Hugh Dorsey Gravitt died almost 20 years ago this month.
If you are an avid fan of Gone With The Wind you know that was the name of the “drunk driver” who “killed” Margaret Mitchell. In every account of the incident, including the newspaper, Gravitt was vilified as a drunk driver who went to prison for the death of one of the world’s most beloved authors.
Before he died Hugh Gravitt told his version of the whole story of what happened that week to his daughter Gloria Gravitt Moulder, who took notes, writing down everything he said. She has just released the startling story in a book called “The Death of Margaret Mitchell, The Tragedy Behind Gone With The Wind” available through SmashWords.com.
What if Gravitt was not drunk? What if he were a concerned stepfather on his way to get a prescription filled for his stepson who was running a fever? He claimed to his daughter that after stopping off for a beer with a co-worker after work he went home and ate dinner with his family. Later that evening he was on his way to the pharmacy when the incident happened.
What if there were other circumstances that happened that fateful evening that were never even investigated? What if due to the fact that she was a famous, wealthy, and beloved person parts of the case were covered up? This is the premise of her book.
Gloria Gravitt Moulder, the daughter of Hugh Dorsey Gravitt, the off-duty taxi driver who hit Margaret Mitchell in the incident that eventually led to her death, has written a book with her family's side of the story. (Photo courtesy Gloria Moulder)
Warning when you read the book: Moulder uses harsh language in it and writes that Mitchell was “murdered” –and it was not by her father. There has always been debate about why Margaret Mitchell and her husband John Marsh appeared to be going different directions as the “speeding car” rounded the corner and she addresses this in the book which can be purchased as an e-book, downloadable, Kindle, or other electronic format.
Hugh Dorsey Gravitt told his daughter the Marshes were facing each other and Margaret appeared to be running “backwards”—not back to the curb as has been described—but literally running backwards, which was towards his car.
He also has an explanation of why he was over the center line: “When dad was driving down Peachtree Street he was following a car that blocked his view of the two people– John Marsh and Margaret Mitchell– and he didn’t see them until that car moved over the center white line to go around them, and as soon as he saw the people in the street he crossed over the center white line to avoid hitting them.”
Moulder says there was a strong scent of alcohol at the scene, but it was not coming from Gravitt.
Why write this story 60 years later? Gloria Gravitt Moulder says that after it happened her father never talked to anyone about it. After he was released from jail he went back to work at the taxi cab company and eventually owned his own business, living his life as a persona non grata but a hard worker at the same time.
Moulder tells her family’s side of the story. It is her first and only book–she is not a writer –and her bitterness is apparent as she writes the story. It is written in a “stream of consciousness” format—a story she just wants to get out—in an unorganized manner.
Because she is so personally connected with the story, she inserts her personal feelings and because of that, her actual research can get lost and the reader could interpret it as sour grapes.
She knows this is the case and that is one reason she wanted to write the book. She wants to get her family’s side of the story out because she feels her father has been wrongly portrayed as a criminal when in her mind he was a person at the wrong place at the wrong time and was used as a scape-goat.
Newspaper reports lump Gravitt in the list of many drunk driving accidents that were occurring in Atlanta at the time, but Moulder says that according to her newspaper research Jaywalking was also a problem. She cites several cases, one that happened the same week with the same police officer, where a driver hit and killed a pedestrian but the surviving pedestrian was charged with Jaywalking and the driver was let go.
“My hope is that my book will stir enough curiosity of legal minds that they will demand the sealed file be opened,” she said this week.
According to Moulder’s book, as Mitchell lay lifeless, face-down on the hot August pavement no one touched her except the ambulance attendant who checked her vital.
“My dad said John (Marsh) never touched her, and neither did anyone else except the medic, and the only thing he did was take her pulse and listen for a heartbeat; then he stood up without ever turning her over from where she was laying on her stomach, making dad think she was already dead.”
That seemed like an outrageous statement, but a picture she sent this writer– which has been published– shows Mitchell alone on the ground while her husband John Marsh stands away from her. In the photo Gravitt stands nearby.
Though parts of the book are hard to read as Moulder makes bold accusations, which are difficult for the reader to take, it is apparent she has done a lot of work and research for her book. Besides reading books about Mitchell’s life, she also researched articles from the Atlanta Journal.
In addition, included in the book’s bibliography: Department of Public Safety- Accident Report with drawing Aug. 11, 1949 signed by Hugh Dorsey Gravitt; Department of Public Safety-Accident Report filed with Clerk of Fulton County Court, Aug. 24, 1949; Georgia State Patrol Motor Vehicle Accident Death Statistical Transcript Aug. 12, 1949, Indictment-State of Georgia-Fulton County Aug. 23, 1949;Sentence Fulton Superior Court State of Georgia, Nov. 16, 1949.
“I also have a lot of documents including Mitchell’s divorce from (Berrien) Upshaw, that many people think was an annulment,” she said. “I also have a copy of (Margaret Mitchell’s) death certificate that shows her only injury was to her head causing brain injuries. None of the documents I have, have been altered in any way, and copies of them can be obtained from the original sources.”
The head injury is important in Dorsey’s story of what he says happened to Mitchell. After her grown son died from a heart-lung transplant and her father was old and ill, he asked if she would like to move to his town and live with him so they could help each other out. It was during this time that he told her his side of the story—a story she had never heard before and that even shocked her.
He felt his memory was clear– as it was a week he would never forget. The book contains claims of whose fault Hugh Gravitt Dorsey felt it was, and talks about how no one wanted to hear his side of the story. Moulder points out that the newspaper that covered the story was the same one Mitchell and her husband had worked for and she questioned their lack of investigating.
Mitchell was friends with the mayor and the governor and even President Truman weighed in after she was hit by the car. Moulder says her father felt no one would believe him if he spoke up and that he would receive a worse sentence.
There was one reporter, Celestine Sibley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who was sympathetic to Gravitt and kept in touch with him, but after her death in 1999 she cannot be asked about her feelings.
Gravitt told his daughter he wanted his side of the story told after he died and for many years she could not bring herself to do it. Finally she felt it was something she wanted to do for her father and for herself, to bring them peace.
The death of Margaret Mitchell was a life-changing event for the Gravitt family. They were considered worse than pariahs and retreated into their own private lives. Every year on August 11, the day of the incident Moulder’s father would receive hateful phone calls from media outlets and regular people.
Moulder’s book accuses a cover-up and says when she tried to investigate what her father had told her, she found the court documents were sealed, which would have included Mitchell’s autopsy. She also felt that when John Marsh burned Mitchell’s belongings including according to Moulder, the clothes Mitchell was wearing when hit by the car, he may have been burning evidence.
“My dad was so traumatized from the incident, then the cover up, lies, and media circus that occurred following it, that he refused to tell what actually happened that day for forty-two years,” she said.
“In my book I explained what dad told me about what happened at the scene,” said Moulder. “He was extremely upset because of the extensive amount of time it took for them to put Margaret Mitchell on the gurney, and into the ambulance to get her to the hospital while they stood around discussing who she was.”
Margaret Mitchell won a Pulitzer Prize for her book and then when David O. Selznick picked it up, it became a major movie winning the Oscar for Best Picture in 1939. For Moulder to come out with a book as explosive as this she has to know the consequences: some people will discount it even without reading it.
“I was cautioned by my dad that before I made what he told me public to make sure I could handle the chaos it would cause,” she said. “Believe me after what he went through I was aware how vicious the media, and people who never wanted the truth to be told could be.”There have been many books written about Margaret Mitchell and Gone With The Wind, and each new books shows how amazing it is that so many people are still interested in it.
Sixty years after Mitchell’s death it was a real shock for me to have been contacted by Hugh Dorsey Gravitt’s daughter.
When I was writing my book, The Making of A Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind
) I tried to talk to everybody I could and I was able to talk to the emergency room nurse who took care of Mitchell that first night and to find out that one of the attendants in the ambulance that arrived at the scene was the son of a friend of Mitchell’s. But I never even considered the possibility of talking to Hugh Dorsey Gravitt’s daughter.
This book just goes to show there are always two sides to every story.