Road Trip–Searching for Harper Lee

This post is not about teardrop camping. Instead, it is about a road trip to try out our new convertible. Monroeville, Alabama was our destination, a city with deep literary roots.

We recently purchased a new Camaro convertible and my Big Guy wanted to take it on a road trip.  The Camaro is capable of pulling our camper, but is not practical for camping because of its limited storage.  Therefore, it will always be hotels/motels for Camaro travel.

Greg and his New Car

We chose Monroeville because it is near and a place I have always wanted to visit because of its association with Harper Lee, the author of one of the best American novels ever written, “To Kill a Mockingbird” (TKAM).  A few facts about TKAM:

  • Pulitzer Prize winner
  • First book published by a Harper Lee
  • 40 million copies sold
  • Voted #1 on many lists of must reads
  • Academy award winning movie adaptation
  • Translated to over forty languages
  • Voted best novel of the twentieth century
  • Taught in many schools in and outside the U. S.

(Can you tell I’m a fan?)

Lee wrote about “small town middle-class southern life” and Monroeville was her home.  Her father was the inspiration for Atticus Finch and Monroeville the inspiration for the fictional town of Maycomb.   Another famous writer, Truman Capote, was her childhood friend who was portrayed as Dill in her novel.  I so loved the novel that going to the birthplace of its creation was very exciting for me.

Our image of riding down the highway with the top down on this first road trip with the wind blowing in our faces did not match reality.  It rained off and on the entire trip to Monroeville and that first day in town.

We arrived in time to have lunch at a popular restaurant, The Prop and Gavel.  It was at this restaurant in 2015 that Harper Lee received published copies of her second book, “Go Set a Watchman” from her U.S. and U.K. publishers.  The decor is dedicated to aviation and the legal profession, an odd, but interesting combination.  We had Barrister Burgers with sweet potato chips, voted one of the “Top 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.”  They were quite tasty.

Prop and Gavel Restaurant

It was too late to go to the Monroe County Heritage Musem after we had lunch and checked into our motel.  Fortunately, our innkeeper had copies of “Walk Monroeville II”, which has a lot of information and history about the town and sites referenced in Lee’s books.

We began the tour late that afternoon.  Most stops on the tour were at or near the courthouse. Its lawn was beautifully landscaped with many references to Lee’s books.  The sculpture below is “A Celebration of Reading”, by Birmingham sculptor, Branco Medenica.

A Celebration of Reading

Every year in April and May, there is a TKAM play.  We just missed seeing it.  Act I is in the Otha Biggs Amphitheater, which is on the courthouse grounds.  The set has the houses of Atticus Finch, the Radleys and Mrs. Dubose.  My Big Guy is below in front of the set.

Set for Act I

It was interesting to me that the Alabama Bar Association has erected a monument to Atticus Finch: Lawyer – Hero.  This plaque is on the courthouse grounds.

Alabama Bar Association Monument to Atticus Finch

We also checked out the sites a few blocks from the courthouse where Lee and Capote grew up.  Capote spent his summers in Monroeville with his cousins.  Lee’s old home has Mel’s Dairy Dream in its spot, which is referenced in Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”.  A plaque dedicated to Truman Capote’s life is next to Mel’s.  There is nothing but a stone wall from the original house of Capote’s cousins.  Note the dark sky in the photographs. The rain was rolling into the area again.

Mel’s Dairy Dream,  former site of Harper Lee’s childhood home


Former site of Truman Capote’s childhood home, next door to the former Lee home
Marker for Truman Capote

We had a milkshake at Mel’s and headed back to our motel to beat the rain. I guess you could say we had ice cream for dinner.  We’re seniors–it’s allowed.  Our evening ended with a movie and a bottle of wine.

After a very good breakfast at the motel, we headed to tour the old courthouse. It did not disappoint!  Built in 1904, it stands majestic in the center of town.  It was in danger of being torn down several years ago, but was ultimately preserved.  It has exhibits for both Lee and Capote.  It also has rooms set up as they would have looked in the 1930s, the years depicted in TKAM.

Old Monroe County Courthouse
1930s-Style Legal Office

The courtroom looks just like the one in the movie because the movie version was based upon it.  It was a most gratifying end to our tour of the courthouse.   Anyone familiar with the movie can see the striking resemblance.  There is a second story overlooking the main floor, just like the movie and the book.  You can almost see Scout looking down from the second floor.  The courtroom is where Act II of the annual play is performed, with members of the audience as jurors.

The Courtroom
View of the Upper Level
The Witness Chair
The View from Above

The trip to Monroeville did give me a much stronger understanding of Harper Lee and her hometown.  In a sense, I did find her, but in many ways she is even more a mystery.

In recent years, there has been controversy surrounding her second published book, “Go Set a Watchman” and I must admit it is a little hard for me to reconcile the two books in my mind.

It is my understanding that the town is divided over the second book and some legal action that occurred in the later years of Lee’s life.  She died in 2016 at 89 years old.   Questions have been posed as to whether Harper Lee in her late 80s had the mental capacity to authorize the publication of the second book.

The controversy adds to the mystery of Harper Lee, the brilliant writer who only wrote one book in her lifetime with her second publication being a draft of her first novel.   She was a very private person, who remained silent to the public for most of the time after TKAM was published.   I find her fascinating.  If you have not read the book (TKAM), you are really missing something.  There is also an audio recording of the book by Sissy Spacek that is excellent.  She was wonderful as Scout!

Returning home, we had sunshine for the most of the trip, so we were able to have the top down on the car.  Such fun!  We have one more road trip coming, then it will be back to our Tiny Trailer.

If you are a camper, there are several campgrounds nearby.   Don’t miss Monroeville if you find yourself going through southern Alabama.   You don’t have to go in a convertible.

Happy Trails!

Enjoying our New Ride in Monroeville



2 thoughts on “Road Trip–Searching for Harper Lee”

  1. Donna you capture your adventures so well! You take us there. I loved the twist in your description about riding in the convertible with that top down, wind blowing in your faces….. “Reality did not match the image”! It rained! Love it!

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