18 October 2009

Monroeville, Alabama: Harper Lee and Truman Capote: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #6

I drive up to the center of this tiny town, right next to the old courthouse – at about 12:00 – although the clocks here say it's 11:00, and I realize that we've crossed from eastern time to central time. Mosquitoes scramble around my legs, and as a result of the havoc they play, later I shall be doomed to wearing long pants and socks from now on, no matter how hot it is.

A young local girl stops her car and says:

'You guys need any help?'

'No thanks, I think we can figure things out'.

'You doin' the town tour?'

'Yeah, if we can work it all out.'

'Awesome! have a great time, y'all!'

I love Americans, I love America, and for a brief time I feel as though I'm on the same planet as others.

The above marker reads:

'The Old Monroe County Courthouse, designed by prominent Southern architect Andrew Bryan, was built between 1903 and 1904 during the tenure of Probate Judge Nicholas Stallworth. One of two buildings of the type designed by Bryan (a sister courthouse in LaGrange, Georgia was destroyed by fire), the architectural style is Romaneque with a Georgian influence [sic.] It was constructed by Louisville, Kentucky contractor M. T. Lewman. The courthouse was the seat of most county offices and the site of court cases until the construction of the new courthouse in 1963. The lasting fame of this building is derived from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as the motion picture of the same name which features the now-famous courtroom scene. Today this site is on the National Historic register and is a national literary Mecca.'

At the side of the old courthouse is a stone with a marker placed by the Alabama State Bar in 1997. It reads:


"Lawyers, I suppose, were children once." These words of Charles Lamb are the epigraph to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel about childhood and about a great and noble lawyer, Atticus Finch. The legal profession has in Atticus Finch, a lawyer-hero who knows how see and how to tell the truth, knowing the price the community, which Atticus loves, will pay for the truth. The legal profession has in Atticus Finch, a lawyer-hero who knows how to use power and advantage for moral purposes, and who is willing to stand alone as the conscience of the community. The legal community has in Atticus Finch, a lawyer-hero who possesses the knowledge and experience of a man, strengthened by the untainted insight of a child.

'Children are the original and universal people of the world; it is only when they are educated into hatreds and depravites that children become the bigots, the cynics, the greedy, and the intolerant, and it is then that "there hath passed away a glory from the earth." Atticus Finch challenges the legal profession to shift the paradigm and make the child the father of the man in dealing with the basic conflicts and struggles that permeate modern existence.

'Symbolically, it is now the legal profession that sits in the jury box as Atticus Finch concludes his argument to the jury: "In the name of God, do your duty."

I have no idea what relation – if any – Lee Motor Co. has to Harper Lee, but the mockingbird symbol, in one way or another, obviously dominates the town.

The marker below, at the side of the demolished childhood home of Truman Capote, reads:

'TRUMAN CAPOTE (1924–1984)

'On this site stood the home of the Faulk family of Monroeville, relatives of the writer Truman Capote. Capote himself lived in this home between 1927 and c. 1933, and for several years spent his summer vacations here. Two of the Faulk sisters operated a highly successful millinery shop located on the town square. The third sister, affectionately known as "Sook", was the inspriation for characters in The Glass Harp, The Thanksgiving Visitor, and A Christmas Memory. The original structure on this site burned to the ground in 1940, and the second home was demolished in 1988. Monroeville remained important to Capote throughout his life, and he returned to the area many times in the year before his death to visit surviving relatives.'

'I won't be here forever, Buddy. Nor will you........the Lord willing, you'll be here after I've gone. And as long as you remember me, then we'll always be together.'

Truman Capote, The Thanksgiving Visitor

Below: the site of Harper Lee's home, next door to Capote's.

Now Monroe County Library, this was LaSalle Hotel previously, where Gregory Peck stayed during the filming of the film To Kill a Mockingbird.

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