Tracking Gone With The Wind author Margaret Mitchell in Atlanta
The original portrait of Scarlet O'Hara (played by Vivian Leigh) that hung in the Atlanta Mansion in the movie. (PHOTO COURTESY MARGARET MITCHELL HOUSE)
ATLANTA -- This gracious city has an elegance made famous in Margaret Mitchell's sweeping novel of the south -- Gone With The Wind.
You can't visit without digging into its GWTW past: Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes -- and Pansy O'Hara.
Pansy, you ask?
Well, check out the original manuscript at the Atlanta Fulton Public Library. Mitchell scratched out the original name Pansy -- and wrote in the unforgettable name now synonymous with southern belles: Scarlett.
You really need someone to guide you through the GWTW history.
Atlanta Movie Tours has an in-character "Margaret" who'll fill you in on all the gossip, all the history and all those fascinating details about the movie, about Mitchell -- and how the book got written.
Mitchell's roots are deeply embedded in southern culture. Her history is very much Atlanta's history.
Both her grandfathers fought for the Confederacy in the Civil war. Or, as Scarlett might have called it, the War of Northern Aggression.
Mitchell lived a colourful life. Engaged five times, married twice, her second husband was best man at her first wedding.
Mitchell's families on both sides were part of the Atlanta elite. While far from the coddled days of plantation privilege at Tara, her family was a prominent part of Atlanta's high society. Her mother was a Suffragette and staunch believer in women's rights.
Scarlett's beloved plantation house, Tara, doesn't exist. But Mitchell's model for it was probably based on the summers she spent at her maternal grandparents' plantation house in nearby Jonesboro.
You can tour the house where Mitchell lived with her second husband and wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book. They lived in a modest apartment that's been turned into a small, well curated museum.
There are echoes of GWTW in Mitchell's own life. Her one great love early in life was Clifford Henry, who died in World War I. Was Henry the model for Ashley Wilkes?
Despite the family's strong southern identity, Mitchell was sent to Smith College in Massachusetts by her mother, who wanted to ensure she had a good education. While there, Mitchell got word that her mother was gravely ill with Spanish flu. She rushed to her mother's side but, like Scarlett, arrived just a day after her mother died.
Mitchell became a journalist, as did her husband. Plagued by ill-health, she was forced to spend much of her time at home. Her husband gave her a typewriter, and told her to write a book.
The tour takes you to the library that houses the typewriter she wrote it on, the manuscripts and early editions of the book.
Mitchell is buried at Oakland cemetery, a beautiful, quiet oasis close to downtown that's the last resting place of many of Atlanta's historic figures.
Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, was the first African American to win an Oscar. But McDaniel could not attend the 1939 movie premier in segregated Atlanta.
Mitchell died after a traffic accident in 1949. Her estate went to her husband and eventually to the Archdiocese of Atlanta ($75 million) and Morehouse College, ($5 million) a school that trains African-American doctors.
Atlanta Movie Tours also provides wonderful guided tours for other shows filmed in the city, such as The Walking Dead and the Hunger Games. Check them out at atlantamovietours.com.
And do it now. As Pansy can tell you, tomorrow is another day.
-- For information on trip planning, see atlanta.net.