While the Georgia State Trooper checked out my license, I studied him, his uniform, the guard station, the height of the gates, and the color and make of his vehicle. I wasn't here for the antiques, but to case the joint. As a writer, I was jazzed about all the detail of each chandelier and sideboard, but also wondering how someone could have a fall down the beautiful curving stairway or what kind of incidents could occur in the elevator. Don't even get me started on the verdant sloping gardens and the pool mentioned on the website.
Imagine my surprise when parked at the curb were at least seven old Ford cars immaculately restored. My nefarious ideas were stymied when I ran immediately into First Lady Sandra Deal as she greeted everyone to the mansion. The First Lady was gracious and charming. I wanted to plant myself in a rocking chair on one of the verandas and drink sweet tea with her. Instead I elbowed my way in among the retirement-age crowd and took pictures of every detail.
My friend, Stacy, and I had inadvertently chosen to visit at the same time as the members of an old Ford car club. The club members were everywhere, but very pleasant as they mobbed the First Lady. Although, I suspect one woman used to do roller derby because her J-block was painfully effective in removing me from the library entrance so she could sneak a peek. As I rubbed my sternum, I analyzed the crowd more closely. My brain went to Steven Spielberg's movie Cocoon and I wondered if these Pod People realized their own strength. That made me think of the grand pool out back and what to do with the Pod People.
Despite my initial intent to scout for opportunities of mayhem, I was drawn in by the grandeur of the mansion and the warmth of the staff including the men waxing the cars outside, the docents positioned in each room, and the Georgia State Trooper stationed at the entrance.
What's not to like? As you cross the threshold, you walk over the bronze state seal embedded in the Tennessee marble floors. The library houses first editions of wonderful books like Gone with the Wind. On the wall hangs an exquisite needlepoint of George Washington at the Battle of Trenton. In the first floor guest bedroom across the hall is an Alcove bed, circa 1815. This room isn't used often since there are seven bedrooms upstairs. Apparently it was used during former President Clinton's stay. Perhaps this is where they kept the intern.
The State Drawing Room is opulent as is the State Dining Room. The mahogany accordion-style table in the Dining Room seats eighteen. On this day, two Cabbage Patch dolls were seated at each end of the table. The likenesses of the Governor and First lady apparently move about the house at their leisure. Docents report finding them in different rooms each day. I left the room quickly because I started to think about the movie Chucky. Cleveland, Georgia is the site of Babyland General Hospital where Cabbage Patch dolls are made or born. I don't think they made Chucky there.
Onward to the Circular Hall with the grand staircase, chandelier, and one of the rarest pieces in the house--an 1810 24-carat-gold gilt Parisian porcelain vase. On it is a hand-painted medallion of Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, I moved on after capturing one picture because my nose took over.
I followed a wonderful smell to the Family Dining Room where I peered into the kitchen to find Executive Chef, Holly Chute, preparing chicken stir fry. The docent attempted to tell me about the antique chairs bought at auction from Jim Williams who was using the money to pay for his trial--the Jim Williams from the book and Movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I was salivating and rather disappointed to find we weren't invited to lunch. Do you know that there is a bell in the floor that the Governor can touch with his foot and it will ring in the kitchen for service? I considered having one of those installed, but decided it would just set off the dogs.
Outside, I enjoyed the grounds and verandas of the mansion. On my last pass around the house, I discovered that the exterior kitchen door was open. Not a person in sight, just cake cooling on the kitchen counter. What would one of my characters do? What? It was research.
Writer's Note: No Pod People were harmed in the research of this piece. And honestly, the old car people were actually quite delightful except for the one Blocker who I've referred to the recruiter for the Atlanta Rollergirls.