In the hometown of the late To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, a group led by her lawyer has announced ambitious plans to transform Monroeville into a major tourist destination built on Lee’s work.
A tight-knit coalition, including Lee’s attorney Tonja Carter and wealthy paper mill magnate George Landegger, plans to create the “Harper Lee Trail,” a multifaceted collection of new Lee-related attractions aimed at drawing hundreds of thousands of additional tourists to the small Monroe County town each year.
You will recall, of course, Tonja Carter’s highly controversial role in getting Go Set a Watchman published, a book that was billed as a To Kill a Mockingbird sequel despite many suspecting it was in fact a first draft that was eventually heavily reworked into the novel that would become a beloved classic.
Currently, the primary Lee-related destination in Monroeville is the old Monroe County Courthouse, which inspired the setting for the book’s trial scenes and now has some memorabilia on view. It draws something like 30,000 people a year, but Landegger—who has purchased the building where Lee’s father once worked—reportedly urged at a Chamber of Commerce dinner that the town should “set our goal to attract 100,000 or 200,000 or 250,000 visitors annually.”
How are they going to achieve this amazing surge in numbers? (It’s not like Lee is in any way currently underexposed in American culture.) Well, inspired by a recent fact-finding mission to Stratford-upon-Avon aka the birthplace of Shakespeare, they apparently plan to “refurbish a 1909 building to serve as a museum dedicated to Harper Lee, build replicas of three homes that served as settings in her seminal novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and provide other new offerings.”
Bringing any of this about will take quite a bit of time and require plenty of legwork, so don’t book any hotel rooms right now. AL.com called Carter for details and she directed them to Pete Black, who’s a board member at the nonprofit Mockingbird Company founded by Carter, Lee and an accountant named Paul Fields, and involved in the new plans.
Black said the trail coalition hopes to register a foundation later this month that would raise funds to renovate the bank building and turn it into a Harper Lee museum. He described the foundation as “the first step” toward realizing the dream of a Harper Lee Trail.
The entity, which Black described as “a public charity to raise funds” for the trail’s development and construction, will likely be called the Harper Lee Literary Foundation. The mission of the foundation “would be to honor the literary legacy of Ms. Lee and at the same time get more people to visit Ms. Lee’s Maycomb,” Black explained.
You certainly can’t blame a small town for seeking a boost to its economy. But To Kill a Mockingbird Town seems like it could go very wrong, very quickly.