Children's & Middle Grade · History · Other Stuff

Museum Visit: Wren’s Nest (Atlanta, GA)

The Wren’s Nest is one of Atlanta’s historic attractions — the house of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus stories! I visited over Christmas break and was very impressed indeed. (Apologies for the bad Kindle pics, it’s dark in there!) Wren’s Nest promotional materials emphasize that while Uncle Remus can be a racist symbol in the modern day, this is mostly because of the Disney adaptation. The stories actually offered some pretty subversive content at the time. The house tour only addresses this briefly in a pre-tour speech about how Harris, as an illegitimate child, was raised by slaves.

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Props from the movie premier!

Our docent was still a fast talker at 83 years of age, but she was knowledgeable and friendly. This was my first house museum, and I will say it’s disconcerting to be babysat the whole way through, but her tour was very thorough. The house became a museum in 1913 after Joel Chandler Harris’s death in 1908, so there are an impressive number of totally original artifacts in their exact original locations. The tour offers strategically-placed pictures from about 1900 to prove it! They’re understandably proud of each item that’s still in its exact place. His bedroom is untouched and visitors can’t even go in, although they can look.

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His bedroom, with an inadvertent glimpse of our docent.
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Some delightful exact-reproduction wallpaper from their family room.

As you can tell from the wallpaper above, this was quite a fancy house for the time — a Victorian with three floors by the time he was finished. (Harris built onto an existing house, adding several rooms on a second story. His daughters also convinced him to add an indoor bathroom at some point, although he refused to use it himself). They had both gas and electric lighting, even providing individual reading lights over the daughters’ bed. As the docent said, they were “only a LITTLE BIT spoiled.”

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Other features include a vast number of books, mostly locked in cases now because they’re so old. Apparently he insisted the six children read all of them in their entirety. The museum also has a complete collection of Harris’s own books, including all the uninteresting ones he wrote before the Uncle Remus stories. Br’er Rabbit memorabilia takes up a lot of space, too.

Given the marvelous verisimilitude of the open portions of the house, I just wish we could’ve visited more. It already takes a while to go through, but the two rooms on the second floor aren’t open (for fire-safety and structural-integrity reasons), the wife’s bedroom was turned into the office, and at some point there was at least a kitchen downstairs, although I think the family moved it upstairs. It’s just tantalizing to see so much and have these last few rooms withheld!

IMG_20160131_165453There’s a small gift shop on the way out with a few logo items and a nice selection of books, including books of stories written by students in the house’s writing programs. I came away with a medium-sized Uncle Remus collection containing the essential stories (in dialect) and original illustrations, but there are several varieties, from a huge complete edition to a small pocket-sized one, in dialect and in mainstream translation.

Verdict: Recommended!

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