Monroe County Museum
Being an English teacher, visiting the hometown of Harper Lee, on which Maycomb in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird was heavily based, was an absolute must. And, whilst most of the buildings from Lee’s childhood have been demolished, the underwhelmingly-named Monroe County Museum certainly didn’t disappoint.
The museum is housed in the Old Courthouse, which was where Lee’s father, the lawyer AC Lee, tried cases, and of which the courtroom in Mockingbird is an almost exact reproduction. The courtroom has been preserved, and you can just imagine Scout peering over the balcony at Atticus’s just the Tom Robinson trial. Evey Spring, the town puts on a production of Mockingbird with local cast members, with the trial scene taking place in the courtroom, which must be quite a sight.
One of my favourite things about the South is that the attractions are anything but busy, so you get time to linger – we had the entire courtroom to ourselves, which felt very atmospheric. You also get ample opportunity to talk to the museum staff, and once again that was one of the best parts of the day. Rabun, the volunteer running the museum, was charming and knowledgeable, and told us lots about the town and the book (for example, I had no idea that the character of Boo Radley was based on a real recluse in the neighbourhood), as well as chatting with us about England and how Harper Lee had misspelled his name as a child when autographing his book – she thought he couldn’t spell ‘Raymond’ and had corrected it, leaving him embarrassed that she thought him illiterate!
The Staff Were Half the Attraction!
The gift shop was staffed by a 91-year old veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, who’d grown up in Monroeville and gone to school with Lee and Capote (although he hadn’t played with them as they were ‘a few years younger!’). He told us some war stories and opined about how he thought Lee struggled with her sudden fame, and how he thought she never wrote again as she feared could never equal ‘Mockingbird,’ and was fascinating to talk to. Operating the new computerised cash machine, however, was a bit of a struggle for him, and it did take us about 20 minutes to pay for our souvenirs, but it was definitely worth it to have the chance to speak with him. As we left we realised we’d spent three hours at the museum – most of it talking to people! As Rabun said, the buildings of To Kill a Mockingbird may mostly have gone, but the people of the town are very much there – and they were what made this a great place to visit!
New Orleans Drive
From Monroeville, we headed south towards the Gulf Coast and the east to New Orleans. I was driving, and had opted for the coast road (Highway 90) over the Interstate 10. We stopped briefly in Biloxi, Mississippi, which had a harbour and beach, and then carried on, with the road hugging the Gulf Coast. As we headed West, we could see spectacular flashes of lightning illuminating the sky ahead, and knew we were driving straight into the storm.
Of course, it was at this point that (in spite of having a sat nav) I somehow managed to miss a left turnoff, and ended up back on the four-lane interstate just as the heavens opened. It was also dark, and the darkness combined with the downpour and the spray from the goods trucks meant that it was almost impossible to see the line markings. I spent about 10 minutes swearing very loudly and trying not to kill us all before we spotted an exit, and eventually took refuge in a nearby McDonalds until the rain had calmed slightly and we were able to make it back onto the much quieter Highway 90. It was definitely the most stressful leg of the journey so far and once we arrived at the very nice New Orleans Hyatt House Hotel, a Sazerac (New Orleans classic made with absinthe) in the hotel bar was most definitely required!
Highlights: The Monroeville County Museum, the Sazerac!
Lowlights: Interstate 10 in a raging thunderstorm.
Up next: Beignets, ghosts and cockroaches…