It’s the String Man, a burlap printed doll with a belly pocket full of aging string. It’s a regular part of the tour at The Wren’s Nest, the historic home writer Joel Chandler Harris in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. Lots of good guesses, but the first person to guess correctly — via comment and Twitter — was Matt Scofield. Nice work, Matt!
Harris was a newspaperman, but he became famous after writing down the “Uncle Remus” tales, stories he’d as a child from the mouths of slaves. (You can see the author in the photo above, on the dresser to the left.)
Harris’ home has been preserved as a museum since shortly after his death in 1908. Before the tours and storytelling, though, it was just a family home where the Harris family worked, entertained and raised six children to adulthood.
That’s where the String Man comes in.
“As the story goes,” museum director and Harris’ great-great-great-grandson Lain Shakespeare says, “Joel Chandler Harris and Esther LaRose Harris, his wife, used it when the kids got in trouble.”
Whaaaaat? Punishment by…doll? Just let him explain.
“When one of the kids does something bad, she has to take out the 100 or so pieces of string, tie them all together. When the kid does something bad, she has to take them out and untie all of them.”
This is the part of the tour when the history buffs are engrossed, but kids are drifting. When parents chuckle about a creative new way to punish their kids, the little ones usually snap back to attention.
Most of the house has been restored or fitted with replicas of what it looked like when Harris lived there. (I wrote a story about The Wren’s Nest renovations a few months ago.) Most — except Harris’ bedroom. The one stipulation about turning the home into a museum had nothing to do with segregation, as some long maintained. Rather, Mrs. Harris required that her husband’s room remain just as it was in 1908.
The original wallpaper, floor covers, linens and furniture are there, along with family photos, a baseball bat and drawings of black children studying. (Those weren’t images you would have seen in many homes at the time; that they hung in Harris’ bedroom says something about who Harris was, Shakespeare says.)
The home’s keepers dust the old bedroom from time to time, but otherwise, it stays behind a gate. Visitors aren’t allowed to walk in. Nobody is allowed to touch.
And that’s the room where the String Man stays, just as he has since 1908.
Sadly, I can’t do this story justice with words on a screen. I recommend you ask Miss Nannie to tell you all about it, and check back at 4 p.m. Wednesday for our next Access Points game.
Want to go? The Wren’s Nest, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $5 for children, $7 for seniors and students, $8 for adults. www.wrensnestonline.com.,