I dare say that most Gone with the Wind fans have little idea of the museums and historic sites that were spawned due to the 1936 book and the 1939 movie. But the truth is that after the worldwide destruction of World War II people from far and wide made their way to Georgia looking for a trace of the old south, and specifically the tall brick columns of Tara. Seems that most thought Tara to be a real working plantation that could be found where Margaret Mitchell described it, high on a red clay hill overlooking the Flint River just south of Atlanta, Georgia….and it was up to local “dreamers” to make it happen.
Of course Gone with the Wind was filmed entirely in California and there were no locations in Georgia to show the tourists, so the first sites dedicated to Gone with the Wind were simple displays regarding the premier at the Lowes Grand in Atlanta in 1939 and later a small store front or two. There was no Gone with the Wind Museum in Jonesboro, Marietta or Atlanta. The Margaret Mitchell House was not even a dream and “the dump” (the apartment building where GWTW was written) was nothing more than a flop house for those needing cheap accommodations. But that would change in 1959 when Desi Arnaz and his wife Lucille Ball decided they needed more space on their studio lot.
In 1959, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were the owners of the old backlot of Selznick Studios and there they were busy churning out movies and television shows. Many a western star was seen riding up to the saloon with Tara in the background. But in 1959, the Tara façade was dismantled so that the barracks of Stalag 17 could be built for the upcoming development of Hogan’s Heroes and Julian Foster had Tara shipped to the place everyone thought it was,…. or should be….Atlanta, Georgia. It was in Atlanta in 1960 that the Tara façade arrived to much fanfare, a banner (Welcome Home Tara) and high powered support (both Wilbur Kurtz and Franklin Garrett were prominently featured at the event) that hoped to yield a museum to the most recognized movie house and story of all time.
But just down the road there was more activity planned to give the visitors what they were looking for. At Stone Mountain Park a deal was being struck to bring in historic buildings and arrange them in a way that presented “the Old South” as many assumed it was….Lots of grand buildings, fine furnishings and ladies dressed in the distinctive “hoop skirt” that gave them the title of Southern Belles. At Stone Mountain a plan was made that brought an historian on site to arrange a multitude of buildings and barns in a way that presented a very formal working farm (Norman Shavin wrote a great little book about the process). They wanted the rustic cabin, the unpainted smoke house and even the historic slave cabins,….but they also wanted the very formal gardens and boxwoods, the elegant furnishings and of course the beautiful ladies as they melded Margaret’s true depiction of the Old South with Selznick’s Hollywood version seen in the movie. Later Butterfly McQueen would visit the “Plantation” at Stone Mountain and sign autographs while making her home away from home in what is now known as “the bride’s cottage”.
Today the Plantation at Stone Mountain has brought millions of visitors to the area. The Gone with the Wind Tour I created in Jonesboro has brought in more than 5 million in tourism dollars and the Margaret Mitchell House, The Road to Tara Museum, Scarlett on the Square in Marietta and the Holliday House in Fayetteville are all seeing visitors from all over the world. And the Tara façade, the three dimensional presentation of the story (as Kurtz put it) is getting the press it so richly deserves. The story is not dead and the desire of the world to come and hear the true tales, see the real locations and stand amid the pieces of the most famous of all movie houses will continue.
A for that I will save to a place at the gate.