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I Don't Give a Damn

Last month, I visited F. Scott Fitzgerald at his final resting place. This month, I'm off to Atlanta to get a peek at Margaret Mitchell's grave and her lasting legacy.

This year, for my birthday, I wanted to get away from home and I am always interested in visiting my friend K (whom I've known for something like 23 years now). She lives in Atlanta with her lovely other half, C. They kindly put me up for the weekend and toured me all around town. We enjoyed some amazing food, did some minor sightseeing, and enjoyed some quality time together. The highlight of our sightseeing, for me, was visiting both Margaret Mitchell's grave at the Oakland Cemetery and her home in downtown Atlanta.

Mitchell is buried with her husband and her parents in the historic cemetery. Many of the oldest, most important families in Atlanta have their ancestors buried in Oakland Cemetery. Among the other famous residents there is legendary golfer Bobby Jones and a bevy of former Georgia governors.

Mitchell's married name was Marsh. In her normal life, she was known as Peggy Marsh. By most accounts, she was an incredibly humble, sincere person. She was raised in a moneyed southern family but lived a rather modest life as an adult.

Her grave was scattered with pennies (a sign of respect) and was well marked on the souvenir map that the cemetery sells for $5. I'd taken some white roses to the Fitzgeralds and felt guilty not having something equally lovely to offer Peggy. However, it was a beautiful autumn day and we took a leisurely stroll around the grounds, admiring several of the old stones and mausoleums.

Her home, a museum created in her honor from the restored remains of an apartment she occupied at the time she began Gone with the Wind, is a sweet tribute to a fiesty woman who would have hated the idea of having a museum created in her honor.

Mitchell's papers were all burned at her death (per her will) and the building which now houses the museum burned almost to the ground as recently as 1996. What remains of any of her actual belongings is scarce. What is known is that she began writing the novel because she had broken her ankle and was confined to her home. Her husband brought her library books to read during her convalescence but she read so voraciously that she soon ran out of interesting material.

She wasn't a confident writer and worried that what she was creating would never be good enough for anyone else to read. As a result, she would bundle the book, by chapter, into manila envelopes and hide the envelopes all over the apartment. This way, she determined, no one could find the completed work. When she and her husband left the apartment where the museum now stands, she packed all of her chapter bundles together and hid them anew in her next home.

She almost didn't publish the work at all, but when an old acquaintance insulted her ability as a writer (she was a reporter for a local publication), she gave the novel to a publisher and insisted he take it away before she changed her mind. That's how Gone with the Wind came into the greater world.

Two years ago, I was in Austin TX for a family wedding when UT's museum was hosting the Gone with the Wind costume exhibit. I saw several of the original costumes worn by Vivien Leigh while I was there. This felt like an extension of that exhibit. The most fascinating thing I learned? The reason that Vivien Leigh first read the novel (which gave her the inspiration not only to audition for the role in the film but also to portray Scarlet so brilliantly) was that she had injured her ankle and, while in bed, was leant a copy. Weird, right?

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