I fell in love with the South for the first time because of the great American historical epic, Gone with the Wind. The book became an overnight sensation when it was published in 1936. The national bestseller was made into a movie in 1939. Gone with the Wind remains hugely popular today. I love the book! I love the movie! And “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” who knows it. The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia, and Atlanta during the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era. Recently on a trip to Atlanta, my sister and I decided to immerse ourselves in all things connected with Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the film. Here are the highlights of our Gone with the Wind tour.
We felt the best of the Gone with the Wind attractions is the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum. Seeing where Mitchell wrote the bulk of GWTW is an inspiring experience. It is located in downtown Atlanta in the original ten-unit brick apartment building where she wrote the novel from 1925 to 1932.
The ground floor of this red brick house is a museum that includes the apartment where Margaret Mitchell wrote most of her novel. Mitchell and her second husband, John Marsh, occupied one of 10 apartments crammed into the Tudor-revival building she nicknamed “The Dump.” The apartment’s two small rooms plus a galley kitchen and bathroom look much as they had when Mitchell lived there. It’s amazing to think that while Mitchell lived there she created a story which has survived for 80 years!
The tour is short—less than 30 minutes long. Trained docents walk you through the events of Mitchell’s childhood and how she bluffed her way into journalism. It soon becomes clear to us, this remarkable woman was the real-life model for the fictional character of Scarlett O’Hara. Mitchell, like her heroine, was sassy, flirtatious, irresistible to men, and not to be trifled with. Considerably ahead of her time, Mitchell defied convention to become one of the first female journalists at the Atlanta Journal.
There’s also a little gift shop selling gifts perfect for any Gone with the Wind or Southern plantation-era fan. The Margaret Mitchell House is well worth the visit for any GWTW fan or anyone exploring Atlanta!
It is the history and location of the “Grand Old Lady of Peachtree” that make this hotel a must-see. On December 15, 1939, the stars of Gone with the Wind arrived at the Georgian Terrace Hotel. Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, and Olivia de Havilland all stayed at the hotel while attending the Gone with the Wind premiere and the after-gala in its Grand Ballroom. Throughout the hotel are reminders of its connection to Gone with the Wind, from images and silhouettes from premiere night to an etched glass mirror in the lobby with the names of Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, and other GWTW stars carved into the glass. Outside of the grand ballroom is a plaque commemorating the GWTW reception that was held in that very room over 75 years ago.
An interesting bit of history is that in 1921, long before she wrote the novel, a young Margaret Mitchell attended a French-themed debutante ball at the Georgian Terrace Hotel. She scandalizing onlookers – Scarlett-style – by performing a risqué Tango with a male partner at the party. She ended up being blackballed by the Atlanta Junior League. It was also in the hotel’s lobby Mitchell, in 1935, hesitantly handed over the original manuscript of her one and only novel to her future editor.
On August 11, 1949, Mitchell was hit by an off-duty taxi driver who rounded a blind curve on Peachtree Street and hit her at 35 to 50 miles per hour, in a 25mph zone. She died from brain damage at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta and was buried at Oakland Cemetery. Although Mitchell is its most famous resident, this beautiful cemetery also contains more than 6,900 Confederate graves from the American Civil War and a separate African-American section dating from the days of slavery and segregation.
Fun Fact: One of the most photogenic tombs is the Austell mausoleum, where General Alfred Austell, founder of the Atlanta National Bank is buried. (In the movie, his name appears on the check that Scarlett O’Hara signs to save Tara from the tax collector.)
Public GWTW tours are scheduled in advance by the cemetery. You can pre-arrange a private GWTW tour by calling the cemetery. This tour will visit the grave sites of Margaret Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh, as well as other Mitchell family members and pioneers of Atlanta. You will hear of several residents Margaret Mitchell is believed to have used as a basis for characters in Gone with the Wind.
You can visit any grave site including Margaret Mitchell’s for free during regular operating hours.
To go deeper into the Gone with the Wind story, we took a 30-minute drive northwest of Atlanta to the Gone with the Wind Museum on historic Marietta Square. The museum displays the original Bengaline honeymoon gown worn by Vivien Leigh. Other exhibits include international editions of the novel, original storyboards from the movie, and original papers from several cast members.
Although the movie’s Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor to win an Oscar, for her performance as Mammy, the movie and the book have been criticized for their poor representations of African Americans. A small educational display makes a stab of tackling this issue.
Gone with the Wind fans in search of Tara, the O’Hara plantation house, will need to travel 30 minutes south of Atlanta to the “Official Home of Gone With The Wind”, Clayton County, where Margaret Mitchell set much of the novel.
The Stately Oaks mansion is as close to Tara as you can get now that Mitchell’s ancestral home, the Fitzgerald mansion, is no more. The Greek-revival plantation and grounds is a great example of the antebellum homes that inspired Mitchell. Located on the property are a one-room schoolhouse, a country store, a re-created Creek Indian village, and a tenant house. The home has been furnished with period accurate pieces. (Owner Rebecca McCord, like Scarlett, had to protect her home against Union soldiers during the Civil War.)
At Stately Oaks, guides in period costume give a detailed hourly tour of the Greek-revival home and its exquisite locally-made, 19th-century furniture. They are upfront about letting you know this is not Tara from Gone with the Wind. The mansion is located in Jonesboro, GA., the very city where Scarlett had to pay the taxes on Tara. Even though Tara only existed in Margaret Mitchell’s imagination, she placed it in Clayton County where she had visited relatives who lived on a large plantation south of Jonesboro.
The Road to Tara Museum, in an old train depot in Jonesboro, is home to some original GWTW costume pieces and nearly perfect reproductions of the famous costumes. Filled with Gone with the Wind memorabilia, the museum is probably most famous for its section dedicated to Loew’s Grand Theatre. There you can see an original seating chart, original theater seats, and a poster that hung outside the theater. The four portraits of the main characters that hung on the Richardson Building (across from the Loew’s Grand Theater) during the 1939 Atlanta premiere are also on display.
The Road to Tara Museum also uniquely connects the history of the area and the battle of Jonesboro to Scarlett and Gone with the Wind. A daily 1 PM bus tour takes in several locations related to Jonesboro’s civil war history, accompanied by stories and events about the county and Mitchell’s relations that neatly tie in with Gone with the Wind plots and characters.
Fun Fact: While none of the characters in the novel are specifically based on real-life people, it is said that the character of “Melanie” in the book was modeled and named after her 2nd cousin, Martha Fitzgerald. During the Civil War Martha and her family refugeed in Valdosta, GA. She later became a Roman Catholic nun with the name Sister Melanie. Margaret was close to her cousin and would often visit her. Sister Melanie would regale her with tales of the family’s Civil War intrigues. Sister Melanie died in 1939 at the age of 90.