2011–The 75th Anniversary of GWTW, the book, based in part on writings from the Mitchell family scrapbook, shown above.
This week’s article comes to you from Lexington, Kentucky, the home of Belle Brezing, after whom the legendary madam Margaret Mitchell based her Gone With The Wind character Belle Watling was based. The drive down highway 64 from St. Louis is beautiful in June and when you get near Lexington, there are horse farms with families of horses standing behind fences.
When Gone With The Wind came out, the people of Lexington recognized Belle Brezing in Rhett Butler’s confidante Belle Watling. Mitchell always denied any of her characters were patterned after real people, but as The Making Of A Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel Gone With The Wind shows, there were many characters based on real people.
Chapter seven in the book is devoted to the story of Belle Brezing, and without giving it all away, there were at least three buildings still standing in Lexington where Brezing lived and “worked.”
The Gratz Park Inn, where we stayed was one of them, according to Jamie Millard of the Lexington History Museum, the people who had invited me to appear at their fundraising event, “Belle’s Birthday Ball.” Walking into the lobby of the hotel, one feels like they are actually in one of Miss Belle’s houses because she was known for having the classiest brothel in the region. The furniture is beautiful.
I felt like a queen when I checked in and they knew who I was. Then when I got to my room there was an envelope printed out with my name on it, and inside was an engraved Gratz Park Inn stationary card welcoming me.
I was happy to be able to do a booksigning with Kathy Witt, the author of The Secret of the Belles, and to see Gone With The Wind collector Patrisha Henson, who lives in Kentucky. Upon returning to our room, we found that there was ice in our ice bucket and glasses with bottled water sitting next to them.
It had been a hot evening with the event being held outside, so the idea of ice water sounded great. I made myself a glass and got into the four poster bed with the Tempur-pedic mattress and pillows. I looked around at the room and thought “it looks so homey.” Then I got to thinking, why do people think they want a hotel room with “all the amenities of home.” What we really want is a hotel room with all the amenities of a rich person’s home—and that’s what the Gratz Park Inn offered.
The next day we could not wait to wake up for the “Chef Prepared” breakfast. The only problem was the mattress and “down” coverlet was so comfortable we missed it, but the woman at the desk hooked us up with some yogurt, breakfast bars and coffee. I really want to thank the people at the Gratz Park Inn, especially Keith, who went he extra mile and when I came home from the event, he presented me with information on several things I had mentioned I’d like to see while in Lexington. I appreciate the Lexington History Museum for hosting me. If you ever get the chance to stay at the Gratz Park Inn be sure to do it.
The next stop was a speech at the Ashland Terrace Retirement Home. I had made a promise that if I were ever in Lexington I would go there and meet Ric McGee who had helped me get resident Ethel McCreary who had wonderful memories of Belle Brezing. I interviewed her for my book and she told me about how her brother and his friends would pile into the car and drive past Belle’s house and wave. He delivered telegrams there so he actually got to know her.
Unfortunately Ethel had just passed away, but I wore my green, hooped skirt and talked to the other ladies, filling them in on all that their friend had known about Belle. I am so lucky I decided to write this book because as the years go by, fewer and fewer people will be around who knew those involved with Gone With The Wind.
By Sally Tippett Rains, author of The Making Of A Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel, Gone With The Wind (www.GWTWbook.com).