In fact, she claims to have never had any experience of the supernatural kind. But, that does very little in actually swaying others from sharing their own ghostly experiences involving the house.
The Mercer-Williams' most famous resident is unquestionably Jim Williams. Some say he was a killer, others say he was at worst very eccentric. Years after the trials, Judge George Edward Oliver (who presided over three of the trials) was quoted as saying, "That son of a gun Jim Williams was absolutely guilty of cold-blooded murder." The judge went on to add, "I do not blame him. That boy he shot (Danny Hansford) was trouble with a capital T."
Even if you (like the judge) believe Jim Williams to be a guilty man, you must admit, he didn't really get away with anything after all was said and done. Even, as the trials ended, Williams breathed air as a free man for only six months before his death in his beloved house.
Since Williams' death, those members of the staff who have worked inside of his house (in the after hours), have time and time again seen the ghost of Jim Williams. Most frequently, it is said that he appears in full apparition form, walking up and down the halls of the house.
Danny Hansford's Revenge
The biggest single event in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and maybe in the entire history of the house was the murder of Danny Lewis Hansford. So, it would make sense that Danny's soul would have stuck around over the years.
It's been alleged that Williams became so distraught by Hansford's lurking spirits, that he reached out to a voodoo practitioner to rid Hansford soul from the house. According to some, they do not believe the voodoo practitioner's cleansing of the house worked, as in their minds, it was the ghost of Danny Hansford who killed Jim Williams.
His soul was clearly unable to move own, while the man who had killed him lived on as a free man. So, he exacted his revenge, scaring Williams to death. Which could be possible, especially when considering Williams' lifeless body was discovered in almost the same spot in which Danny had been shot dead, nearly a decade earlier.
The Ghost of the Young Boy
Another ghostly tale that is told about the Mercer-Williams House is that the spirit of the young boy, Tommy Downs, who fell to his death, continues to roam the property's grounds to this very day.
An especially grim version of an encounter with the ghost of the young boy is that this tortured young soul has reportedly been seen re-enacting the final moments of his life. Caught in a loop of horror, forever falling off the roof of the house and onto the iron spikes of the fence. To even imagine the sight of a small child impaled onto a fence is a ghastly nightmare waiting to be had.
The sister of the young boy who died from that fall has said that the story of her brother's death is indeed true. She recalled that the medics had to cut the spike off the fence in an attempt to save her brother's life. She still remembers seeing the medics rush her brother off to the hospital, despite knowing that it was already too late. After all, how could a young child survive that fall, let alone being impaled?
Many tourists who walk past the house over the years are so amazed by the house's timeless beauty that they inevitably take the their cameras out to capture a lasting memory. And, while they don't realize it at the time, they leave with way more than they ever could have bargained for.
Imagine, you just got back from Walgreens Photo, and you're flipping through all the pictures you took while on your trip. Then, finally, you get to the photos of the Mercer-Williams House, and you once again find yourself marveling at just how majestic the home really is, but as you examine the photo more closely, it happens . . . the ghost photo-bomb.
Ghost photo-bombing is not commonplace, but it has been reported numerous times, amongst those who have visited the Mercer-Williams. The most common of these spirits to be captured, appears to be an imagine of a small boy, with blond hair. Those familiar with the house's history, are quick to point out the story of the boy who fell from the house. Could this photo-bomber be the spirit of Tommy Downs?
Ghostlike Images in the Windows
Another form of paranormal activity that goes on at the house is a phenomenon that you can experience without ever actually entering the Mercer-Williams. Over the years, citizens of Savannah and tourists alike have witnessed ghostly images (almost a reflection) that appear in the windows of the house. These ghostlike reflections appear not only at night but during the waking hours as well.
Some have claimed that these images in the windows look to be a reflection of a boy. Could these sightings also be Tommy Downs? Is he looking for help, or just wanting to play in the afterlife?
Whether it is Tommy or not, the photos of these encounters have appeared on the Internet on a regular basis, and the pictures that have been circulated are convincing evidence that the Mercer-Williams house is indeed haunted.
During Jim Williams tenure as owner of the house, everyone in town knew that he threw the grandest parties in Savannah. Specifically, his Christmas parties became the stuff of legend, as his Christmas party was the social event of the year. Every member of Savannah's high society would clamor for invite, which always made the self-made Williams, gleam with pleasure.
After his acquittal in 1989, Williams threw his last lavish Christmas party before his death (less than a month later on January 14, 1990). In the years following, the house sat quietly. But, five years later, reports of parties being held at the house began sprouting about. One problem, dead men usually don't throw parties. At least, one would assume that to be the case. However, this is Savannah, one of the most haunted cities in the country. So, why can't a ghost throw a party.
It is alleged, that if you pass by the Mercer-Williams house on the night which Jim Williams would throw his annual Christmas party, you'll see the chandelier's light illuminate the whole house, painting images of the guests in the windows as they move from room to room. Some even claim to see the women in their best societal gowns, and the men dressed to the nines as they enter the house, showing up to the festivities fashionably late.
The Mercer-Williams House is truly one of the great historic homes in Savannah, and also one of the great and powerfully haunted houses that can be found in the entire state of Georgia. The home is filled with forces that can overpower the strongest of minds—here, one's emotions can quickly slip from your control, as soon as you take one step through its front door.
Visiting the Mercer-Williams House
By this point you clearly must be itching to visit this unquestionably haunted house. Well, once you make your way to Savannah, at the very southern end of the Historic District on the south-west corner of Monterey Square (also believed to be inhabited by the ghostly sort), just a short block away from Forsyth Park, you will find The Mercer-Williams House, located at 429 Bull Street.
The house is open, Monday through Saturday between the hours of 10:30-4:10, and Sundays between 12:00-4:00. But, it is highly doubtful that you'll hear any stories of ghosts from the current staff or owner. And, in fact, many who have asked to hear about the ghosts that allegedly haunt the house, or even about Jim Williams himself, were promptly dismissed, not just their question but their presence as well.
It may seem odd, but if you're looking for the dirt, this is one case where you shouldn't go straight to the source.
If you want to get the scoop, the whole story about the hauntings and the ghosts of the Mercer-Williams House, then we humbly encourage you take one of our Ghost City Tours in Savannah.
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