The next place we visited was the Margaret Mitchell House. Now, anyone who has known me for more than 15 minutes probably knows my favorite all time forever book and movie is Gone With The Wind, and Margaret Mitchell is the author of that book.
Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell Marsh was born November 8, 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Eugene Mitchell, a lawyer, and Mary Isabelle Stephens (often referred to as May Belle), a suffragist of Irish Catholic origin. She spent her childhood spending time with her maternal relatives, who had lived through the Civil War. She had one brother, Stephens, who was four years older. She died August 16, 1949, also in Atlanta, Georgia.
It has been thought that Margaret Mitchell wrote only one book in her life, but that book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, sold more than 30 million copies, was made into a movie in 1939, and became the highest grossing film in the history of Hollywood. The movie received a record-breaking ten Academy Awards.
Margaret Mitchell graduated from Washington Seminary (now The Westminster Schools), then attended Smith College. She withdrew from Smith after taking final exams in 1918 and returned to Atlanta to take over the household after her mother's death during the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Her mother had become ill while taking care of others, and died before Margaret could return home (similar to Scarlett O'Hara returning to Tara during the Civil War). Margaret defied the convention of her class and the times by taking a job at the Atlanta Journal, writing a weekly column for the Sunday edition under the name of Peggy Mitchell. Margaret was one of the first female columnists at the South's largest newspaper. In 1922 Margaret married Berrein "Red" Upshaw, but they divorced after it was revealed he was a bootlegger and an abusive alcoholic. She later married Upshaw's friend, John Marsh, on July 4, 1928. John Marsh had been Upshaw's best man when Upshaw and Margaret Mitchell married. Supposedly both men had courted Margaret in 1921 and 1922, but Upshaw proposed first.
From 1922-1926 Margaret wrote dozens of articles, sketches, and book reviews, including interviews with the great silent film star Rudolph Valentino, a high society murderer, Harry K. Thaw, and a Georgia prisoner who made artificial flowers from scraps and sold them from his cell to support his family. She also wrote several profiles of Georgia Civil War Generals, which lead scholars to believe her research for these led to her writing Gone With The Wind.
Margaret began writing Gone With The Wind while bedridden with a broken ankle. Her husband, John Marsh, brought home historical novels from the library to amuse her. After she supposedly read all the historical novels in the library her husband is supposed to ahve told her, "Peggy, if you want another book, why don't you write your own?" She drew from her encyclopedic knowledge of the Civil War and dramatic moments from her own life. She typed the epic novel on an old Remington typewriter in her apartment. Origianlly the heroine of the book, Scarlett O'Hara, was to be named "Pansy O'Hara" and the O'Hara Plantation, Tara, was to be "Fontenoy Hall". She had also considered naming the book Tote the Weary Load or Tomorrow is Another Day. She managed to keep the novel secret from all her friends and family, putting the pages in large manilla envelopes and hiding them under towels, disguising them as a divan, putting them in closets and un der the bed. She wrote the last chapter first, and skipped around from chapter to chapter. Her husband, the only other person who knew about the book, proofread the pages for continuity. By 1929 most of the book had been written but Margaret lost interest in pursuing a literary career. The bulk of the book was written between 1925-1930 in an apartment she called "The Dump". This apartment was in the Cresent Apartments, Apartment #1, which is the subject of the pictures here. These apartments are now on the National Register of Historic Places.
While Margaret Mitchell denied it, modern researchers have found similarities in Gone With The Wind to people in her own life. For example, Rhett Butler may have been modeled aftger her first husband, "Red" Upshaw. The last thing Upshaw supposedly said to Margaret Mitchell was, "My dear, I don't give a damn", which Rhett says to Scarlett before he leaves her. "Frankly" was added for the movie.
On April 4, 1989, Dr. E. Lee Spence, an internationally known shipwreck expert, archaeologist, and historian from Charleston, South Carolina, announced his discovery that Mitchell, who had claimed that her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gone With The Wind was pure fiction, had actually taken much of her compelling story of love, greed and war from real life and that Mitchell had actually based Rhett Butler on the life of George Alfred Trenholm, a tall, handsome shipping and banking magnate from Charleston, South Carolina, who had made millions of dollars from blockade running, was accused of making off with much of the Confederate treasury, and had been thrown into prison after the Civil War. Spence's literary discovery that had its roots in his prior discoveries of some of Trenholm's wrecked blockade runners made international news.
In his book, Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The "Real Rhett Butler" and Other Revelations, Dr. Spence reveals what the editors of Life magazine called "overwhelming evidence" that Trenholm was the historical basis for Mitchell's romantic sea captain. Spence's book gives a compelling case that Mitchell had falsely claimed Rhett was pure fiction.
According to Dr. Spence's research, Trenholm had been on the verge of bankruptcy at the outbreak of hostilities, yet by the end of the Civil War controlled over sixty large steamers and numerous sailing ships. His amazingly successful blockade-running ventures had earned him today's equivalent of well over $1 billion in gold, making him both fabulously wealthy and enormously powerful. Trenholm's ships sailed out of the ports of Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, and New York City.
Mitchell wrote that Atlanta believed Rhett had made off with the gold of the Confederate Treasury, an improbable feat for the captain of a ship. However, unlike Rhett, Trenholm was not just a ship's captain. By the end of the Civil War, he was not only the South's most successful blockade runner, but also Treasurer of the Confederacy. When the government gold and the jewels entrusted to the Treasury by banks and private citizens disappeared, many believed Trenholm had stolen it.
There are several parallels between the fictional character Rhett Butler and the shipping magnate George Trenholm. After the Civil War, both men were arrested and threatened with execution. Both had much younger women visit them in jail and both men tried to comfort them as the women shed tears over the men's proposed fate. Both women were from good families and were widows of Confederate officers. Each had a reputation for being "fast", but was still received in society. In fact, when Trenholm's lady friend was introduced to the famed novelist Lord Thackeray at a party, he insulted her by saying that he had been looking forward to meeting her because he had heard she was the "fastest" lady received in society. She returned the insult by saying that they had both been misinformed because she had been told he was a "gentleman."
Margaret Mitchell lived as a modest Atlanta newspaper woman until a visit from MacMillan editor Harold Latham in 1935. He was scouring the South for promising writers and Mitchell agreed to escort him around Atlanta at the request of a friend, Lois Cole, who worked for Latham. Latham was enchanted by Margaret Mitchell and aasked her if she ever wrote a book. She denied having done so, and he supposedly said, "Well, if you ever do write a book, please show it to me first!" Later that day a friend of Mitchell's who had heard the conversation laughed, "Imagine, anyone as silly as Peggy writing a book!" Mitchell became angry at this statement, went home, found as much of the manuscript as she could and arrived at The Georgian Terrace Hotel just as Latham was preparing to leave. She handed him the manuscript and said, "Here, take this before I change my mind!" Latham bought an extra suitcase to accommodate the manuscript and left Atlanta. When Margaret Mitchell returned home she was horrified at her impetuous act and sent a telegram to Latham: "Have changed my mind. Send manuscript back." Latham had read enough of the manuscript to know it would be a blockbuster and wrote to Margaret Mitchell to tell her of his thoughts as to the potential success of the book. MacMillan soon sent her a check and encouraged her to complete the novel--she had not yet written the first chapter. She finished the book in March 1936 and it was published on June 30, 1936. The book was made into a movie by David O. Selznick and released three years later. The premiere was held in Atlanta on December 15, 1939. The book had been such an overnight success that its publisher, George Platt Brett, President of MacMillan Publishing, gave all his employees an 18% bonus in 1936.
Mitchell was struck by a speeding automobile as she crossed Peachtree Street at 13th Street with her husband, JOhn Marsh, on her way to see the British film A Canterbury Tale at the Peachtree Art Theatre in August 1949. She died at Grady Hospital five days later without ever regaining consciousness. The driver of the car, Hugh Gravitt, was an off-duty taxi driver who was driver his personel car at the time. Many reports say Mitchell was hit by a taxi, but this information is incorrect. Gravitt had been out on $5,450 bond after having been arrested for drunken driving. Because of the occupation of the driver and the fact he had been arrested for drunken driving, the Governor of Georgia, Herman Talmadge, was prompted to announce the state of Georgia would tighten regulations for licensing taxi drivers. Gravitt was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served eleven months in prison. The conviction was very controversial becasue witnesses said Mitchell stepped into the street without looking and her friends claimed she often did this. She is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
For decades it was thought that Mitchell had only ever written one complete novel. (In fact, periodically claims are made that she never wrote it at all due to the lack of any other published work by her). But in the 1990s, a manuscript by Mitchell of a novel entitled Lost Laysen was discovered among a collection of letters Mitchell had given in the early 1920s to a suitor named Henry Love Angel. The manuscript had been written in two notebooks in 1916. In the 1990s, Angel's son discovered the manuscript and sent it to the Road to Tara Museum, which authenticated the work. A special edition of Lost Laysen — a romance set in the South Pacific — was edited by Debra Freer, augmented with an account of Mitchell and Angel's romance including a number of her letters to him, and published by the Scribner imprint of Simon & Schuster in 1996.
The son of Henry Burroughs Holliday, who was the brother of Robert Holliday. Mattie Holliday's family stayed with Henry's famil in Valdosta, Georgia during the Civil War. Even after the war the two families often often visited and Mattie and John Henry eventually fell in love. John was also sent to stay with Mattie's family after the war when he was involved in a shooting incident near his home. John wanted to obtain an education and become a dentist, and studied at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in Philadelphia, graduating in March 1872. He could not legally practice in Georgia until he was 21 years old, so he worked in St. Louis for a while, returning to Atlanta in July 1872. On his 21st birthday he received his inheritence, including a commercial building in Griffin, Georgia. He practiced dentistry there until leaving Georgia for good in September 1873. He went to Texas, where he practiced with a partner in Dallas until March 1874. John Henry was arrested at least eight times in Texas, all but one for gambling. He and Mattie corresponded faithfully during this time, reminding us of Scarlett's mother, Ellen Robillard, who had loved her cousin, Philippe Robillard. Philippe also got into trouble when he went out west, and was killed in a brawl. John Henry Holliday also reminds us of Tony Fontaine, and O'Hara neighbor, who gets into trouble and goes to Texas to start a new life. The other nteresting piece of information about John Henry Holliday is that he eventually was known as "Doc" Holliday, friend of Wyatt Earm and participant in the famous gunfight at the OK Corral.
This portrait was taken while the Mitchells still lived in Jackson Hill, a neighborhood in southwest Atlanta that survived the Civil War but was later destroyed by fire. May Belle's family, the Fitzgeralds and the Stephens, were staunch Catholics. MAy Belle founded the more liberal wing of the Suffragist movement in Atlanta which is now The League of Women Voters. May Belle Stephens Mitchell was 32 years old when this picture was taken.
Pictures of Atlanta
Pictures of the Margaret Mitchell House at various times
In 1939, the portrait traveled from California to the movie's premiere in Atlanta, where it hung in the window of downtown Davidson-Paxon Department Store. More recently the painting hung in the cafeteria of the Margaret Mitchell Elementary School in northwest Atlanta.