Tag: Joel Chandler Harris

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.

Veterans in the Harris Family

Happy Veterans Day! Today is a national holiday dedicated to thanking all those who have served our country, both in times of peace and in times of war. We are grateful for the men and women who have sacrificed and are currently sacrificing so much to protect us.

This includes members of Joel Chandler Harris’s family.

A number of Harris family members served in the military during their lifetime. Their family tree includes veterans of both WWI and WWII as well as veterans of the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps. Some were related by marriage while others were his direct descendants.

Harris’s second eldest son, Lucien, had a family line that was seems to have been particularly active in the armed services. Of his three sons, two became Navy fliers during WWI: Andrew Stewart (“Stewart”) and Joel Chandler Harris III (“Chandler”). In fact, while conducting our research for the Interactive Harris Family Tree, we were fortunate enough to discover both of their service cards (pictured above) via Ancestry.com.

Continuing this family trend, Lucien Jr. (the third of Lucien’s sons) had two sons who went on to join the military. The first, Lucien III, followed in his uncles’ footsteps and also joined the Navy Aviation unit, becoming a cadet at the Citadel in South Carolina when he was 19 years old. Lucien III also paid tribute to his family’s history by taking his oath of allegiance on December 9, 1942 – his great-grandfather’s birthday (pictured to the left in an article from The Atlanta Constitution acquired via Newspapers.com).

Lucien III’s brother, James Robin Harris also served. J. Robin Harris, a former state legislator for Georgia, was a WWII veteran. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received four battle stars as well as a combat infantry badge for his service.

We spend a lot of time at The Wren’s Nest focusing on Joel Chandler Harris’s contributions. Specifically to history, culture, and literature. However, we are glad to be reminded during this research of his family’s other contributions. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the Harris family members who were/are veterans or of their accomplishments both in and out of the military. We salute their efforts to keep our country safe, even during historic conflicts like WWI and WWII.

And we thank all the veterans for their service.

Trick-or-Treat Joel Chandler Harris Style

If I told you The Wren’s Nest was the home of a famous trickster, who would you guess I’m talking about?

Chances are, you would guess Brer Rabbit. And yes, the museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy of this notorious, furry and beloved trickster hero. But that’s not who I mean.

Instead, what if I told you I was talking about Joel Chandler Harris?

That’s right! Just like the rabbit he wrote about, Harris was a notorious prankster with his family and friends. One of his favorite audiences for these pranks? The people riding the street-car with him during his daily commute. As a writer and associate editor for the Atlanta Constitution, Harris took the street-car from his house in West End to the newspaper’s office in downtown Atlanta every day. Specifically, he took the 8:30 AM car every day.

In her biography of Harris, The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris, Julia Collier Harris detailed one of these pranks in which Harris made use of some discarded glass doll’s eyes to play a joke on a little girl and her up-tight grandmother. 

This seemed like a fittingly silly but potentially frightening trick to share with you before Halloween – in case you happen to have glass doll’s eyes laying around and are looking to spook someone.

Here is the full account:

“Once on his way to take the car father picked up a pair of blue-glass eyes which had fallen out of a doll’s head, and absent-mindedly put them in his pocket. Sitting in front of him on this particular trip was a sedate elderly woman and her little granddaughter. Father knew the lady only by sight and as one who stood greatly upon her dignity and at once the impish idea occurred to him to try the effect of the glass eyes on the little girl who peered at him from time to time over her grandmother’s shoulder. So he closed his own eyes, and after a fashion held the doll’s eyes in place with the muscles of his eyelids. When next the little one peeped at him, she was startled to see a pair of glassy optics where before she had only noticed the mild blue eyes of a stout, placid gentleman.

 “In alarm she whispered to her grandmother, ‘Gran’-ma, that man’s got the funniest eyes!’

“‘Sh! Sh! Child, don’t comment on people,’ warned her grandmother.

“But before long the lady herself shot a well-bred glance in father’s direction. There was nothing unusual  to be seen. In a few moments the glass eyes were readjusted, just in time to meet the little girl’s second stare with a particularly uncanny glitter. Again she whispered excitedly: –

“‘Gran’ma, I tell you that man has got somethin’ awful the matter with his eyes.’

“‘Why, child,’ replied the astonished lady, ‘you must be crazy. What are you talking about?’

“And when she could safely do so, she again glanced at father only to see a perfectly normal individual, looking dreamily out of the window. This comedy kept up for several minutes, until the lady began to suspect from the demeanor of the regular 8:30 West-Enders that she was being made the victim of a joke. Upon which she haughtily arose from her seat and casting as disdainful look in the direction of the offender left the car with her bewildered little charge in her train.” 

The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris, pages 245-247

It’s no wonder Harris felt an affinity for the tricky rabbit!

Social Media in the 20th Century

Back in June, The Wren’s Nest launched the first phase of an interactive version of the Harris family tree. The second phase came at the end of July/early August and with it, my discovery of just how awesome Joel Chandler Harris’s daughter-in-law, Julia Collier Harris, was. The third phase of the Harris family tree interactive is now available and includes labels for 22 of the family’s members.

This was nearly double the number of labels from the previous two phases. In addition to the generous help of Harris’s descendants (Linda Harris and Annette Shakespeare), I quickly found myself up to my eyeballs in obituaries and wedding announcements – courtesy of memberships to Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com – trying to find out everything I could about each person. I also discovered something about 20th-century newspapers that I didn’t know was a trend:

“Social Items” and “Personals.”

Now, when I hear the term “personals,” I think about personal ads. The advertisements that were like a cross between Craiglist postings and online dating profiles. Basically, a place in the newspaper in which you either try to sell something or try to find a partner.

It also makes me think about the song, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”

But that’s not what these Personals and Social Items contained. Instead, I found announcements like these:

“Mr. and Mrs. Frank Rowsey, who have been residing at the Biltmore hotel, have returned to their home, The Brier [sic.] Patch, on Old Plantation road, for residence.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Joel Chandler Harris III will move to Montgomery, Ala., October 1, where they will make their future home.”

“Miss Burdeene Blechele, of Canton, O., and Misses Gretchen and Brownie Miller, of Lexington, KY, are visiting Misses Lillian and Mildred Harris.”

And there were plenty more examples over the course of many decades (you may notice these examples are from 1943, 1928, and 1900), mostly alerting readers to people’s movements or travels.

It seemed oddly familiar to me and for a little while I couldn’t figure out why. And then it hit me:

These are basically like modern day social media status updates. But in print media.

Evidently, people used to share when they were going on a trip, moving to a new city, or newly engaged in the newspaper the way we share the same news now on our Facebook or Twitter feeds.

I suspect that in sharing this “revelation,” my millennial age is showing. In retrospect, it almost feels silly that I didn’t know this existed or even considered how this type of information was shared before online social media or widespread phone use. But I guess I assumed it was done in a more intimate way; through personal letters or phone calls to specific people. Not as public announcements that anyone reading the newspaper could read.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Underrated Julia Collier Harris

Earlier this summer, we launched the first phase of a new digital educational tool: an interactive version of the Harris family tree. We decided to launch the tool in phases in large part because … well, there are a lot of members of this family! And as I continue to research each family member — diving deep into Ancestry.com and old newspapers as well as personal records and stories from living descendants — I’m impressed with their accomplishments and amused by their unique attributes and interests. 

No one has impressed me more than Joel Chandler Harris’s daughter-in-law, Julia Collier Harris. So, I feel compelled to let everyone know how incredible she was.

Julia Florida Collier was the daughter of Susie and Charles Collier (a one-time Atlanta mayor), born in the city in 1875. After attending boarding school in Boston, Julia graduated from Washington Seminary in Atlanta. In secondary school, she began studying illustration under Henry Sandham, a Canadian painter and illustrator and charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She continued her education at the Cowles Art School and the University of Chicago. 

Unfortunately, her career pursuits were cut short when her mother suddenly became ill and she had to return home to Atlanta to care for her six younger siblings. In 1896, she and Julian Harris — Joel Chandler Harris’s oldest son and a budding journalist — became engaged, but the wedding was postponed after Julia’s mother’s health took a turn for the worse and she died. The two were “quietly married” the following October. Because Julia was still caring for her siblings, Julian moved into her childhood home, assisting his wife in the caretaking of the younger Colliers. 

Julia and Julian were a formidable couple, eventually co-owning a newspaper and sharing a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service (more on that later). What I love is that the foundation of their relationship was so sweet. The two were so in love that in his letters, Joel Chandler Harris teasingly nicknamed the two “Lovey” and “Dovey.” In a biography she wrote about her father-in-law, Julia remembered how he, “could not resist teasing us a little on the subject of lover’s raptures, yet it was always done with so much geniality that we had no doubt of his sympathy and understanding.” 

Julia Collier Harris and her younger son Pierre

Julia’s father died in 1900, the beginning of a stretch of tragedies that would affect her throughout her life. Two years later, when they decided the Collier house was too big to maintain, she and Julian moved into a new house down the road from The Wren’s Nest. In addition to the couple, their household consisted of two of Julia’s sisters, one of her brothers, and the couple’s two young sons: Charles and Pierre. Julia later recalled that the two years immediately after they moved in, “were the happiest years of all — tranquil and secure — a golden interlude in life before sorrow took possession of us.”

Between December 1903 and April 1904, Julia and Julian lost both their sons. Their deaths came a mere four months apart. Both children were under five. When writing her father-in-law’s biography nearly fifteen years later, she said, “Even after the lapse of so many years, to recur to such losses is anguish.”

Unsurprisingly, the multiple losses so close together took their toll on Julia. She suffered from bouts of grief and depression, or as Joel Chandler Harris described it, “nervous collapse.” It affected her health so much that she took periodic rest cures in various sanitariums in the years after her children’s deaths. She recovered her health after a few years but still had relapses throughout her life.

One reason I love Julia Collier Harris is that she suffered these devastating losses that could have left her flattened, but she didn’t let them. 

Instead, in 1907, she began her journalism career. She started contributing articles to Uncle Remus Magazine, a publication that Julian and his father started and produced out of The Wren’s Nest. When the magazine folded in 1913, Julian and Julia continued their journalism pursuits. He would move from paper to paper and she would go with him, contributing articles and columns for the same papers, including the New York Herald and the Paris Herald. In fact, Julia was one of only two female reporters to cover the Treaty of Versailles. 

In 1922, the journalism power couple purchased the Columbus Enquirer-Sun in Georgia. And I do mean the couple. Julia was a co-owner, an associate editor, and the vice president of the paper! The newspaper became famous for its editorials (particularly Julia’s) that pushed for Progressive reforms in the South on issues like literacy, racial justice, and evolution (Julia and Julian even covered the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial in 1925). It was at this paper that the two won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for the “service which it rendered in its brave and energetic fight against the Ku Klux Klan; against the enactment of a law barring the teaching of evolution; against dishonest and incompetent public officials and for justice to the Negro and against lynching.” 

Julian and Julia Harris, 1950s

Julia was largely responsible for the award because, by his own admission, she was a better writer than her husband and it was her editorials that garnered notice. In accepting the prize, Julian said, “Associated with me in the ownership and editorial management, is my wife Julia Collier Harris. … She is a trained newspaper woman, and as fearless as she is intelligent, unyielding in the face of injustice of any kind, and a constant inspiration.” Again, reaffirming for me that these two were definitely “couple goals.” 

As if all this wasn’t enough, Julia also wrote three books. The first was called The Foundling Prince and was a collection of Romanian folktales. She also wrote two biographies of Joel Chandler Harris (The Life and Letters of Joel Chandler Harris and Joel Chandler Harris: Editor and Essayist) that we’re still referencing today (including for this blog post) to find out about the more personal aspects of the author’s life.

Julia retired from journalism in 1936 when another bout of depression was serious enough that her doctor advised her to stop working. However, she continued to meet with, advise, and encourage young writers until she died in 1967. 

She was (rightfully!) inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement’s Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2019. 

It feels like sacrilege to say, but given all she accomplished in an era when it was still uncommon for women have a career let alone be so career-focused and in spite of repeated personal traumas that caused her to suffer from a poorly understood mental disorder, I think she is actually more impressive than Joel Chandler Harris himself. And in case it isn’t clear from this post, I definitely think we should be talking about her more!

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