If you’ve never thought much about the Civil War (entirely possible in California; unthinkable in Georgia), you might not know that when General Sherman marched through Atlanta, he burned down the 19th century plantations that would have become the 21st century tourist attractions featuring reenactors and lots of candle dipping. So when I was living in Atlanta and searching for the antebellum South, I drove north to Roswell, a picturesque town with history to spare. I toured three houses and all my docents were courtly men in oxford cloth shirts and shiny loafers. One of the things that fascinates me about house guides (besides everything) is how often they refer to the former occupants by first name. “Mittie gazed out that very window at her future husband” or “John took his last breath in that rocking chair.” It’s as if they knew them personally.
Bulloch Hall, one of the main attractions in Roswell, is the childhood home of Mittie Roosevelt, mother of President Teddy Roosevelt. When I saw the kitchen (located two floors down in the cellar), and the steep stairway the servants had to climb (while balancing hot food and trays), I realized that the architect who designed this house never cooked a meal in his life. Adjacent to the dining room is a holding area with a fireplace where the stew was warmed again after its journey from the kitchen two floors below. Now I spend a lot of time preparing meals and all I could think about was the hardworking woman who baked bread and roasted beef in that dark, unvented kitchen. I wanted to go back in time and give her a fridge, a dish washer and a self cleaning oven. I wanted to make the architect carry some hot stew up the steep and narrow stairs and rethink that floor plan. She was an anonymous cook, a woman no one remembered, but I was sure her name was Mary and I felt like I knew her personally.
You know, maybe I should be a house guide at Bulloch Hall. Do you think they’d accept my application?