A Wedding and a Funeral Home
Last night, my friends Becky and Clay were married in Savannah’s Forsyth Park. It was a beautiful ceremony in front of the beautiful 150-year-old fountain framed with massive live oaks that dripped with Spanish moss.
Savannah, you might remember, is the setting for John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a non-fiction “novel” about events in the 1980s surrounding the murder of Danny Hansford, a local male prostitute. The title alludes to the hoodoo belief that midnight is the period between the time for good magic and the time for evil magic.
Thirty minutes before the wedding, I checked into the historic Forsyth Park Inn, a 1890s Victorian home with a history that can curl toenails. And while I was changing into my dress for the wedding, the Inn’s concierge told my parents that history. It was the home Aaron and Lois Churchill, who had made a fortune in shipping and manufacturing.
The Churchills were childless until a young girl named Lottie came to live with them. She called them “Uncle Aaron” and “Aunt Lo,” and the three were extremely happy together in the beautiful mansion on Forsyth Park.
When Lottie was a teenager, Lois’ sister, who had become very ill, also came to live with the Churchills. She and Lottie formed a fast friendship, and Lottie considered Anna the big sister she’d never had.
One day, Lottie walked in on Aaron and Anna in a passionate embrace. Determined that Anna would not ruin the idyllic family life she’d enjoyed with the Churchills, Lottie poisoned Anna.
Grief-stricken over her sister’s death, Lois finally told Lottie the truth: Anna was Lottie’s mother. The Churchills had taken Lottie to raise as a young child because Anna had been unable to care for her.
The news devastated Lottie. In fact, she went insane and spent the rest of her life in a mental institution. And of course, her ghost is said to haunt the Forsyth Park Inn.
It’s positively Oedipal, isn’t it? In the lust and murder and downright salacious departments, the ancient Greeks have nothing on Savannah. Personally, I think the heat has something to do with it. The temperature when Becky walked down the aisle had cooled to 95 degrees.
After the wedding, we returned to the hotel and asked the concierge where we could get a glass of wine. He directed us across Forsyth Park to the Mansion, a Thomas Kessler hotel and restaurant that had once been a funeral home. Now, the kitchen is where the morgue was, and the separate dining areas are where all the viewing rooms used to be.
“Kessler hotels are known, of course, for the exterior not matching the interior,” he said. “You’ll see how the exterior is brick and somewhat subdued.” Then, arching his eyebrows, he added, “But – the interior is re-DONK-u-lous.”
I couldn’t wait to see.
We walked to the Mansion, where I quickly decided it wasn’t wine I wanted. I had a lovely dish of blackberry crème brulee and a Pellegrino. The dessert was as over the top as the Mansion’s decor. It was a perfect ending to a beautiful evening.
Now, I don’t know if I believe all that hoodoo stuff. But I do appreciate the juxtaposition of a wedding and a funeral home and an evening that combines life and death and all the hopes and dreams of a beautiful young couple starting a new life together.
I hope their marriage is as beautiful as the ceremony was.