One section of the Road to Tara Museum is devoted to the short life of ‘Gone With The Wind’ author Margaret Mitchell. She died at 49 after being hit by a car while crossing Peachtree Street in Atlanta. The classic story of Scarlett O’Hara against the backdrop of the Civil War and its aftermath in Georgia was the only book Mitchell wrote and it remains hugely popular more than 75 years after it was first published. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
This article is from a special section produced by the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Jonesborough. The complete package of articles, photographs, illustrations and columns can be found online HERE.
JONESBORO — In Clayton County, tomorrow isn’t just another day, it’s another day to benefit from being the fictional home of Scarlett O’Hara.
As people around the world know, Miss Scarlett is the heroine of the most beloved work of fiction ever to grace a bookshelf — “Gone With The Wind.”
The 1939 Atlanta premiere of the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s one and only book celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. As all fans know, the O’Hara family plantation is set in Jonesboro and much of the book is set in and around Clayton County.
Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Danielle Conroy said those fans from all over the world visit the Road to Tara Museum every day. The guest book includes visitors from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, England, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
“For some reason, we’re very popular with Scandinavian countries,” she said. “But we love it, we appreciate all our visitors.”
Tourism in Clayton drew more than $1 billion in 2012, according to Georgia Department of Economic Development’s numbers. Conroy said it isn’t known how many of those dollars come from “GWTW” fans.
Clayton County’s tourism industry supports more than 30,000 jobs and generated more than $166 million in state and local tax revenues, according to the economic development numbers.
The Tara plantation is fictional but that doesn’t stop tourists from stopping in at the museum and asking for directions, said Conroy.
However, the museum is a haven for “GWTW” fans. There is a gift shop where porcelain figurines of the major characters and other merchandise promoting the movie are sold. Through the gift shop is the museum, part of which is devoted to the Battle of Jonesborough — as the city was spelled then — and the county’s role in the Civil War.
But the rest of the museum is devoted to the movie, which is always playing on a television set into the wall. There are reproductions of dresses worn by several actors, including the green velvet gown famously created from “Miss Ellen’s portiers” when Scarlett decides to go into Atlanta to ask Rhett Butler for the money to pay taxes on Tara after the war ends.
“The hat even has a chicken’s foot on it because the one in the movie did,” said Conroy.
In the same display as the curtain dress is a settee that was used in the movie.
“We do have original items here,” she said. “It’s great to have interesting pieces and people love to see the costumes.”
The museum also got a donation in 2002 of a reproduction of a dress worn in the film by actress Ann Rutherford, who portrayed one of Scarlett’s sisters, Carreen.
“Her daughter donated it,” Conroy said. “She told us she believed her mother’s wish was to leave items to our museum.”
A set of white and blue pantalets worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett also is on display.
“These are the actual ones she wore,” said Conroy. “We aren’t sure which scene they were in, though.”
One corner of the museum is devoted to the Atlanta premiere, including three red velvet seats and a yellow iron balcony railing from Loew’s Theater. The museum also boasts four round portraits of the four major characters that hung on the Richardson Building across from Loew’s — Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland.
“The premiere was a big to-do in Atlanta,” said Conroy. “It was a state holiday, a three-day premiere. There were different functions the actors participated, including luncheons and balls and the Cyclorama. Clark Gable supposedly joked that everything to do with the war was in the Cyclorama except him.”
Legend has it that one of the artists later painted Gable’s face onto the figure of a dying soldier in the diorama, she said.
Conroy said the interest in “GWTW” seems never-ending, which will continue to mean tourism dollars for Clayton County and Jonesboro.
“It’s still a phenomenon,” she said. “The museum still attracts people from right down the road and from as far as away as Japan.”
In other words, unlike Rhett Butler, fans still give a damn.
Access www.visitscarlett.com for information about the museum and Road to Tara sites.