Protecting a legend

PowerCall Security is making sure the historic Margaret Mitchell House won`t be "gone with the wind." Given the history of the house, that`s no small task.

The newly restored home and museum were twice thwarted by arsonists. The first fire in September 1994 significantly damaged the building. The second fire occurred in May 1996, just 40 days before the nearly restored house was scheduled to open to the public in time for the Atlanta Olympics.

"When I became interested in the house in 1987, I never dreamed it would preoccupy so much of my life," Mary Rose Taylor, executive director of the Mitchell House said. "You cannot imagine the depression I felt when the second arson came 40 days before the Olympic Games. That we were not able to share this important story with our visitors was devastating. I was exhausted; my spirit was exhausted."

Exhausted maybe, but not beaten.

Strangely enough, the first-floor apartment where Mitchell lived with her husband, former Georgia Power executive John Marsh, was the only part of the house to survive both fires without any damage.

The rebuilding of the Dump began almost immediately after the second fire. A month after the fire, Southern Company first approached Taylor with the idea of protecting the Mitchell House with PowerCall Security.

"Frankly, we got very concerned after the second fire and felt from a community-minded standpoint that we ought to help them if we could," said Courtney Wallin, senior commercial consultant for PowerCall Security. "We believed that we could provide them a valuable service."

PowerCall Security will keep watch 24 hours a day with a state-of-the-art fire-protection and intrusion system including alarms, cameras and other monitoring equipment. The security system`s affiliation with parent Southern Company adds an ironic twist since Mitchell`s husband, John Marsh, had once been the manager of advertising and public relations for Georgia Power.

Mitchell and Marsh married in July 1925 and hosted the wedding reception in the Peachtree Street apartment. They honeymooned in a cabin owned by Georgia Power at Tallulah Falls. Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With the Wind, compiled by Marianne Walker, is a collection of 300 letters Mitchell and Marsh wrote to his family in Kentucky, chronicling their life in the Dump and his rise up the corporate ladder.

Some even say Georgia Power secretaries, working in their spare hours, typed the manuscript for Gone With the Wind.

"The Georgia Power connection was appealing -- keeping it all in the family so to speak," Taylor said. "I liked the idea that the company John worked for would now be responsible for securing the house where he and Margaret lived."

Southern Company`s CEO Bill Dahlberg was also instrumental protecting the project. "When it came time to show business support for the project, I was at a loss at what to do," recalled Taylor. "So I called Bill Dahlberg, and he wrote a letter on our behalf."

Dahlberg`s letter wound up in the hands of the chairman of Daimler-Benz, and the German automaker - parent of Mercedes-Benz - came through with a major grant. The money funded the purchase of the nearly one-acre site at the corner of Peachtree and 10th streets and allowed restoration of Mitchell`s one-time residence and an adjacent building that now houses a museum and gift shop.

"Bill befriended us in a way nobody else would," Taylor said. "He was our guardian angel."

PowerCall Security first began serving the museum in late 1996. The house and gift shop were subsequently connected.

"It`s great for us to be associated with such a valuable community landmark," Wallin said. "We`re providing them expanded service, very elaborate security. We want to do what we can to protect this great part of our history."