Who doesn’t love an open house? You can poke around in people’s closets, critique their window-treatment choices and imagine their daily dramas.
A new book, Memories of the Mansion: The Story of Georgia’s Governor’s Mansion (University of Georgia Press, $39.95) is the ultimate open house, offering readers a spider-in-the-corner perspective on the private lives of eight Georgia governors who resided at 391 W. Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead.
The coffee table book is resplendent with hundreds of glossy photographs of the mansion’s interior and its former residents. The authors, Jennifer Dickey, Catherine Lewis and current first lady Sandra Deal, spoke with former first families to capture entertaining tidbits of life in Georgia’s most public house.
The book includes a history of the various domiciles where Georgia governors have kicked off their loafers. Pity poor Gen. James Oglethorpe, who slept in a tent under four pine trees on a bluff in Savannah in 1734. Conditions grew cushier over the years, but in 1962, when first lady Betty Sanders moved into the Granite Mansion in Ansley Park, she faced a leaky roof, a broom closet of a kitchen and squirrels and pigeons in the attic. Though Sanders never lived in the Buckhead mansion, she was instrumental in guiding its vision.
The first resident of the current mansion, Lester Maddox, showed off his new digs to members of the Legislature and was most proud of the governor’s bathroom with gold faucets and a steam bath. One of the invited dignitaries said, “We need this thing for prestige. Some people think we still go barefooted in Georgia.”
Jimmy Carter, the next governor to call the mansion home, voted against its funding. When the Carter family moved in, they requested an unlisted number to keep tipsy friends from calling at all hours.
Each man brought his own flavor to the home. Zell Miller was a pingpong fan; Roy Barnes liked pranks, frightening colleagues with a rubber snake; and Lester Maddox forbade alcohol, offering visitors a “cool sip of cow’s milk.”
The mansion was often host to glittering company: Johnny Cash swung by and gave Virginia Maddox a smooch on the cheek. Prince Charles partook of a traditional Southern buffet hosted by the Busbees but was initially wary of the fried okra. Also during the Busbee years, Jerry Reed popped in with a greasy bag of Krystals to share with buddy Burt Reynolds.
First ladies occasionally had trouble adjusting to their new lives. Marie Barnes set off security alarms while sneaking a midnight snack of red velvet cake. Sandra Deal was told to do her underwear shopping before she moved in, so she wouldn’t have to visit the department store with a state trooper at her elbow.
The volume is chockablock with details of what it takes to run the 30-room Greek revival home. Surprisingly, the majority of mansion workers are prisoners serving life sentences. Four-legged friends lend a paw: Several cats are charged with controlling the chipmunk population, and bomb-sniffing canines patrol the 18-acre property.
Memories of the Mansion is meticulously researched and a must-read for anyone who wants to slip behind the velvet ropes at the governor’s mansion. Look for it Oct. 1. Authors Dickey and Lewis will appear at the Georgia Literary Festival at Georgia Regents University on Nov. 7.