Driving into Atlanta today, it’s hard too see beyond the modern city of skyscrapers and flashy Coca-Cola billboards. The noticeable lack of antebellum buildings downtown serves to remind us of the city’s violent fall in the Civil War – when General Sherman notoriously burned it to the ground in his March to the Sea.
Born in 1900, just 35 years after the end of the war, Margaret Mitchell grew up in a city still recovering from defeat and destruction. As a child, she heard first-hand accounts from Confederate veterans and was told of the difficult years of Reconstruction. When she was six years old, her mother drove her past the ruins of old plantation homes that had been destroyed by Sherman’s army. All that remained were the brick fireplaces and chimney stacks – known as ‘Sherman’s sentinels’ – those eerie reminders of what had been would eventually inspire Mitchell to write Gone with the Wind.
First published in 1936, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a fiery Southern belle took Atlanta and the rest of America by storm. Its success was soon surpassed by the highly-anticipated film adaptation starring Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh, which made its big screen debut in Atlanta on the 15th of December in 1939 and went on to win eight Academy Awards the following year.
On Peachtree street
The greater Atlanta area is awash with the name Peachtree, but it's the main street running from Five Points downtown to Buckhead in the north (where it turns in to Peachtree Road) that figured heavily in the life of Margaret Mitchell and that of her heroine, Scarlett O'Hara. It's here that Scarlett comes to live with Melanie and Aunt Pittypat and where most of the action in Atlanta takes place. (Check out this handy map of places in the novel put together by the clever people at Lost States.)
Peachtree Street was the location of Mitchell’s parents' home and where she eventually settled with her second husband, John March, in the Crescent Apartments. Today the building is home to the Margaret Mitchell House, a museum devoted to her life and work. Visitors can take a guided tour of the author's actual home, which has been carefully curated to give the impression that she still lives there today and has just stepped out.
It was here, in this modest, one-bedroom apartment (a place she liked to call ‘The Dump’), that Margaret Mitchell would ultimately pen her epic novel. Forced to stay home from her job as a reporter after sustaining a leg injury, she kept her self busy reading stacks of books from the local library. One day her husband, who had been tasked with fetching her reading material, came home with a typewriter instead and told her it was high time she write her own book.
The movie premier of the MGM adaptation took place at Loew's Grand Theatre, which once stood at 133 Peachtree St. NE. Sadly, the beautiful old theatre burnt down in the 1970's and the site is now occupied by the decidedly unromantic Georgia-Pacific Tower.
Following the screening, the stars gathered with special guests in the Grand Ballroom of the Georgian Terrace Hotel at 659 Peachtree Street NE. This was a fitting location for the celebration for it was in the lobby of the same hotel that Mitchell had reluctantly handed over her manuscript to a Macmillan editor in 1935.
Tragically on the 11th of August, 1949, Mitchell was struck by a speeding car on Peachtree Street and died five days later. The beloved author was buried at the Oakland Cemetery. Although today both the novel and the film can be seen as controversial given Mitchell's depictions of African Americans and slavery, her story and her characters are forever linked with the history of Atlanta.
A special thank you to the Atlanta Ritz-Carlton Hotel for hosting us during our stay. Situated in the heart of downtown Atlanta, on Peachtree Street (of course), the hotel proved to be the perfect base for touring the city's literary landmarks.