Gone with the Wind Author’s Home Draws Tourists and Movie Fans
The building where Margaret Mitchell lived when she wrote “Gone with the Wind” offers a glimpse of her extraordinary life and showcases memorabilia from the classic film.
The modest apartment in the home on Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta seems an unlikely place for the creation of one of the best-selling novels of all time. But in 1926, Margaret Mitchell sat down at a tiny desk before a manual typewriter, looked out a leaded-glass window and began dreaming up dialogue for “Gone with the Wind”.
Mitchell worked on the novel for her own pleasure, calling it simply “The Book”. As a girl she was fascinated by Civil War history and the stories recounted by veterans of the Confederacy. She named her main character Pansy O’Hara, but when a publisher showed interest in the book he insisted the name be changed. Scarlett O’Hara was born.
Gone with the Wind Becomes Oscar-Winning Film
A year after “Gone with the Wind” was published in 1936 it won a Pulitzer Prize. Mitchell already had sold the movie rights, accepting the offer of $50,000. The film starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler premiered in Atlanta in 1939 and began breaking box office records. It earned 13 Oscar nominations and won 10, including the first Academy Award for an African-American, Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy.
An exhibit of memorabilia from the film on display in the Margaret Mitchell House includes life-size reproductions of costume sketches, the original portrait of Scarlett used in the film and the movie set doorway of Tara, her plantation home. Visitors can read from copies of the script, act out scenes and view a video documentary and facsimiles of storyboards.
A Walk Through Margaret Mitchell’s Apartment
A tour of Margaret Mitchell House begins with Apartment 1 where Mitchell and her second husband, John Marsh, moved on their wedding day, July 4, 1925. She called her ground-floor apartment “The Dump” due to the dilapidated condition of the building at the time. Guests move through the parlor with its Victorian sofa, desk and typewriter, tiny kitchen and bedroom where family photos are displayed and clothes are laid out on the bed.
The tour continues to an exhibit on Mitchell’s life, her writing career and philanthropic work for the American Red Cross and other social causes. It contains photographs of Mitchell’s early years and her work as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine. Visitors can type on a manual typewriter like Mitchell used and try matching up some of the more than 40 foreign-language editions of “Gone with the Wind” with their home countries.
Margaret Mitchell’s Life in Atlanta
Mitchell was born just seven blocks away on Nov. 8, 1900, in the same neighborhood where Martin Luther King was born. A precocious child, she loved writing plays and staging them for neighbors on the porch of her home. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts, but returned home to run the family’s household after her mother, a suffragette, died in a flu epidemic. Smith awarded her an honorary degree after she won the Pulitzer.
Headstrong and free-spirited, the 4-foot, 11-inch Mitchell was a bit of a flapper during the Roaring Twenties. She married bootlegger Berrien “Red” Upshaw. “He was a total louse, a real loser . . . and she just had to have him,” docent Ann Boutwell told visitors to Margaret Mitchell House in April, 2009. “He liked his product too much,” said Boutwell, so the couple’s finances were shaky, prompting Mitchell to find work as a journalist.
In 1924, the marriage ended and Mitchell married Upshaw’s best friend who had been the best man at their wedding. John Marsh also was an editor at the newspaper where Mitchell worked and when Mitchell began writing “Gone with the Wind” he acted as her editor and proofreader. “I question whether she would have ever finished the book if she hadn’t had a man as supportive as John Marsh,” said Boutwell.
John and Margaret, whom he called “Peggy” or “Baby,” lived in the apartment until 1932. After her financial success from “Gone with the Wind,” she began philanthropic work. In 1949, as she and John were going to the movies, she was hit by an off-duty cab while crossing Peachtree and 13th streets. She died and was buried in her Red Cross uniform in Oakland Cemetery, a resting place for Atlanta luminaries. She had no children.
Preserving the Home and Margaret Mitchell’s Legacy
Margaret Mitchell House was built in 1899 as a three-story Tudor Revival home. It later was subdivided into 10 apartments and became run down after two owners suffered financial setbacks. In 1978 it was abandoned. Preservationists began to restore the building in the 1980s and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young designated it a landmark. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places
Fires twice damaged the building, but Mitchell’s ground-floor apartment received only minor damage and retains many of its original architectural features. Martha Mitchell House opened to the public in 1997 at 990 Peachtree St. and is now part of the Atlanta History Center. It operates a Literacy Center with author programs, creative writing classes, and other literary programs that honor the legacy of the author of “Gone with the Wind.”
The Atlanta History Center honors CityPass tickets, which make an Atlanta vacation more affordable. CityPass includes other Atlanta area attractions such as World of Coca-Cola, CNN, and the Georgia Aquarium.