My Mini Gone with the Wind Tour

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:

Margaret Mitchell House - Present Day Front

Margaret Mitchell House - Present Day Front

Margaret Mitchell House - Back

Margaret Mitchell House - Back

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:

Peachtree Street - View from Mitchell House

Peachtree Street - View from Mitchell House looking south toward Five Points

And here is Oakland Cemetery, where Charles Hamilton was buried in the book, and where Margaret Mitchell is buried today:

Oakland Cemetary

Oakland Cemetery

Oakland Cemetary

Oakland Cemetery

Almost 7,000 Confederate soldiers are buried in the cemetery. You can read more about it here.

Battle of Peachtree Creek

Battle of Peachtree Creek

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.

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18 comments

  1. Ohhhh…could go on the tour too…when I visit? Plus another stop at the History Center? What a great day you guys must have had. I am so jealous. Mom

  2. Definitely Mom. I think we should do the Oakland Cemetery tour as well. Sadly “we” (Bob and I) didn’t have a day. Bob was working and took the pics of the cemetery for me, and I went to the Mitchell house by myself yesterday afternoon.

  3. Priscilla.. this is wonderful. Thank you so much for the tour. I’m linking to this one in my post, too. I just finished all of Part 4. Now reading Part 5, and might finish soon, ahead of schedule.

  4. I’m also reading GWTW with Matt and think I will mention your tour the next time I post about GWTW! I actually already have this biography of Mitchell on my TBR list, too. Interesting that she borrowed some of her own experiences for the book (like her mother’s death).

  5. Pansy O’Hara! Now that just doesn’t sound right.

    I loved the tour, Priscilla. Gone with the Wind is a book that has always intimidated me, but you’re making me want to read it.

  6. Thank you for this wonderful post! It is so great to have all of this background in my head as I am reading the book – it gives it much more of a context for me.

  7. Claire, you are way ahead of me now. I am on Chapter 42. I haven’t read as much as I would’ve liked this week. Thanks very much for the link 🙂

    Valerie, welcome! I cannot wait to read the biography. Several things the tour guide said made me think that Mitchell based Scarlett somewhat on herself, so it will be interesting to see how much.

    Rose City Reader, welcome to you as well! I can see why GWTW is a favorite. Today I got a coupon from Borders for 40% off, and I seriously thought about going to buy my own copy because I know I’ll read it again. Alas, prudence won. I am going to wait. But I will own a copy! I will!

    Nymeth, I know! Pansy! Can you imagine? I amazed at how much I am enjoying this book. I though I would like it, yes, but I didn’t expect it to be so deep, or to lead me on a journey to find out much more about the Civil War and Margaret Mitchell as a writer. I always just thought, “The South was wrong. End of story.” I still believe that, but I see so many shades of grey where before I saw only black.

    Karen, I am so glad to give a context. It was such fun to take the tour, and I’ll definitely share what I learn at the archives and on the cemetery tour. Hopefully I will get to those in April.

    Tuesday, lovely to see you! It is fascinating. I’m having way too much fun. 🙂

  8. Priscilla, this is soooo wonderful! Thanks for sharing the tour with us and more importantly, giving us a feel for the modern-day set of the novel. It’s hard to imagine that Scarlett had to commute between these places for days on the carriage. One day I have to come to Atlanta and see for myself. 🙂

  9. I’ve never read GWTW … someday! I have seen the movie, ages ago (which is the reverse order I usually do these things in!)

    What a great photo tour! My niece lives in the Atlanta area, I’m going to send your link to her, so she can get a feel for it, too.

    I did something similar with Brunonia Barry’s *The Lace Reader*, have you read the novel? Here’s my photo tour:
    http://www.sheistoofondofbooks.com/2008/08/11/on-the-road-to-salem-with-the-lace-reader/

    Thanks for re-piquing my interest in GWTW!

  10. This was wonderful – thank you for sharing all this great info! I wasn’t part of Matt’s GWTW reading group, but I’ve read the book several times and loved following along with all of you who were just reading it for the first time.

    I’m dying to visit Atlanta now, and go see all these spots in person 🙂

  11. Matt, thank you for putting together the read along. I might never have picked it up, otherwise–it would’ve been destined to be one of those books I always meant to get to, but didn’t. I am amazed at reading about Scarlett traveling along these roads, and how dangerous it was for her going out to the mill, especially in Decatur. It’s all houses and restaurants and shopd now, but she’ll always be there in her wagon, for me, now.

    Dawn, I’d only ever seen the movie, too, but you must read the book. It has so much more depth, gives more understanding to the experience and the history. I have not read The Lace Reader, but I am going to check out your post right now! 🙂

    Becca, welcome! You really should see Atlanta. It’s quite pretty, and there’s quite a bit of history. It’s too bad so much burned…The Atlanta History Center has terrific exhibits on the development of the town from before the war, and the Oakland Cemetery tour is supposed to be amazing. I will post after I go!

  12. What a wonderful tour! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I love that tidbit about how she met her husband. I can just picture that! 🙂

  13. This is a great post! I’m reading GWTW too, and haven’t seen the film, so it is all new to me.

    One of the problems I’ve found with the book (although I do love it) is that there are very few descriptions, so I can’t picture being there. Seeing these photos has been very useful – thank you!

  14. Jackie, I can tell you this much: every description in the book of Tara and the surrounding country, as well as the descriptions of Atlanta (at least concerning the landscape), are very accurate: the red dirt, the tall trees, how it looks in the spring and fall. I wish I were a better photographer, so I could give you more pictures of what Mitchell describes. Georgia is beautiful, so it’s easy to understand why Scarlett loves her land so much.

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