As I’ve been reading Gone with the Wind, I’ve tried in my mind to place things in Atlanta, to get a sense of where things were located. Today Five Points is a major stop on the MARTA route, smack in the middle of downtown, at Peachtree and Alabama Streets. It’s amazing to me to look at maps of present-day Atlanta and realize how close things are today–Jonesboro is basically a suburb of Atlanta–and how far away everything was then. I found a neat interactive map here, that has markers for all the major battles as Sherman marched down from Tennessee through Kennesaw and into Atlanta. If you look straight south of the city of Atlanta, you’ll see Riverdale and Stockbridge. Jonesboro, the closest major city to Tara, is right between those cities, maybe a half-hour south of Atlanta’s downtown.
My first year here in Atlanta, I passed the Margaret Mitchell House at Peachtree and 10th Street on an almost daily basis (I lived maybe 2.5 miles away from it), I but never stopped to take a look. Today I went down there and took the tour. This was not the Mitchell family home, but the place where Margaret Mitchell started writing Gone with the Wind. They give tours of her apartment, as well as a movie museum that contains some of the original story boards, posters, and scripts from the film. It also has the “entrance” to Tara (essentially a doorway) from the film set, and the portrait of Scarlett that hangs in Rhett’s bedroom in the film. Unfortunately, the camera on my phone gave me fits, so the pictures I took of the storyboards and Scarlett portrait are gone (they don’t allow picture-taking in the house itself, only in the movie museum), and I could not get back into the exhibit after I got my camera working. However, I did manage to snap pics of the outside:
What’s now the back of the house was the entrance when Margaret Mitchell lived there, and it faced the original Peachtree Street. Behind the house was a ravine and a small road, an area they apparently referred to as “The Tight Squeeze.” Eventually Peachtree Street was re-routed around the house. Here’s a view from the house down Peachtree Street, looking toward Five Points:
And here is Oakland Cemetery, where Charles Hamilton was buried in the book, and where Margaret Mitchell is buried today:
Almost 7,000 Confederate soldiers are buried in the cemetery. You can read more about it here.
The other thing in the book that made me curious is the man Johnson, from whom Scarlett buys her first mill. In Atlanta, we have what are called “ferry roads,” which were the roads people took that had ferries that crossed the various rivers and streams, including the Chattahoochee River. I live just off a ferry road called Johnson Ferry that runs from north Atlanta out to Marietta, and I wondered whether this historic Johnson was a mill owner. It turns out that the establishment of Johnson Ferry Road, or some part of it near the river, preceded the Civil War by about thirty years, and was named after an area “founding father,” Johnson Garwood. I couldn’t find any record of a Johnson Mill, but Johnson Ferry does run right by an old mill called Moore’s Mill. It’s all ruins now, and we’ve walked through it many times. I like to think that’s one of the mills she bought, but really it’s much too far away. More likely she bought a mill near what’s called Howell Mill, closer to downtown on Peachtree Creek. Mitchell mentions the Battle of Peachtree Creek in the book as well. I tried to get over and snap a picture of the small monument that stands now in front of Piedmont Hospital, but traffic was too crazy. This is true of a lot of historic spots in Atlanta: there are plaques everywhere, but no way to pull over and read them.
Enough of that sadness, though. Let’s get to some of what I learned about Margaret Mitchell on my tour today:
- The first time Margaret Mitchell’s second husband, John Marsh, saw her, he fell in love with her at first sight. As the story goes, she was at a speakeasy down on Auburn Avenue called The Rabbit Hole, sitting on a chair on top of a table, surrounded by male admirers, wearing a green dress. Sound familiar?
- John Marsh was the roommate of and best man for Mitchell’s first husband, one “Red” Upshaw. Red was a bootlegger up in North Georgia, and he liked to sample his own product.
- Mitchell’s mother was a suffragette. Women in Atlanta obtained the right to vote in municipal elections several months after her death in 1919.
- Mitchell’s father, a lawyer, established the first public library in Atlanta (now the Fulton County Municipal Library, which is still at its original site and also holds Mitchell’s archives–I am dying to see them!) with the help of Andrew Carnegie, and he also helped establish the Atlanta History Center.
- Margaret Mitchell went to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in September 1918. She was unable to travel home for the holidays because of the Spanish Flu epidemic. In January 1919 her father wrote to her and told her that her mother, who had contracted the flu, had developed pneumonia. Mitchell took the train home, and her brother met her at the station. She said she could tell by the look on his face that her mother was already dead. She had died the day before Mitchell arrived. Mitchell never finished college, but Smith awarded her an honorary degree.
- Mitchell lived in an apartment with her husband on the bottom floor of the Sheehan home (pictured above)–the Sheehans were family friends–when she started Gone with the Wind. She referred to the apartment as “The Dump.” She had quit her job at the Atlanta Journal after being injured in a car accident in 1926, and after several months at home with nothing to do, she was encouraged by her husband to start writing what she called “The Book.” Apparently, she wrote the last chapter first, and Rhett Butler was the first character she created.
- Scarlett O’Hara was originally called “Pansy O’Hara.”
- In the movie museum, they have a set of suitcases in a glass case. When I went a bit closer to read the information, it said that in 1935, Mitchell’s editor traveled to Atlanta to pick up the manuscript, but when he arrived, Mitchell told him that she didn’t have anything to give him. Dejected, he went back to his hotel. As he was preparing to leave to catch his train, her manuscript arrived in some 70-odd envelopes. He used the suitcases to carry the manuscript home with him.
- The original movie script was about 400 pages long.
- The exhibits in the house included some correspondence between Mitchell and various members of her family. The tour went rather quickly, so I didn’t get a chance to read much of it, but I did catch that she was rather amused that one reviewer of the book had called Scarlett a bitch. They also had a letter she had written about winning the Pulitzer Prize, but I got jostled along by the tour group. Grr.
- Mitchell established a scholarship at Morehouse College for African Americans who wanted to become doctors. She was also active in establishing clinics for both blacks and whites at Grady Memorial Hospital, and for working to integrate the Atlanta Police Department.
- Mitchell was hit by a car as she and her husband crossed Piedmont Road in Atlanta on August 11, 1949. She died five days later, on August 16, 1949. She had been to see Gone with the Wind the night before she died, and apparently wrote a thank you note to the theater owner that was included among her published letters sometime in the 1970s.
Of course, I could not leave without buying a book (naughty unemployed person that I am). I almost bought my own copy of Gone with the Wind in a hardback reprint of the original edition, but I decided instead to buy Mitchell’s biography, Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell and the Making of Gone with the Wind, by Darden Asbury Pyron. You know, because I need more to read.
Some things I’d still like to visit or research. We have a restaurant here called Pittypat’s Porch (home cooking, of course), and I wonder if they tried to locate it near the site where Aunt Pittypat’s house would have been. It seems too close to Five Points to my modern self, but it may be accurate. Also, Wesley Chapel is now a road that runs through Decatur, but it seems the chapel itself was not rebuilt after Atlanta burned (or at least no longer stands today). I searched a bit online for a map of sites in the book versus a map of real places, but couldn’t find one. I’ll keep looking and let you know what I find. Finally, I plan to visit the archives at the Fulton Library. There might be manuscripts!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my mini Gone with the Wind tour. My heartfelt thanks to Matt for making me wake up and look at this bit of literary history in my own back yard!
*All images mine except for Battle of Peachtree Creek, which is from Wikipedia (see link above). Thanks to my loving husband for snapping the pictures of Oakland Cemetery.