Today, the most recognizable movie house in the entire world sits in an old dairy barn south of Atlanta, Georgia. The barn has few working windows, a dusty concrete floor and a tin roof. There are no fancy parking lots, or a book store and no electricity to run heat or air conditioning. The building is as stark and shocking as Scarlets view of Tara when she arrived home from Atlanta to find the fields littered with the dead of the battle. But should Tara be rescued and moved to a better home somewhere else? Should Tara be relocated to another part of the world,…maybe (as the late Gene Talmadge joked with me), “to a casino in Dubai, on display next to Bonnie and Clyde’s death car”.
When Margaret Mitchell was asked where she got the inspiration for her book she answered that it came from the lives of her ancestors and that Tara itself was based on the rambling house south of Jonesboro that was the home of her great grandfather Phillip Fitzgerald and his wife, “Ms. Ellen”. When Gone with the Wind was published in 1936, all who lived in the area knew that Tara was the Fitzgerald House a few miles south of Jonesboro (per Margaret’s statements) thus the neighboring Plantation, (much larger and more stately than Fitzgerald) was referred to by all as, “Twelve Oaks”. This plantation was the Crawford Plantation, and it was here that Betty Talmadge and her husband Senator Herman Talmadge set up their home in 1946.
At the time of Betty’s purchase of Tara’s movie façade, she was already seeing the guest list on her Lovejoy Plantation (Crawford-Talmadge) grow as many notables came to sample her food and the southern hospitality. So the idea of bringing Tara to the place already sought by those seeking a taste of the Old South seemed like a good choice. But make no mistake; Betty was not a hoarder but a business women and lover of her southern heritage who tried her best to put the Tara façade into a museum in the area. She paid for the restoration of the front door of Tara so that it could be displayed at the Atlanta History Center for the 50th Anniversary of Gone with the Winds Premier in Atlanta (the Talmadge’s still own the door now on loan to the Margaret Mitchell House), and later she had the door shipped to her home for a party for Ted Turner and Jane Fonda in another effort to build interest in a metro museum. But with every turn, the plans failed to materialize and Tara was relegated to the old dairy barn at the back of the yard.
When the Fitzgerald property was sold to real estate developers in the 1980’s Mrs. Betty paid to have the Fitzgerald House moved to her property also. Now, she had Tara from the book and the movie stored on the Plantation that was long considered “Twelve Oaks” (the Crawford-Talmadge Plantation also called Lovejoy Plantation) and it was her hope was that this last piece of the puzzle would provide the push needed to put all together on display. But a lot of talk from prospective, “rain makers” brought nothing more than wasted time…and Fitzgerald House was disassembled and moved into the barn next to the Tara façade.
So today, Margaret’s model for Tara (Fitzgerald House) sits a short distance away from David O. Selznick’s movie version of Tara. And together they reside on the grounds of the grand 1835 Crawford-Talmadge Plantation…Twelve Oaks. But should they be moved to someplace with a better building, or should they stay where they are and we, the lovers of history and great stories do our best to provide all three a proper platform to tell their tale? I say we leave them where they are and construct a building that will keep them safe and allow visitors from all over the world to see the “book Tara” and “the movie Tara” there at Twelve Oaks…
I’ll be looking for you up at the gate.