More than 6 decades after Margaret Mitchell published Gone With the Wind, the novel continues to attract new fans and fascinate people around the world. And thousands of them come to Atlanta each year looking for some trace of Tara or the woman who wrote about it.
Well, Tara doesn't exist, no matter how much the book and movie brought it to life for us. The white-columned mansion we equate with Tara was more the product of Hollywood's fancy than of Mitchell's imagination. She begged filmmakers to represent the house as she envisioned it, as a plain structure without columns, which is far closer to the reality of a working plantation than the image that's been perpetuated.
Until the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum opened in 1997, evidence of Mitchell herself was nearly as elusive as the fictional Tara. An extremely private person, she left a will stipulating that her papers and manuscripts be burned upon her death. Only a portion of the manuscript of Gone With the Wind was spared -- enough to prove that Mitchell was its author. Several places where Mitchell lived fell victim to development or were destroyed in 1917, when a great fire swept the city.
Still, it's possible to walk the streets of Atlanta and find traces of the famous author, either by viewing exhibits honoring her or by retracing some of her steps:
- The house at 1401 Peachtree St. is gone, but a plaque commemorates the site of the home where Mitchell spent her adolescence. She ordered that the house be torn down after her death, possibly because she wasn't happy there. Her mother's dream house, it was a white, two-story Colonial Revival with Doric columns. MARTA: Arts Center.
- Margaret Mitchell House & Museum, 990 Peachtree St., at 10th Street (tel. 404/249-7015). In 1925, newlywed Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh, moved into apartment 1 on the bottom floor of this building, living here until 1932. It was in "the dump," as she called it, that Mitchell wrote much of her novel. MARTA: Midtown.
- Georgian Terrace, 659 Peachtree St. NE. It was here in 1921 that debutante Mitchell shocked polite society by performing an Apache dance -- all the rage in Paris -- with her partner at a charity ball. As a result, she was blackballed from the Junior League. Years later, when the Junior League held a costume ball the night before the world première of Gone With the Wind, Mitchell declined their invitation to be the guest of honor. It was also here that Mitchell handed over her manuscript to Harold Latham, an editor for Macmillan. MARTA: North Avenue.
- Margaret Mitchell Square, intersection of Peachtree and Forsyth streets and Carnegie Way. It's possible to walk right by this spot and not even know that you've just passed one of the few public memorials to Atlanta's most famous author, which is probably just the way Mitchell would have preferred it. (Friends and acquaintances say she would have disliked the idea of a monument to her life.) The understated square contains a fountain, an inscription, and a sculpture symbolizing the columns of Tara. A block away is the famous intersection known as Five Points, which Mitchell referred to in her book. MARTA: Peachtree Center.
- Across the street from the square is the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library (tel. 404/730-1700), which has a permanent Margaret Mitchell exhibit on its third floor. Among the interesting memorabilia, you'll find numerous photographs, a facsimile copy of one of the pages of the original manuscript, and Mitchell's library card. The library also possesses Mitchell's personal literary collection, including the books she used to research Gone With the Wind, her typewriter, and her Pulitzer Prize. If you sign the guest book at the exhibit, look back through the previous pages. You'll be astounded at the number of people from overseas who have visited the display. The current library is the site of an earlier building, the Carnegie Library, where Mitchell did much of her research. Her father was one of the founders of the library, and in the years after his death, Mitchell made many contributions in his name. The Carnegie Library was razed in 1977 to make way for the present building. Open Monday from 9am to 6pm, Tuesday through Thursday from 9am to 8pm, Friday and Saturday from 9am to 6pm, and Sunday from 2 to 6pm. MARTA: Peachtree Center.
- Across Peachtree Street is the rose-granite Georgia-Pacific Building, built on the site of the Loew's Grand Theatre, where Gone With the Wind had its première on December 15, 1939. The theater burned in 1979, but there's an inscription to the right of the main entrance to the current building. See if you can find the misspelling. MARTA: Peachtree Center.
- Accident scene, Peachtree and 13th streets. On August 11, 1949, Mitchell and her husband were crossing the street to attend a play. Mitchell accidentally darted into the path of a taxi rounding the curve, was struck, and died 5 days later. MARTA: Peachtree Center.
- Gravesite, 248 Oakland Ave. SE. Mitchell was laid to rest in Oakland Cemetery on August 17, 1949. Only 300 guests were allowed to attend, but fans invaded the cemetery after the service, many taking funeral flowers as souvenirs. The cemetery (tel. 404/688-2107), which is an interesting place in and of itself, is open daily from dawn to dusk. Admission is free, and a map of famous graves is available for a small fee at the cemetery foundation office Monday through Thursday from 9am to 5pm and Friday from 9am to 4pm. MARTA: King Memorial.
- Atlanta History Center, 130 W. Paces Ferry Rd. NW (tel. 404/814-4000). For a look at what plantation life was really like, visit the Tullie Smith Farm on the grounds of the history center. The house itself, built in 1845 and moved here in 1972, is a plain, columnless two-story building, typical of an antebellum working plantation in North Georgia. MARTA: Arts Center.
For more information on Margaret Mitchell, read Looking for Tara, a small but informative guidebook to Mitchell's Atlanta. It's written by Don O'Briant and is available in local bookstores.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.