12 Accomplishments of the Wren’s Nest in 2020

After a long, very uncertain year, we wanted to take the time to reflect and give thanks for all that we have been able to accomplish in this environment. Over the last 12 days of 2020, we celebrated 12 items we accomplished over the course of the year. We hope you enjoy this look back and will consider making a donation to support The Wren’s Nest’s continued efforts as well as its wonderful storytellers: https://supportstories.org/

*Please note, this list is not necessarily in order of importance.

 

 

1. Virtual Storytelling. When the pandemic hit, we couldn’t bear to let our weekly storytelling lapse. So we adapted to a virtual format. Since April, we’ve had 34 performances from 15 storytellers! Watch their performances now at www.wrensnest.org/virtual-storytelling

 

 

 

2. Renovations made possible by the Gable Foundation. Thanks to their generous help, we were able to renovate our back and front stairs as well as create our new Gable Gallery space in the former back bedroom. This will allow us to have a designated exhibition space moving forward and we are very grateful to the Gable Foundation for making this happen.

 

 

3. Improvements to our backyard, including our storytelling circle, new pathways, and new flower beds. We could not have done this without the generous help of Deloitte.

 

 

 

4. Adapting our Scribes program. The pandemic closed Atlanta Public Schools midway through our annual middle school writing program and we were unsure it would continue. However, like so many, we adapted, taking our sessions and the students’ publications online. You can read the stories and story excerpts from the 2020 Scribes here: https://wrensnest.org/scribes-spring-2020/

 

 

5. Adapting our programs to a virtual setting. This is includes our 5 online book talks and 4 nights of virtual Ghost Hunting with the Southeastern Institute for Paranormal Research. Thank goodness for our flexible partners and for Zoom!

 

6. Launching our first guided virtual tour. We are so grateful that the timing for our grant from Georgia Humanities worked out so well. It allowed us to create this tour and enabled over a 1,000 visitors to explore the museum virtually since the launch this spring. Take the tour now at www.wrensnest.org/virtual-tours

 

 

7. Revitalized blog. As evidenced by this post, our once dormant blog is dormant no more! Instead, it is now full of historical, current, and fun information associated with the Wren’s Nest. Explore the blog now at www.wrensnest.org/news

 

 

 

8. Celebrating the art of Brer Rabbit. This year, we launched our first online gallery of the various illustrations of the beloved trickster (https://wrensnest.org/brer-rabbit-gallery/). We also hosted our first drawing challenge, encouraging our audience to try their own hand at depicting Brer Rabbit for a chance to win a prize. You can see all the talented and creative submissions we received at https://wrensnest.org/may-2020-brer-rabbit-drawing…/

 

 

9. A new interactive version of the Harris family tree. Thanks to a grant from Georgia Humanities we were able to create this new digital education tool, allowing visitors to learn more about Harris and his family. Explore the tree now at: https://wrensnest.org/wrens-nest-family-tree/

 

10. Establishing an advisory board. Along with the ongoing recruitment of new members that will bring new perspectives and connections to The Wren’s Nest, this advisory board that increases our ongoing connections to those people who have been a part of the leadership of The Wren’s Nest. Members include former board chairs, former board members, and the descendants of Joel Chandler Harris. This board allows for members to have a long-term, but more casual connection with the Nest.

 

11. A new finance and constituent database. While times are certainly lean at The Wren’s Nest at the moment, we are excited that we have a new and better system for capturing our financial and audience information. Although it’s still under development, this comprehensive database allows us to stay better connected with those who have an ongoing bond with The Wren’s Nest. It is also especially useful for sharing our thanks and gratitude to our donors.

 

 

 

 

12. Hiring a new Executive Director. We were excited to have Dean Baker join our team this past fall and introduce the idea of the Next Nest. Find out more about both Dean and the new initiative here: https://wrensnest.org/what-is-it-about-the-wrens-nest/

 

 

 

 

2020 was a strange and challenging year to say the least. However, we are glad we can report so many of these accomplishments and are grateful for your help in making it possible.

But there’s still so much more we’d like to accomplish. Please consider donating to help us continue our improvements and accomplish even more.

Happy New Year!

“A Confirmed (Holiday) Toper!”

When I started working at The Wren’s Nest, one of the first things I did was read through his daughter-in-law’s biography of the author and journalist, The Life and Letter of Joel Chandler Harris. I hoped it would at least provide with the basic facts I needed to understand him. However, I did not anticipate how many of his letters were preserved nor did I expect that I would become so familiar with his sense of humor.

I’d often heard he was a jokester (hence his position as a humorist for The Atlanta Constitution for some many years), but in his letters to his daughters, Mildred and Lillian, I really began to understand his unique, sometimes-sarcastic, sometimes-hyperbolic, usually-silly sense of humor.

One shining example of this to me is in a letter he wrote to his daughters around the holidays (copied in part below), conspiratorially confiding a great secret about his wife’s traditional, holiday fruit-cake:

I don’t know, dear gals, how in the world I am to finish this letter. Finish it! I don’t know how I’m to begin it. I’ve made an awful discovery just simply awful. You could n’t guess – no, not if – not if each of you was eight inches tall and weighed twenty pounds heavier; not if you were to guess until your tongues were tired and your heads aching with the same ache. It’s just simply too terrible to think of; but I must tell it; I never could keep a secret, especially from my dear gals. Then listen: that fruit-cake I wrote you of – it’s old and wrinkled already, and no wonder! – the fruit-cake is a confirmed toper, a wretched inebriate, a habitual sot. I never would have found it out if I were any less cunning than I am – if I were less shrewd than old man Tallow Rand used to be.

Mamma [Esther LaRose Harris] says to me, says she, “Cephas, have you any whiskey?” At once I began to suspect something, but not a muscle betrayed my agitation.

“Well,” says I, “as likely as not there may be a thimbleful or two in the bottle. But who’s ill?”

“Nobody; I just wanted some for cooking purposes,” says she.

“Aha!” says I to myself, “I smell a rag burning somewhere”; but not a quiver of an eyelid betrayed me. “Then we are to have mince-pie for dinner, or the stuff you call Trifle?” says I.

“If you have no whiskey, Cephas, say so, and I’ll order a bottle through the grocer,” says she.

“I’ll bet you a quarter you want it for that fruit-cake,” says I, not dreaming that my suspicions were correct.

“I do,” says she. “It must be kept moist and soft, till Christmas, and whiskey is the thing to keep it so.”

So the secret was out! Every week or two the fruit-cake must have its dram, and it drinks so heartily you can almost hear it hiccough. It may happen that we’ll have to send the cake to the Keeley Institute, the place where they reform poets and other geniuses. I says to mamma, says I, “you need n’t accuse anybody of nibbling at that cake if you find it broken. A tipsy cake can’t walk any straighter than a drunken man, and if it gets up from that box it is sure to fall back and break.”

And mamma says, says she, “Cephas, if you had married any other woman” (“Heaven forbid”’ says I) “you would n’t go on with that kind nonsense.”

Happy Holidays Everyone!

5 Reasons to Donate to The Wren’s Nest

 

 

It’s #GivingTuesday. Started in 2012, this is a day when we are encouraged to support philanthropic organizations in our communities. There are lots of great options in the Atlanta area, but we urge you to consider donating to The Wren’s Nest. And here are five reasons why you should:

1. You’ll be supporting awesome storytellers

The Wren’s Nest has hosted professional storytellers for weekly storytelling, field trips, and other special events for over 35 years. Your donation will go towards paying these storytellers for their services so they can continue to share their talent, their craft, and their stories with our audiences.

 

 

2. You’ll be supporting the preservation of Brer Rabbit

In case you didn’t know, let me tell you: Brer Rabbit is awesome! He’s tricky and clever, using his wits to beat his bigger, stronger enemies. He’s also the predecessor of many other beloved animal characters like Peter Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, and Winnie the Pooh. Most importantly, he is a central figure in African, Native American, and African American folklore with lessons to teach us all. With the announcement of (warranted) redesign of Splash Mountain, a popular entry point for many to Brer Rabbit’s stories, the need to preserve his legacy is greater than ever. Your donation will help ensure our beloved trickster has a home and that future generations can also enjoy his tales. 

3. You’ll be supporting the preservation of historic architecture

The Wren’s Nest is a rare physical link to Atlanta’s past. The house was originally a farmhouse built in 1870. The Harris family did some major renovations and turned it into a prime example of the Queen Anne Victorian style house, with fish scale shingles and gingerbread on the front porch. Your donation will help restore and maintain this beautiful, historic home.

4. You’ll be supporting our programs

If you’ve enjoyed a virtual or in-person tour of the house, the Scribes programs, Jazz Matters concerts in our backyard, our online book talks, a ghost-hunting experience at the museum, or weekly storytelling (in-person or virtually), we need your help to keep them going. Your donation will support these programs as well as the expansion of our programming offerings, making the stories and the house more accessible to everyone.

5. You’ll be supporting the launch of our exciting new initiative: Next Nest

We recently announced the launch of our new initiative: Next Nest. Next Nest looks to shift our approach from getting people to come to the West End to hear stories with us, to sharing stories from the West End in new and different ways, with the whole world. Your donation will help us make this vision a reality.

 

Whatever the reason, we encourage you to donate today. Donations can be made on our website, specifically to our GAGives GivingTuesday fundraiser, or by mailing a check to:

The Wren’s Nest
1050 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd SW
Atlanta, GA 30310

And on behalf of The Wren’s Nest Team: thank you!

A Haunting Report

The results are in!

This past September and October, The Wren’s Nest welcomed back the Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research to lead participants in ghost-hunting experiences. With the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from inviting participants to the house, we conducted the investigations over Zoom. One advantage of this was that we had participants from all over, including Kentucky, Illinois, and Ontario!

Today we have the results from all the sessions to share with you.

The team used the following equipment during the investigations: Digital Voice Recorders, IR Cameras, Various EMF Meters, Various Temperature Sensors, and Various ITC (Inter-Transcommunication) Devices. From this equipment, the team found the following:

  • Digital photographs yielded no positive results.
  • Video footage yielded no positive results.
  • Audio recordings yielded several positive results.

For the audio recordings, we highly recommend you listen to them with headphones on for the best results. Here are the positive audio recordings the team found:

September 19th Session

“Can you wave? NO” – We began the investigation in the East Parlor. Mandy and Ryann were seated on the floor with the SLS Camera. The SLS Camera utilizes and Infrared light sensor together with a monochrome CMOS sensor that is used to “map” spirit forms within any given space.

Our first instance of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) on this night occurred as Mandy and Ryann were monitoring the SLS Camera and noticed a figure sitting in the parlor chair by the fireplace.

Mandy asks “Can you wave to us?” A male voice can be heard saying “No”.

“Extra” – A Digital Voice Recorder (DVR) was left in the “Sisters Room”. The team was moving from upstairs to the basement. We can be heard in the background as a voice says something like “Extra”.

“You Know What?” – As the team was seated in the dining room, a female voice can be heard saying “you know what?”

October 16th Session

“Why?” – An ITC device known as “Cindy Lou Boo”, a talking teddy bear, was left in Joel Chandler Harris’ bedroom. The bear asks “Can you finish this?” and proceeds to knock “Shave and a Hair Cut, 2 bits! However before getting to the “2 bits”, Cindy Lou asks the spirits at the WN “Can you finish this?” A whispering voice can be heard asking “Why?”.

“Yes” – Cindy Lou asks “Do you know what time it is?” A whispering voice can be heard saying “yes”.

October 23rd Session

“I Told You” – As the team was leaving the sister’s room, a strong female voice can be heard saying “I told you!”.

October 30th Session

“Hey Buddy” – As Doug and I [Denise] were waiting in the parlor for the investigation to begin (Meredith was sharing about the history of the house and the Harris family), Doug twisted and I heard his back crack. I conveyed to Doug that it sounded like it hurt.

Doug said “All you have to do is keep your feet still and just twist.”

A male EVP can be heard talking over Doug and myself that says “Hey Buddy” and then some unintelligible words before Doug can once again be heard saying “keep your feet still and just twist”.

“Maybe” – While we were in the family room conducting an EVP session, I asked “Do you like Seafood”? A faint woman’s voice can be heard just before I ask “Do you like Fish?”. She seems to answer with the word “Maybe”.

Note: Shortly after this I [Denise] sensed a woman spirit who showed me a beautiful goldfish pond. I felt that visiting the pond on a beautiful day was a happy memory for her. I asked Jim about gardens on the property and he explained that there were many as the property was once “Snap Bean Farm”.

Read the team’s full report, including anomalies they encountered during the investigations here:

SIPR Investigation Report Wren’s Nest Sept. Oct. 2020

Seems we can definitively say, once again, that The Wren’s Nest is a haunted house.

What is it about the Wren’s Nest?

Today’s blog post was written by our new Managing Director, Dean Baker. We are thrilled to have Dean as part of our team!

I have always had an interest in the past, knowing what has come before and how it still informs and shapes the present. During my life, this interest has taken different forms in working to help share, uncover and preserve the past. Growing up outside of Saint Paul, I was fascinated by the interconnected buildings on the Skyway System, a project that considered and connected historic buildings in a new and different way. This interest connecting the past in different ways has shown through in efforts as the Urban Designer in Roswell and Planning Director in Woodstock where we introduced new ways to recognize the story of the past,  while developing the future. This was followed by over a decade at the State Historic Preservation Office, where I helped preserve hundreds of buildings, mostly train depots, while getting to learn the broad history of Georgia. Later, about the same time I first came on the board at The Wren’s Nest, I was able to take on a couple of projects that helped to share more of Atlanta’s Civil Rights Movement story. One was teaching at the Georgia State University Honors College where I got to work closely with one of the main instigators of the Atlanta Student Movement and Civil Rights leader Lonnie King in helping to start the Herndon Human Rights Initiative. I continue to work with a number of classes at Georgia State to research and share more of the story of the Atlanta Student Movement. The other project was working with Central Atlanta Progress and Portman Holdings to list Peachtree Center on the National Register of Historic Places. This was groundbreaking preservation work and one that connects all of the pieces of modern Atlanta history, a story that really begins about the time The Wren’s Nest represents.  

When I started working full-time at The Wren’s Nest, not too long ago, I reached out to our board members and friends of the Nest to ask their advice. The most memorable response was a very long period of deep laughter, followed by, “I guess I should say congratulations!” I’m not going to name the particular board member, but the response was both encouraging and a reality check. While this place of joy has certainly not been as filled with laughter as it should be, especially recently as we await the opportunity to freely open our doors to our friends and neighbors we have been missing. Like the Harris family when they left Savannah for Atlanta in 1876 to escape the yellow fever epidemic, this unusual time also reminds us what is truly important and that whatever plans we may have made, we can only operate within the world we find ourselves in at the present.

I have long been a fan of the story of Atlanta, a city created through something of an accident of geography and time. The Wren’s Nest represents one of these true Atlanta stories of people coming together to create a special place that allowed them to be released from previous social and class restrictions. In our case, it can be best summed up as “when country comes to town.” Joel Chandler Harris was undoubtedly a product of his rural upbringing in Eatonton, and he was able to create a home within this city that was connected while being a place apart.

The idea of The Wren’s Nest as a retreat from an overwhelming world that is too often difficult to understand continues to be an appealing one. We are now coming back to the concept of The Wren’s Nest existing as a state of mind, one that can now easily reach people all over the world, while still also being an integral piece of our neighborhood and city. We will continue to offer all of our programming virtually, even when we are finally able to welcome visitors back into our beloved home. This place for storytelling needs to become what it will be next, and that is the challenge we are facing today.

What is the Next Nest?

The Wren’s Nest has long been a place filled with joy, family, friends, conversations, life, happy memories, warm feelings, and an ongoing love of stories. Today, we find ourselves unable to welcome our friends and family in the ways we are used to, and we are working on finding different ways to help bring more happiness, joy, and stories to those who love The Wren’s Nest and everything it has long stood for in our changing and often chaotic world.

The Wren’s Nest has always been an oasis in the ever-growing Atlanta that surrounds us. We want to make sure we can provide a place that is focused on the foundational stories from many cultures that have made their way to Atlanta. This is not just an academic approach, but one that shows the constant threads that connect us to where we began, long before anyone arrived in Atlanta, and how these stories will continue on long after we have gone.

The Next Nest looks to shift our approach from getting people to come to the West End to hear stories with us, to sharing stories from the West End in new and different ways, with the whole world.

In order to become what we will need to be next, we are going to have to change how we do things. The first change is focused on our programming. We will have three distinct programming seasons each year that will include panel discussions, author talks, virtual and physical exhibits that will now be shared in other ways to spread our stories across the world, without giving up our Southern accent. As an ongoing effort, we begin programming focused on children with a series of storybook readings and we will, of course, continue to highlight our outstanding storytellers, finding new ways to highlight and share their talents. This is an opportunity for us to experiment with how and where we share our programs and stories.  

While we will be reaching out with our programming starting in 2021, we also want to remember our roots in Atlanta. Our yard and amphitheater will continue to welcome our neighbors, but now we are more conscious of crowd size and social distance. This holiday season, we are getting ready to test how we will welcome visitors, to determine how we can operate safely as possible going forward. We seek to safely welcome visitors once again for our authentic Atlanta experience, but now we will require reservations and masks so that we can help keep everyone safe. Please watch out for notification on these events coming very soon.

As we move forward into our changing world, looking to become the Next Nest, we will need to open ourselves up to new ideas and experiences. To continue bringing more joy and happiness to the world, we will need to rely on those who have loved and helped us in the past, while we seek new people with new and different ideas to share, that will help us get to where we need to be next. I hope you will join us on this journey as we seek out what our Next Nest will become.

Please let us know your thoughts for what is to come for The Wren’s Nest. As we go forward in our new world, we will need all the help we can get in creating our Next Nest. I can be reached at dean@wrensnest.org.

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