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A Wonderful Day at the Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, Georgia

July 8, 2013 by · Comments Off on A Wonderful Day at the Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, Georgia 

Uncle Remus Museum, Eatonton, GA

Uncle Remus Museum, Eatonton, GA

Oh, please don’t throw me in the briar patch, but do stop at the town of Eatonton, Georgia to see the Uncle Remus Museum. It consists of a log cabin made from three Putnam County slave cabins and captures “de critters” humanized by native author Joel Chandler Harris. You’ll see lots of Harris memorabilia and woodcarved dioramas of scenes from the folktales. There are first editions of Harris’ books on display, a sampling of the stories in many other languages, and a large portrait of Uncle Remus from Song of the South signed by Walt Disney.

Ms Georgia Smith, Storyteller

Ms Georgia Smith, Storyteller

But…if you’re lucky, Ms. Georgia Smith will be there telling tales of Brer Rabbit.  She is truly a treasure and I hope someone will record her voice.

Joel Chandler Harris was born in Eatonton in 1845. He dropped out of school at age 17 to work near his hometown on Turnwold Plantation, where he met the slaves. He came to  love African-American folklore and the tradition of storytelling. He later used these memories in his work.

He also learned the newspaper business at the plantation, setting type and writing for The Countryman, one of the largest circulation papers in the Confederacy during the war.

Harris was employed by a handful of newspapers across the South after the war and ended up at the Atlanta Constitution, where he was associated editor for nearly 25 years. It was there he first began writing his Uncle Remus stories, which were released in 1880 in a book entitled Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings.

Brer Rabbit Statue

Brer Rabbit Statue

As a child I watched the Disney version of the Uncle Remus stories: The Song of the South. Like most kids, the story of the Tar Baby was my favorite. The film’s catchy tune “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song and became  a universally recognized favorite. However, some folks considered the movie and tales racist and controversial. Disney re-released portions of the movie but never made the full version available for home video.

In my opinion, the stories are folktales and like those from different cultures must be understood for the time and place they define. Uncle Remus tales are both adult and children’s literature because they work on multiple levels. Let’s just enjoy them and their “laughing place.” I recommend a visit to the Uncle Remus Museum to learn more about the author and his body of work.

Uncle Remus Museum

214 Oak St, Eatonton, Georgia 31024

706 485-6856

Call for hours. No photography inside the museum

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Song of the South program found in Old School History Museum, Eatonton, GA

Song of the South program found in Old School History Museum, Eatonton, GA

Disclosure: Many thanks to the Georgia Department of Economic Development for my trip to this area.

Charleston, South Carolina: A Visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

April 3, 2009 by · Comments Off on Charleston, South Carolina: A Visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens 

gaslight-r.jpg

Gaslights in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston , South Carolina is what you call a southern city. The folks like grits for breakfast; they like shrimp and grits for dinner.

They’re also fond of fried chicken, cornbread, peach cider and pralines. An aura of the Antebellum Old South lingers: stately mansions, cobblestones streets, and the smell of jasmine. These thoughts set my mind a-swirling. I envision hoop skirts, confederate soldiers, debutante balls and Tara.

I decide to visit a real plantation based on a travel brochure which claims, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is one of the top 25 most visited historic houses in America.”If true, this home joins a pretty impressive list: the Biltmore Estate, Mount Vernon, the Betsy Ross House, and Graceland.  In addition, the brochure boasts, “Magnolia maintains the oldest major public garden in America, and is also America’s oldest man-made attraction, having been open to the public since the late 1860s.”  Bold statements indeed; I deem this a must-see. 

The historic site lies off Ashley River Road, just a 20-30 minute drive from downtown. I turn onto a long single lane, stop to pay admission (still in my car) and follow a circuitous path through lanes of tall oaks and Loblolly pines.

Manor House

Magnolia Plantation Manor House

The Manor, as it is called, was originally constructed in 1775 and is the third house in the same the location. Fire destroyed the first two, the second ignited by Union soldiers during the Civil War.

First I take the house tour, which begins on the immense wrap-around porch.  Once again my mind wanders: how relaxing it must be to sit here at sunset and rock back and forth. Then, I come to my senses. South Carolina summers swelter with heat, humidity and mosquitoes; consequently I disband all sentimental thoughts.

The Manor, as it is called, was originally constructed in 1775 and is the third house in the same location.  Fire destroyed the first two, the second ignited by Union soldiers during the Civil War.


Garden

Magnolia Plantation Gardens

Couple strolls by the river

A couple stroll along the banks of the Ashley River

The owners lost most of their wealth in the war, as did many southerners, so they moved a brick cabin to the original site and added on.  My guide, Wanda, explains all this and the family history and furnishings- a mix of early-American antiques, museum-quality quilts and various works of art.

She say,”Magnolia is one of very few estates still owned by the family that built it.” The current, an 11th generation Drayton, lives on the grounds.  I exit into the rear garden, which turns out to be the front since it faces the river.  Fuchsia azaleas, scarlet camellias and lilacs are in bloom, while delicate branches of dogwood trees blossom pink and white.  The scene dances with spring color yet genteel grace.

Live oaks, doused with Spanish moss, guard the riverbank like sentries, except they appear asleep at their post.  The mood is tranquil.  Couples stroll along the romantic walkway while other folks laze on benches.  My attitude has turned into one of, frankly, not giving a damn.  The afternoon beams with radiance, gone is the wind and i”ll listen to the Song of the South.

In addition to the Manor and swamp garden (detailed in an earlier blog) Magnolia Plantation offers “slavery to freedom tours,” boat rides, a nature tram, and miles of walking and biking paths.  Why you can even bring your dog or a canoe, and lest I forget, there’s a petting zoo, gift shop and cafeteria. Sounds rather tacky, but I confess, pretty well concealed into the landscape. www.magnoliaplantation.com



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