8.17.2009

Perkerson's White Columns of Georgia

Gone With the Wind is one of the most popular movies and books of all time, and many are surprised to hear that Tara in the movie doesn’t exist – that it never existed – not even in Margaret Mitchell’s mind. When Selznick Productions optioned the book for the film, they were forced to choose between the romanticized myth of the Old South and the South Mitchell wrote about in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Mitchell was hands off when it came to many aspects of the production, but she did take the movie historians to Clayton county to show them what she had in mind when she envisioned Tara – and the place didn’t have white columns.

There is a great picture of Mitchell, not totally dissimilar to Scarlett O’Hara in aspect, pointing to a ramshackle log cabin with a dilapidated roof. Her face seems to say “yes, THIS is right. They lived here, not in some gallant brick house with graceful columns.” (Mitchell was noted for her sauciness.) For those of you who have seen the movie, Selznick decided to choose the romanticized version, supposing that movie-goers would be more interested in the myth – however unkind – than the real life experience of wealthy planters living in less than refined circumstances. (Selznick also added the poem at the beginning of the movie that set the stage for the notion that GWTW is a racist movie, book, etc. Mitchell was annoyed at this and wanted it known that these words were not her own. She said that she had written a book about “people with gumption,” and one can assume from her philanthropic pursuits and interest in African-American dialect that she included African Americans in this group.)

The O’Haras didn’t live in a beautiful columned house – at least in the book – but there were some families in Georgia who did. Georgia is not as well known for her beautiful houses, like Mississippi or South Carolina, but there were some families that were wealthy enough (and inclined enough) to build large antebellum mansions.

Medora Perkerson, a friend of Margaret Mitchell, wrote a charming pastiche called White Columns of Georgia that takes the reader inside many of these elegant homes. The writing style is old-fashioned, clumsy, and often over the top, but the stories of some of these houses are really quite good. One tale concerns a house in Covington that the Yankees plundered. Perkerson includes quotes from the mistress’s diary and the fear and loathing of the invading army is palpable on the page. Some of the sections read like a ‘who’s who’ of furniture designers, but on the whole it is interesting to read about the histories of these places. Perkerson’s work was published in the late 1950s, and many of the homes still lived in by private citizens – many of them descendents of the original owners.

This is worth a flip-through if you’ve an interest in old homes, Georgia history, what life was like in the antebellum South, or if you just want to look at the cool pictures.

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