Gov. Nathan Deal poses with “Scarlett” and “Rhett” during the unveiling of the “Gone With The Wind”-themed cover for the 2014 Georgia Travel Guide Tuesday. The cover features Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
ATLANTA — Clayton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Marketing Director Beth Bailey said she was relieved Tuesday when she was finally allowed to talk about a big secret that she’d been keeping for months.
State tourism officials had picked Clayton County to be featured on the “Gone With The Wind”-themed cover of the 2014 Georgia Travel Guide. The catch was county tourism officials couldn’t tell anyone about it until the cover was unveiled during a Georgia Tourism Day presentation at the state Capital this week.
“It was hard to not tell people and then it wasn’t because every time I thought, “Ugh, I wish I could tell everybody,’ I would think about the surprise on their faces when they found out today,” said Bailey.
The cover is a big deal for Clayton County, according to tourism officials because it is the first time the county has been featured on the cover of the free travel publication, which has been around for more than 25 years . It will be available throughout the year at rest stops, welcome centers and tourist attractions around the state.
It can also be ordered through the state tourism website, www.explorega.org, and on iTunes.
“For it to be the first time on iTunes and the first time Clayton County is on the cover is huge, so we’re so excited,” said Bailey.
The cover shows actors dressed as Rhett and Scarlett embracing in front of Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro. Bailey said the cover was shot, mostly in secret, at the attraction last spring.
Not even Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc. officials, whose offices are at Stately Oaks, or the Jonesboro florist, Walker Nursery, who loaned tourism officials the floral backdrop, knew why the photograph was being taken.
“We had Scarlett and Rhett there at 4 a.m., waiting for the sun to rise and the only thing we told the folks at Stately Oaks was that the state wanted pictures looking forward to the 75th anniversary,” said Bailey. “They didn’t know (the truth), but you know what, they believe in what we do so they didn’t ask any questions.”
Kevin Langston, deputy commissioner of the state’s tourism division, said the goal of the cover is to commemorate 2014 as the 75th anniversary of the film version of “Gone With The Wind.” He said it was a natural fit to highlight Jonesboro and Clayton County, which was the setting of the fictional Tara plantation.
“We were thinking about all of the sites in Georgia that have to do with the movie, but we thought there’s really not a better one in the state than Stately Oaks,” said Langston. “The Clayton County team was fantastic to work with. The folks at Stately Oaks were great.
Langston later added, “You’ve got a great tourism product in Clayton County and not enough people know about it yet and we’re looking forward to, in this year, making that change.”
The cover was unveiled by Langston, Gov. Nathan Deal and state economic development Commissioner Chris Carr. Afterwards, Deal shared a story about a economic development trip he and other tourism officials had made to China. They were trying to lure a Chinese businessman to bring jobs to Georgia.
The governor said some members of the group that accompanied him on the trip asked the businessman why he was interested in Georgia in the first place.
“I was hoping he’d say something like, ‘I like Georgia because it’s a great place for economic development,’ or secretly I wanted him to say something like, ‘You guys have a great governor,’” said Deal. “But do you know what he said? He said, ‘I like Gone With The Wind,’ and I thinking that of all of the things he could have said, I never would have anticipated that.”
Deal then added, “That is a story that truly backs up the great heritage of Margaret Mitchell and the story of the south, and especially the story of Georgia. I think it is all together appropriate that it be on the cover of this magazine.”
The news that Clayton County will be featured all year long on the travel guide’s cover is a spot of bright news for a county which is often viewed negatively by outsiders.
Frenda Turner, interim executive director of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she expects the cover to be a boon for tourism in the county this year.
“I think it’s remarkable that we were chosen for this position this year, and I think it’s going to generate a lot of tourism for Clayton County,” said Turner. “Stately Oaks is certainly going to get a lot of recognition and we’re so pleased to have had this honor and we’re looking forward to all of the people that will be coming that we can serve.”
Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day was ecstatic over the news about the cover and she praised the Clayton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau staff for their work to promote the county’s positive attributes.
“This is a boon for our whole community, not just the city of Jonesboro,” said Day. “It depicts us in an attractive light. Let’s give credit where credit is due. The Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau deserves a huge thank you from all citizens of Clayton County for championing us in such a positive way.
“They have worked so diligently to make these possibilities a reality,” Day added.