Archive for August, 2009

Part Two: What This Crazy Old House Has Been Talking About Lately

Written on August 31, 2009 at 9:38 am, by Amelia

And now more recent posts from @thewrensnest on Twitter!  See, I told you the wait would be short.  Dive in!

  • Looking for a sweet little ditty to sing on or around the first day of school? Give this charming tune a try!
  • Air conditioning is great and all, but let’s be serious: not having it is no reason to raze an Addison Mizner mansion.
  • THE ECONOMIST thinks Pres. Obama was born in the Briar Patch. They don’t have conclusive evidence though (KIDDING!).
  • Yankee hipsters discover “new vintage.” How quaint! Like when a friend discovers Al Jolson.

landmark sign

  • National Historic Landmark plaque no longer in a corner on the floor? Check!

So: what do you think about putting all of these posts up here?  A good idea?  A bad idea?  An okay idea that really doesn’t affect your life that much?  Do tell!

Part One: We Don’t Want You To Miss A Historic Preservation-Related Thing

Written on August 29, 2009 at 9:47 am, by Amelia

Throughout the week, Lain and I post some pretty darn interesting things (to people who like historic preservation) on a little website I like to call Twitter.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.

We also know that some of you have not jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, and have thus missed those posts.

Not anymore, friend, not anymore.

We’re going to try to regularly round up recent tweets from @thewrensnest.  Expect more links than you can shake a stick at.  Oh, and just so you know, the museum itself speaks in first person on Twitter and has no shortage of opinions.  I hope you enjoy.

Some oldies but goodies to set the mood:

  • Typing is hard. Because I’m a house.
  • (On Super Bowl Sunday) Note to self: please do not catch on fire today.
  • What happens when you have fresh paint on your outside and there’s a tornado warning? I’m about to find out.

Flags from twitpic

  • Drat! The humans found my 45 star flags. I still don’t trust that Oklahoma.

alleycat twitpic

  • ATL Alleycat Black History Bike Race used me as one of their checkpoints. Thanks, humans.

More (recent posts) to come shortly!

Catching Up With Wayfarer’s Diary

Written on August 28, 2009 at 12:02 pm, by Amelia

Good news!  Since our last update, where we asked you to vote on a cover, the Wren’s Nest Publishing Co. has been moving forward at a clipped pace.

First: in a 4 to 3 vote, Lauren Lee‘s cover was chosen for the journal.  Huzzah!

Wayfarer's Front Cover Only

Congrats to those of you who feel your voices were heard.  To the rest of you: nuts!  And to Lucy Inman: thanks for ensuring it was a tight race!

While you were holding your breath for the cover results, the students:

  • chose their favorite 32(!) pieces to include in the journal
  • edited them (or didn’t touch them at all, in many cases) to perfection
  • created a lovely layout plan for the journal
  • became unpleasantly close with InDesign
  • had an epic 8-hour meeting that stretched until midnight to finish Wayfarer’s Diary by the deadline

Many a hump has been busted, I tell you what.

The journal will, of course, be sold at the Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day Weekend.  You’ll be able to pick it up at the Wren’s Nest booth, where Lain and I will be camped out, sweaty and drinking beer, or from the editors themselves, who will be hawking their wares around the festival.  I don’t want to spread rumors, but there’s word of a banana costume.  (And, subsequently, a promise of heatstroke.)

Hope to see you there!

Crum and Forster Building Granted Landmark Status

Written on August 27, 2009 at 11:22 am, by Lain Shakespeare

The Crum and Forster building has been granted Landmark status by Mayor Franklin, says Maria Saporta.  Franklin’s signature follows a unanimous vote by the Atlanta City Council to preserve the building as a city landmark.


The Georgia Tech Foundation is appealing the decision to deny a demolition permit and may also appeal this decision, which must be heartening to Georgia Tech architects the world over.  That said, it’s still a major victory for the building, the neighborhood, and historic preservation in Atlanta.

Preservation in Atlanta: 14!  Demolition in Atlanta: 36,871

Sneak Peek of Wren’s Nest Interior

Written on August 26, 2009 at 9:55 am, by Lain Shakespeare

Jonathan Hillyer, amazing architectural photographer, recently snapped a few photos of the Wren’s Nest to mark the completion of our conservation project.

All photos are copyright Jonathan Hillyer, but if you want to use ’em, you can ask me nicely.  Here are the first four we could get our grubby little hands on:

Copyright Jonathan Hillyer

This is the girls’ bedroom.  Lillian and Mildred, pictured above the mantle, grew up being called Billie and Tommie.  As I understand it, they were spoiled pretty good.

Wren's Nest Living Room

The living room was probably never this clean when Joel Chandler Harris lived here with his wife, mother, niece, 6 kids, and myriad of farm animals.

Wren's Nest Dining Room

The table and chairs in the dining room came as a set from Sears for $25.  Note how the ceiling is wallpapered.  As I understand it, that’s kinda like buying a house today with granite countertops.

Joel Chandler Harris Bedroom at the Wren's Nest

Joel Chandler Harris’ bedroom is the most famous room in the house.  It’s dressed for summer because Harris passed away in July of 1908.  When Mrs. Harris sold the house to the Uncle Remus Memorial Association, her stipulation was that this room not be touched, so it’s just as it was when Harris lived here.

The crib is an exception, but it is original to the home and the Harris family.  In fact, it’s still used by the Harris family from time to time.  When I was a wee babe, that was my crib.

Thanks again to Jonathan Hillyer for the photos.  There are a few more where these came from, too.

Georgia Theater Accepting Donations for Renovation — Cool or Uncool?

Written on August 19, 2009 at 2:24 pm, by Amelia

One of the AJC’s new blogs, Inside Access, recently featured news about the Georgia Theatre, which was ravaged by a fire in June.

The Georgia Theater in Athens, GA

(Photo courtesy of neuftoes)

The theater, located in Athens, is now accepting donations through the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation to help offset construction costs.  If the commenters are to be believed (and given the history of commenters at the AJC, this is at best hazardous), this partnership has gotten some major panties in a bunch.

Recently, there have been a few for-profit businesses (Paste, Wordsmiths (RIP)) that have asked for donations to keep themselves alive.  The mixing of profit with non-profit tactics really ticked some people off.

Yet we, as a non-profit, ask for donations to stay alive all the time.  Really, it’s pretty much all we do.  And to date, not one person has yelped, “Well, I NEVER!” in response.

Now, I know there are inherent differences (like tax-exemption).  But how severe are those differences from the viewpoint of the Average Joe who’s happy to see both the Wren’s Nest and the Georgia Theatre in his neighborhood?  Should he not financially support the theater because it’s for-profit, even though the end result is essentially the same for him?

I know the simple logic is “Well derr, Amelia — you support the theater by giving them money to see shows they put on.  Idiot.”  But that’s hard to do when the theater is all “non-functional” and “charred.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I have donated my hard-earned pennies to for-profits, but not all that asked.  And with a lot more deliberation than when I’ve donated to non-profits.

What do y’all think?  Would you donate to the Georgia Theatre?

(500) Days of Summer and Happy Bluebirds

Written on August 18, 2009 at 2:43 pm, by Amelia

Have y’all seen (500) Days of Summer?

500 Days of Summer with Joseph Gordon-Levitt

If not, you should remedy that situation immediately.  It’s a charming lil’ piece of cinema.  It also sports a not-at-all subtle nod to Song of the South, as seen above.

It’s neat that despite attempts to sweep Song of the South under the rug, its cultural influence remains largely undiminished, especially in film.

I mean, it’s totally understood that a bluebird swooping in means good times aplenty.  And let me tell you — it’s a legit good times in the scene above, hoo boy.

President Obama Born, Raised in the Briar Patch

Written on August 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

At least, that’s what The Economist reckons, in regard to delaying immigration reform until an election year —

The conventional wisdom now seems to be that Mr Obama is hesitating to go ahead with a “controversial”, “polarising” bill that will doubtless engender “fierce opposition”. As Brer Rabbit would say, please, don’t throw me in that briar patch!

So if President Obama is playing the role of Brer Rabbit, what does that make Fox News?

I’d also like to point out that the title of this post has nothing to do with birth certificates.  I am certain there are briar patches in Hawaii.

For more context, here’s one of our storytellers, Donald Griffin, telling the famous story about Brer Rabbit, the Tar-Baby, and the Briar Patch.

The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story

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Arborguard and the Wren’s Nest — Scratchin’ Backs

Written on August 7, 2009 at 1:57 pm, by Amelia

For a while now we’ve been in cahoots (dropped some terminology, sorry) with several local businesses.  In exchange for their services — at a free or discounted price because we’re a wee and adorable non-profit — we put their logo on all sorts of things: our brochure, our t-shirts, our… brochure!

Please help us welcome our newest friend to the party.

Arborguard Tree Specialists -- Sponsors of the Wren's Nest!

Arborguard, a tree specialist company “For people who love trees” (me!  I love trees!), has generously offered to do greatly discounted work on our yard, which is pretty darn nice.  It’s also important because oh man, with two and quarter acres, we have a lot of trees, and many of them are terrifying.  It’s a race against the clock — one in particular is just aching to fall on some sweet old blue hair.

This is similar to what Rentokil does for us and our pest control, and we all know how much we need that service.

So thanks, Arborguard.  This is the beginning of a beautiful working business relationship.

1967 Editorial Condemns Segregation at the Wren’s Nest, Praises Uncle Remus

Written on August 5, 2009 at 4:19 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

This week I happened to read Malcolm Gladwell’s  “Atticus Finch and Southern Liberalism” and Kevin Kruse’s White Flight: Atlanta and the making of modern conservatism.

Both works tackle mid-20th century perceptions of “racial justice.”  For African-Americans, this meant equal rights.  For many whites, this meant “freedom of association” (or, in other words, the freedom to maintain segregated neighborhoods).

Yesterday I stumbled across a 1967 Atlanta Journal editorial about the Wren’s Nest by the esteemed journalist Reese Cleghorn.  It’s about racial justice at the Wren’s Nest, which had sided with the “freedom of association” camp even well after 1967.  Yikes!

No Integrated Classes Admitted -- The Sign of the Wren's Nest

The editorial is a damning criticism of the Joel Chandler Harris Memorial Association that ran our museum until 1983.  But it’s also an eloquent defense of Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus that is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.

I love how Cleghorn points out that Harris’ desire for “the obliteration of prejudice against the blacks” was later completely ignored in the name of (the white version of) “racial justice.”

We Distort Them: Of Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus

Reese Cleghorn, December 8, 1967

IT IS A grievous thing that Atlanta’s major memorial to Joel Chandler Harris is among the last of its public places to be segregated.

A suit has just been filed in federal court asking for an order to end racial discrimination at the Wren’s Nest, Harris’ home in West End.  The home is now a museum operated by a private association in memory of Harris and in honor of his “Uncle Remus” stories.  It has admitted Negroes in the group, by special arrangement, but it turns them away individually.

The courts will have to determine whether a private association may do this even though it is open to the general public.  But whatever the outcome, it seems in order to contemplate what Harris himself would have thought.

I am very glad that a granddaughter, Mrs. Mildred Harris Camp Wright, has now publicly expressed herself on that.  In a letter to The Constitution, she has refuted a report that Harris’ will required a policy of segregation at the Wren’s Nest.

*    *    *

“GRANDFATHER HAD no will–everything was left to his widow,” she wrote.  “He had no idea that there would be a memorial to him–and if he had, he would not have required such a policy.  His stories were about the Negro, and were written with affection, sympathy, and understanding. “

I think Harris would have been appalled that such a practice could be followed even now, in 1967, at the Wren’s Nest.

In 1905 he wrote to his friend Andrew Carnegie that he would publish an Uncle Remus magazine, and that its purpose would be to further “the obliteration of prejudice against the blacks, the demand for a square deal, and the uplifting of both races so that they can look justice in the face without blushing.”

*    *    *

HOW THE PRESENT directors of the Wren’s Nest can look that attitude in the face without blushing is beyond me.  They and their predecessors have performed a a great service to the community by keeping this museum alive when it otherwise would have been neglected, but they seem not to fully understand about Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus.

Many people do not.  The man and his stories have been enshrouded in the fog of the new white supremacist period that began, in earnest, at just about the time Harris died in 1908.  That was the year that Georgia embarked upon forced segregation.  Within two years, the legislature had done its deed, fastening that system upon us for half a century.

*    *    *

TOO MANY PEOPLE look back through that fog from which we just now are emerging and think that a man who lived in Harris’ time must have though in the same way that many men of 20 or 30 years ago thought.  They would make congenial and gentlemanly bigots of men like Harris and, for that matter, Robert E. Lee (who, it is now forgotten, rose from his pew and went to the communion rail of his church with a Negro when no one else would).

People have forgotten, also, that the stories Harris put down in his “Uncle Remus” books were not his own, and he was always the first to say so.  They were the authentic lore, wisdom and folk poetry of Southern Negroes of that time.  They are today one of the worlds’ greatest collections of such literature.

*    *    *

NOW SOMETIMES PEOPLE praise them as the inventions of a fine writer.  But Harris himself wrote of the stories: “Not one of them is cooked, and not one nor any part of one is an invention of mine.”  He was a man of great artistry who faithfully collected the stories wherever he could find them, usually from ex-slaves, and presented them in their true dialect.

*    *    *

THE DIALECT VARIED, depending, for instance, upon whether he gathered them on the Georgia coast from “Gullas” (people apparently with origins in Angola) or in North Georgia from people who had come from other parts of Africa.  The stories were probably of remote African origin, he thought; folklorists, such as Dr. Stella Brewer Brooke [sic] of Clark College, have confirmed the African origins and the connections between these stories and others to be found in Asia.

The stories, and Harris’ care in setting them down, are part of a great heritage which is still not fully recognized by white or Negro Southerners.  To some, Uncle Remus is only Uncle Tom, and the use of dialect is offensive because of the racist manner in which dialect often has been used.

*    *    *

HARRIS DID NOT like the confusion between his authentic use of dialect and the minstrel-variety use of it, which usually simply amounted to the telling of racist jokes.  He said he once intended “to apologize for the plantation dialect,” but then he realized that some of the greatest of English literature–in Chaucer, for example–is in the form of authentic dialect.

In his best days he paled when what he did was confused by the attitudes and prejudices of others, who seemed to be hearing something he was not saying.  The worth and humanity of the people out of whom the stories came was clear to him, and as evidenced in his letter to Carnegie, he hoped for the “obliteration of prejudice.”  His own words would be the best text for the Wren’s Nest.