Tara may have been the place from which Scarlett O’Hara drew her strength, but it was Atlanta that brought out the best and worst in her. That’s no surprise, given that her creator, Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, was born and raised in Atlanta.
For Scarlett, Atlanta was the place she went after her first husband, Charles Hamilton, died (so she’d be closer to Ashley Wilkes; never mind that it also meant living with his mealy-mouthed wife, Melanie). It was where Scarlett delivered Melanie’s baby, where Scarlett and Rhett saw a city go up in flames, and where she returned after the Civil War to get enough money to save her beloved Tara.
The best place to start your visit is the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum (990 Peachtree St., 404-249-7012, <www.atlantahistorycenter.com/explore/destinations/margaret-mitchell-house>; open daily). Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh, lived in an apartment here from 1925 to 1932. She began writing the book at this address at age 26 after quitting her reporting job at the Atlanta journal because of arthritis. Marsh is said to have brought home a typewriter one day, saying that since his wife had read most of the books in the library, she should try writing one. GWTW was published on June 10, 1936; in less than six months, it sold 1 million copies and later won a Pulitzer Prize. The building was designated a city landmark in 1989 and opened to the public in 1997. For a virtual tour, see <www.franklymydear.com>.
The city was abuzz for GWTW’s world film premiere at the Loews Grand Theatre in December 1939. The theater is long gone, replaced by the Georgia-Pacific Center at 133 Peachtree St. NE. Not terribly far away, however, is the beautiful Fox Theatre (660 Peachtree St. NE, 404-881-2100), today’s grand dame of Atlanta theater that began; life as a Shriner mosque in 1929.
Mitchell spent the 1940s working as a’, Red Cross volunteer and on education and human-rights causes. She was struck by a car as she crossed Peachtree and 13th streets and died several days later at Grady Memorial Hospital. She and her husband (who died three years later) are buried at Oakland Cemetery (248 Oakland Ave. SE, 404-688-2107). Tours are available.
“Adanta, widi its crowds and its hurry and its undercurrent of driving excitement, was very pleasant, very exhilarating,” Scarlett once observed. It’s a sure bet she’d feel the same way if she visited this bustling city today.
FRANKLY, MY DEAR…
To find out more about the creator of Gone With the Wind and the city she called home, look for these resources:
• Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With the Wind by Marianne Walker (Peachtree Publishers)
• Margaret Mitchell, Reporter (Hill Street Press)
• Before Scarlett: The Girlhood Writings of Margaret Mitchell (Hill Street)
• Looking for Tara: The Cone With the Wind Guide to Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta by Don and Kay O’Briant (Longstreet Press)
• Margaret Mitchell’s Atlanta: An Audio Driving Tour by Marianne Mowry Gardner (Ghost Tours)
And for the movie buff, add these books to your library:
• Gone with the Wind: The Definitive Illustrated History of the Book, the Movie, and the Legend by Herb Bridges and Terryl C. Boodman (Fireside)
• On the Road to Tara: The Making of Gone with the Wind by Aljean Harmetz (Harry N. Abrams)
• Gone With the Wind on Film: A Complete Reference by Cynthia Marylee Molt (McFarland & Co.)