MID-SOUTH • GULF COAST • NORTHWEST
MID-SOUTH — THE MONROEVILLE OF HARPER LEE
WHERE HARPER LEE LIKED TO EAT
— Radley’s Fountain Grille — A favorite lunch spot for Harper Lee and her older sister Alice, Radley’s is owned by their long-time friend, Sam Therrell, who says the sisters favored his potato soup. Tip: Have some potato soup in honor of Lee, but also indulge in a slice of Therrell’s cake. The strawberry and key lime are both mouth-wateringly good.
— Prop and Gavel Restaurant — A reasonably classy establishment where Lee received the first copies of her recently released novel, Go Set a Watchman. Their menu features everything from burgers to steaks.
— David’s Catfish House — Part of a chain that has locations in Alabama and Florida, this is a place where you can get fried Southern oysters or French fried potatoes. It’s also where Mark Childress, another Monroeville author, finally met his heroine, Harper Lee. (Tip: don’t miss Childress’s Crazy in Alabama. “If Flannery O’Connor and Stephen King had written a book together, this would be it. Hilarious and scary!” says another Alabama author, Fannie Flagg.
— Fast Food Lunches — If you’re hankering for fast food, don’t feel guilty. Just say you’re shadowing Harper Lee. Before her stroke, she enjoyed coffee chats with her friends at the likes of Hardees, McDonalds and Burger King.
HARPER LEE’S FAVORITE ACTIVITES
— Enjoying the Countryside — Lee often took drives with her friends, exploring the rural roads and tiny villages that surround Monroeville. www.Alabamafrontporches.org
— Feeding the Slots — The Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore, 40 miles south of Monroeville, was attractive to Lee, partly because she enjoyed playing the slots but also because she was rarely recognized. To most folks she wasn’t a famous author but just another gray-haired senior hoping to turn a quarter into a windfall. www.windcreekatmore.com/
— Playing Golf — Lee frequently played golf with friends, including the wife of local resident George Jones. “As long as we treated her normal, not like some famous author, she was good to be with,” says George.
NOTES FROM A LONG-TIME ACQUAINTANCE
George Thomas Jones has known Nelle Harper Lee since she was born in 1926. If you’re lucky, you can find him chatting with visitors at Radley’s Fountain Grille, where he’ll discuss everything from Monroeville in the Thirties to Nelle’s favorite high school teacher and her scuffles on the grade school playground. A few examples:
“Truman Capote depicted us as all being dirt poor. But we grew up in the Thirties. Truman’s relatives, the Faulks, were as affluent as anybody. Nobody in Monroeville starved.”
“Truman Capote was small, but he was a good athlete. He liked to hop up onto a wall and walk on his hands. Then he’d taunt the other boys. “Now you do this,” he’d say. They’d come after him, but he didn’t like to fight. He’d run away.”
“Nelle wasn’t a great athlete, but she was a real tomboy. Once a fifth grade kid snatched her hair. She caught him and gave him a left hook. The kid came after her with two buddies, so she popped him in the mouth and pretty soon she had all three boys on the ground.”
TO LEARN MORE
The gift shop in the courthouse museum is well-stocked with books by and about Lee and Capote. For those interested in Lee, Mark Baggett, a Stamford (Alabama) professor of English and law, recommends two books: Harper Lee (Up Close) by Kerry Madden and Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields. For those who want to learn more about Truman Capote’s childhood, he suggests Truman Capote’s Southern Years: Stories From a Monroeville Cousin.
— Jesse’s Restaurant — The food is good, but the ambiance is even better. The building dates back to 1922, when it was a general store, immortalized in Fannie Flagg’s Redbird Christmas as the home of Jack, the red bird. Best of all, it’s a frequent hang-out for Butch Mannich, who, as a young boy, was the prototype for Stick, one of the book’s characters, and says that 85% of the book is fictionalized fact. He enjoys regaling diners with tales of old Magnolia Springs and, as an added bonus, the former private eye is an expert at handwriting analysis. www.jessesrestaurant.com/
— Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Bar in Florence — Famous for their orange-pineapple ice cream which features chunks of the two fruits mixed in a creamy surround, the ice cream is a definite winner on a steamy Alabama day. Also good: pimento cheese sandwiches.
— Champy’s in Muscle Shoals — A down-home place where visitors can feel like locals, Champy’s serves baskets of crisp fried chicken atop red-checkered tablecloths. Today Champy’s is a small chain with only five locations—three in Alabama, one in Georgia and one in Tennessee, but it’s won several awards from Southerners who know good Southern food when they taste it. Expect to see Champy’s in more locations soon. http://champyschicken.com