April 21, 2009

Chasing ghosts, fictional and otherwise

Rereading To Kill a Mockingbird and have just completed the Monroe County Heritage Museum's book, Monroeville: The Search for Harper Lee's Maycomb. Some things still remain in the town in which Nelle Harper Lee grew up.

This screencap is from the very last scene in the film, and back on the fireplace mantle is a portrait of Atticus Finch's wife, Jem and Jean Louise's (Scout's) mother, who, according to the novel, died of a heart attack when Scout was two-years-old. We all know Harper Lee's father was an attorney, who was morally and ethically similar to Atticus. But did you know Lee's mother also died before her father? Harper Lee's mother (and here is the first bit of "interesting information") was named Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. Of course the novel has a character who is poor farmer named Walter Cunningham, but even neater is the fact the author's mother's maiden name was Finch. A sweet tribute, I'd say.

For years, at least before Al Gore finally invented the Web, fans primarily knew the reclusive author's appearance to be as it was depicted in this photograph included with the novel's first edition (1960), taken by Truman Capote (picture from)...

...or maybe as she has appeared currently, like in this picture of her receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007:
Bush's greatest presidential act?

So it's a real treat to see a photo of the then chain smoker Harper Lee as a student at the University of Alabama, where she was the editor of the yearbook, Rammer Jammer, during the 1946-47 academic year. This is sometimes what it's like putting blog posts together:

Although perhaps easily mistaken for the prop featured in this touching scene from the film...

..."When Greogory Peck accepted the Oscar for his role in the movie, he had in his hand A.C. Lee's watch, which Harper Lee had given him when her father died." (Monroe County Heritage Museums, p. 15)

"...Gregory Peck was walking through the airport and he ran into somebody. When he stopped to look at his watch, it was gone. He said he just could hardly stand the fact that he had lost Atticus' watch." (p. 15)

Amasa Coleman Lee

"They say that after the book came out and was so popular, people would ask Mr. Lee to sign the book, and he always signed it 'Atticus.'" (p. 15)

The house of the "mysterious neighbor" (Boo Radley)? It's on this map of Monroeville/Maycomb. For a fan of the novel, that's some fascinating stuff!

Finally, the Monroe County Courthouse (c. 1903) would have probably been torn down to make way for a more modern building (as so many courthouses are) had it not been for the novel and film. It has been home to the Monroe County Heritage Museum since 1991.

picture source

The courtroom was used as a model for the film's version and is virtually identical.


Amy said...

Fascinating! I've read the book, loved the book, but didn't know all that trivia. What a wonderful trip, er, pilgrimage you'll have this summer.

On certain days of the week, I'm a lawyer and wow, to try a case in that amazing courtroom...I'd be so distracted I'd lose the case for sure. ;) Except for the movie, I've never seen upper balconies in courtrooms - but then again, I haven't been around the block that much.

Chris said...

Yes, I have a bit of a healthy obsession with it (the novel and film). I can't quite put my finger on what makes it so special to me, and perhaps that is good.

One thing is for sure - you'd sweat like a pig trying a case in that courtroom, or as it would have been in the 1930s - no A.C., of course. Hard to believe.

Anonymous said...

We're naming our son, Atticus. Will be born Nov 26th, 2010.