Recently, I was surprised with the opportunity to experience a literary treasure. A day trip to the hometown of a beloved author and the setting for my favorite book. To me, Monroeville, Alabama was like walking in to a dream. Not only was I visiting the place that inspired authors Harper Lee and Truman Capote (among others), but I was strolling the street and sitting in the courthouse that shaped the setting and tone of To Kill a Mockingbird. It was surreal.
Driving in to Monroeville, I was immediately transported to Maycomb – looking for Scout who was sure to be sneaking around Boo Radley’s yard with her brother Jem and neighbor Dill. It is all there, the Finch homestead, the basis for the Radley house, the jail, school and courthouse and all in the proximity you’d imagine.
Even in 2016, Monroeville exudes a charm of long ago and allows those visiting to reminisce of simpler times.
The Monroe County Old Courthouse Museum is likely the biggest attraction in town. Not only is the courthouse the setting for some of the biggest scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird, but the makers of the film built an exact replica of the courtroom on a soundstage when they realized filming in the actual location would be too difficult. Walking through the door of the courtroom transports you to some of the most poignant scenes in literary history.
More than just the courtroom, the museum offers exhibits honoring Nelle Harper Lee, Truman Capote and To Kill a Mockingbird – both its film and stage productions. The displays are well done – informative and interesting. Additionally, the courthouse houses displays of Monroeville’s historic past that add a glimpse in to part of the inspiration behind the book.
Although the exhibits are top-notch, Mr. Jones is perhaps one of the biggest treasures at the museum. He is a local historian; knew Capote in his youth (though in his words, “never had much use for him – he was a bit arrogant”), was friends with Lee and in his 94 years has experienced it all. He is happy to answer any questions you might have and has some great stories to share.
For the opportunity to chat with Mr. Jones, be sure to visit on a Saturday.
The staff of volunteers were incredibly helpful and accommodating on our trip. One of the gentleman that was working on Saturday (I am truly sorry I didn’t get his name) even took the time to take us and another family on a tour around the area and to the cemetery to see Lee’s grave site as she had passed earlier in the year.
After visiting all of the sites, we had a bite to eat at Mel’s Dairy Dream before leaving town. Aside from serving a great Patty Melt, it is also located where Lee’s childhood home once stood (the inspiration for the Finch’s home). Unfortunately, the house was sold before the book was even written and torn down – the Dairy Dream built in its place. However, remnants of Capote’s family home are right next door for all to explore.
I recommend arriving in Monroeville in the morning, when the museum opens, allowing plenty of time to tour the entire museum and visit the other historical spots in town. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday 10AM-4PM and Saturdays 10AM-1PM, closed Sundays, Mondays and most holidays. For more information about the museum and the various events they have going on throughout the year – including a local production of To Kill a Mockingbird performed on site each spring – visit their website at http://www.monroecountymuseum.org/ and follow them on Facebook.