One of the first historical periods I became captivated with was the Civil War era. By fourth grade I had read every book Eastern Elementary had to offer. By sixth grade I had worked my way through every book detailing the war in the juvenile section of the College Park library and had started on the adult section.
It didn’t matter what genre the book was. I looked at picture books, books on battles, biographies, autobiographies, expansive tomes full of fact after fact, and fictional accounts from Across Five Aprils to Gone with the Wind.
When Westgate Theatre (across Lakewood Freeway from Greenbriar Mall) had a special showing of Gone with the Wind my mother made sure she took me. I had loved the book, but I absolutely fell in love with the movie because the characters were brought to life so well. Who could read the book again and not see Scarlett, Mammy, Pork, or Melanie as the appeared in the movie?
When I first read the book the relationship between Melanie and Ashley shocked me. I was deeply disturbed by first cousins marrying. I knew it happened, and I love my family connections, but….the line has to be drawn somewhere, you know? In my own family we kid about family connections because my mom’s immediate relatives are the same on my grandfather’s side of the family as they are on my grandmother’s……..father and son married half-sisters.
Of course in the past marrying your cousin was an acceptable way for families to keep their holdings intact much like European royal families throughout history. As a young girl the cousin factor creeped me out, but it was clear the couple had great admiration and love for each other even though Scarlett chose to ignore it and plow ahead with what she thought she wanted.
Like any great author Margaret Mitchell wrote about something familiar to her. Growing up she had thrived on the stories of family members who had experienced the days before and following the Civil War, so it makes sense she would have based some of her characters on people she knew.
So what about Ashley and Melanie? Well, the story goes that Margaret Mitchell based the characters on her own relatives Melanie Holliday and John Henry “Doc” Holliday. Yes, the same Doc Holliday of O.K. Corral fame.
Like many other bits of historical trivia there is no definitive confirmation that Mitchell based the characters of Ashley and Melanie on her cousins….in other words I’ve seen no source quoting Mitchell verifying the fact, but there are some coincidences.
Doc Holliday was born in Griffin, Georgia, but following the death of his mother the family moved to Valdosta where Holliday lived under the same roof with his cousin Melanie for some time.
Not wanting to reinvent the wheel this site uses Sylvia D. Lynch’s Aristocracy Outlaw as a source and words the events much better that I can stating:
Martha (Mattie) Holliday was the daughter of Doc's father's brother Robert. Doc's father had moved his family away from Griffin Georgia during the Civil War to protect them when Sherman did his famous "Marching Through Georgia" and its occupation, relocating them to Valdosta, at the southern end of the state. Robert Holliday, Doc's uncle was in the War, and at just about the same time as Doc's father relocated to Valdosta, Mrs. Robert Holliday and her children fled their home before the battle of Jonesboro, returning home later to find the house dissassembled for its wood, which had been used as breastworks. She then loaded her family up and headed for Valdosta, and sought refuge with Doc's family.
Mattie was among the children she brought with her and they stayed under the same roof for approximately a year. Bob Boze Bell relates that "Mattie forms a close friendship with young John.”
Significant is the fact that upon her death in 1939, Mattie, (Sister Melanie since 1883) had in her possession a photo of John, one of his graduation photos. Equally significant, in fact may be that Doc's Colorado obituary "reported that he had only one correspondent among his relatives. That person was his beautiful first cousin, Mattie Holliday, who was apparently the only family member with whom John continually maintained contact after he left Georgia. Many researchers have theorized that the young cousins were romantically involved and would have married if John had not contracted consumption and been forced to leave home." Mattie did enter a convent, did not enter service as a nun until 1883 (she served the next fifty six years as Sister Mary Melanie), her reasons are not known, but she had received her education at St. Vincent's Academy, where she later returned as a Sister of Charity novitiate. What is known is that she preserved the letters she received from Doc, and had reported to relatives that "if the world could see the correspondence she had in her possession, they would most definitely see a different John Holliday." Some relatives report that before her death, Mattie destroyed some of these letters. Lynch says, "It is regrettable that more than twenty years of John Holliday's life may have been chronicled in the letters he wrote to the one person in the world to whom he felt he could open his heart, and that information is now lost forever. When John and Mattie lived under the same roof during the final years of the War, John was thirteen and Mattie was about fifteen. It is very likely that the cousins were close and enjoyed a bond that lasted into their adult lives, as apparent from their continuing correspondence."
Those letters not destroyed by Mattie herself were later burned by another family member who "burned them to end curious inquiries into the nature of their content." This burning has backfired on that intent, since the destruction served to increase speculation, not quelch it. Lynch puts forward the scenario of "a caring nun who had a special cousin who needed someone in whom he could confide the anger, the frustration, and the disappointment he felt life had dealt him. Sister Melanie was most likely John's only contact with home and the world he was forced to leave behind, and may have been the messenger who carried word of his death to his father."
Tom Barnes has written the book Doc Holliday’s Road to Tombstone where he uses a mixture of verified facts and fiction to recount the relationship between Doc Holliday and Mattie and how Doc ended up heading west.
The relationship between Doc Holliday and Melanie aren’t the only mysteries surrounding the one of the better known heroes of the Wild West….this site provides not only the speculation that surrounds Doc Holliday’s real grave site but includes a photograph of Melanie as well.
Travel to Fayetteville, Georgia and you can visit the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House, built in 1855 by John Stiles Holliday, Doc Holliday’s uncle. There are several exhibits to stroll through and the docents love to tell visitors about all of the Gone with the Wind connections.
There’s also the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in Atlanta, and don’t forget historical Jonesboro.