By Joel Hall
From Dec. 13 through Dec. 15 in 1939, Hollywood's biggest stars flocked to Atlanta for the premiere of "Gone with the Wind," the famous movie inspired by Margaret Mitchell's popular novel of the same title. This weekend, longtime fans, as well as those new to the film, are descending on the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro to celebrate the film's 70th anniversary.
The Road to Tara Museum, located inside Jonesboro's historic downtown train depot, offered free admission on Friday as a way to celebrate the legacy of "Gone with the Wind" and introduce new visitors to museum. The celebration will continue today, with 20-percent discounts on all gift shop items, $10 admission to Peter Bonner's "Gone with the Wind" Tour (normally $24.95), and expanded exhibits featuring props used during the filming of "Gone with the Wind" and locally-found relics from the Civil War.
Herb Bridges, a preeminent "Gone with the Wind" scholar, collector, and author of several books on the subject, was at the museum on Friday to interact with guests. During that time, Bridges spoke to visitors about the history of the movie and showed off items from his large, personal collection of "Gone with the Wind" materials.
"The premiere [of "Gone with the Wind"] was three days from now, 70 years ago, and it was a big deal," Bridges said. "We think the Olympics were a big deal, but if you compare the population back then, there were a lot more people. All the movie stars came. People actually came to Jonesboro to [where] the museum [is]. It's amazing how popular the movie and books [are] after 70 years."
On Friday, the museum attracted a number of "Gone with the Wind" aficionados, also known as 'windies,' as well as school groups and new visitors to the museum.
Susan Morgan, a self-described "windie" from Jonesboro, joined other windies from as far as Dothan, Ala., on Friday.
While touring the museum, Morgan sported a specially-made "Gone with the Wind" jean jacket with a large, embroidered design of Rhett Butler embracing Scarlett O'Hara. The jacket also contains the signatures of Eleanore Cammack "Cammie" King, Patrick Curtis, and Mickey Kuhn, who performed in the movie as Bonnie Blue Butler, the infant Beau Wilkes, and the adolescent Beau Wilkes, respectively.
Morgan, a history buff, said she came to see items from Bridges' personal collection, such as the pantalets worn by actress Vivien Leigh in the famous "Twelve Oaks barbecue" scene, as well as commemorative jewelry commissioned at the time of the movie's premiere.
"It [the jewelry] was 15 cents and if you sent it in with three wrappers of Lux soap, they would send it to you," Morgan said. "That's what excites a windie, when you actually get to see something from the movie. It seems to have everything a movie should have. It's got a love story, it's got history, [and] it was filmed in the South.
"With the economy the way it is, people really put museums down the list," she added. "When it's free, it's open to anybody."
Dana Harvey, director of Strategic Academic Solutions, a new K-10 private school in Morrow, said her students have been studying the "Gone with the Wind" novel and the Civil War for the past three weeks. She took her students to the museum on Friday in order to give them a more "hands-on" experience, given the fact that much of the novel was set in Clayton County.
"In studying the book, they did learn a lot about Jonesboro," Harvey said. "[Coming to the museum], it gives you a little more than what was in the book. I think it's important for this area because it allows people to learn about the history of the area in which we live."
Beth Bailey, vice present of sales and promotions for the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which owns the Road to Tara Museum, said this weekend's celebration of "Gone with the Wind" has brought people to the museum who may have been less motivated to come before.
"How many people go past the depot and don't know what is here, or have every intention of coming, but they never make it here," Bailey said. "What a great incentive 'free' is. This event, and having people come here, makes me realize that 'Gone with the Wind' is a phenomenon and people will always love it."
The 70th anniversary celebration of "Gone with the Wind" will continue at the Road to Tara Museum today, Saturday. The 20-percent discount on gift items during the 70th anniversary weekend excludes the purchase of the collector's DVD and Blu-ray discs of "Gone with the Wind."
For more information about the event, call (770) 478-4800 or visit www.visitscarlett.com.