Bridges' legacy lives on at Road To Tara
by W. Winston Skinner
The Road To Tara Museum in Jonesboro attracts visitors from around the world.They come to see exhibits related to Margaret Mitchell's acclaimed novel, 'Gone With the Wind,' and the blockbuster film the book inspired. There also is an exhibit area detailing the real Civil War experience in Clayton County where Mitchell set her iconic story.
Many of the items displayed at Road To Tara come from the collection of Herb Bridges, a Sharpsburg mail carrier who collected GWTW memorabilia for decades. Bridges died in September.
Road To Tara recently dedicated its new exhibit on Ann Rutherford, who played Carreen O'Hara in the film, and the roundels - part of Bridges' collection - which were used to promote the film's premiere in Atlanta in 1939.
'We are excited tonight to have them and to show them to the world,' Frenda Turner, interim executive director of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said of the roundels.
Bridges' wife, Eleanor, was among the Cowetans attending the dedication program in the historic depot in downtown Jonesboro on Nov. 8.
'So much of what we had in the museum' when it opened came from Bridges' collection, said Linda Summerlin, chairman of the Clayton CVB. John Wiley Jr., a longtime friend of Bridges and editor and publisher of 'The Scarlett Letter,' spoke about Bridges.
'We're here to pay tribute to a remarkable man,' Wiley said.
'We're still sort of in a state of shock, but we all have a lot of great memories,' he said. Wiley described Bridges as 'a Southern gentleman of the old school' who stood in the presence of women and focused completely on people with whom he was conversing.
'He had a wonderful, infectious laugh,' Wiley said, his voice occasionally tinged with emotion. 'He loved 'Gone With the Wind,' and he got excited for the rest of us who loved 'Gone With the Wind.'' Bridges connected many 'Windies,' fans of the GWTW phenomenon - leading to lasting friendships. 'We got to know each other through Herb,' Wiley said.
'We always have to thank Herb's family for sharing him with us. They were his first love, but they shared him,' Wiley said.
'Herb was such a joy to work with,' Turner said. 'All of us experienced our loss with Herb.'
'We're here to celebrate the 75th anniversary of 'Gone With the Wind,' the film,' said Danielle Conroy, a museum staffer who greeted visitors at the event. She noted the roundels - large paintings depicting the four main characters in the film - were on the Richardson Building across from Loew's Grand Theater when the movie premiered.
'We were trying to figure out when was a good time to bring them out. We decided to bring them out for the 75th,' Conroy said.
Space for the roundels was freed by the creation of a new exhibit about the Civil War in Clayton County.
Bridges retrieved them from a storage area at Loew's Grand, which had its beginnings as an opera house, after the 1967 re-premiere. He said Bridges 'climbed this little ladder' into a loft area that was 'very dark, very dirty.' Bridges got the roundels and a hand-lettered sign that is now at Road To Tara.
There were four large white columns that had lined the front of the theater at the re-premiere that Bridges did not get - not having anywhere to store them. Bridges always regretted not getting them.
'They would have looked awfully nice back here somewhere,' Wiley said with a smile.
'He was always very sharing with his collection and with his knowledge and with his friendship. We miss him, but we're so glad we got to know him,' Wiley said.
A number of new items on display 'were donated to the museum by Ann Rutherford's daughter from her estate,' Conroy said. Rutherford visited the museum several years ago. She signed autographs and greeted fans - seated at a table with Bridges.
Rutherford 'did want to have part of her collection in a museum and to carry on the 'Gone With the Wind' legacy,' Conroy said.
'The museum was opened 12 years ago in October 2001. Little would we have thought we would travel the road to be be where we are today,' Summerlin said.
Beda Johnson, tourism division director with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said Clayton County is the fourth ranking county in the state for tourism revenue - behind Fulton, Cobb and Chatham. Tourism in Clayton County has a $1.2 billion impact from tourism, which brings $32.7 million in local tax revenues.
'Gone With the Wind' book and film - tell 'the epic story of the graciousness of the South,' Johnson said. 'That is something people come from all over the world to see.'
Road To Tara 'is always a work in progress and always changing,' Summerlin said. She spoke of the museum as 'this beautiful treasure we have here in Jonesboro, Clayton County.'
'The museum is definitely a star in the crown of Jonesboro,' said Joy Day, mayor of the city.