KPL tribute to American classic

Photos by Ron Leir TOP: Library Director Josh Humphrey shows off the “Gone With the Wind” display. BOTTOM: One of the figurines contributed by ‘GWTW’ admirer Rita Reitz.
Photos by Ron Leir
TOP: Library Director Josh Humphrey shows off the “Gone With the Wind” display.
BOTTOM: One of the figurines contributed by ‘GWTW’ admirer Rita Reitz.


There’s a new permanent exhibit at the Kearny Public Library, and even if you are not a frequent library visitor, frankly, my dears, you should give a damn.

The display — at the Main Library, 318 Kearny Ave. — is a tribute to one of the most popular American novels of all time. But it also honors the man without whom the world likely would never have known the manuscript even existed.

Ironically, most people in Kearny are probably not aware that the man existed.

Or that he was a lifelong Kearny resident.

The book, as you might have guessed, is Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” which was initially published in June 1936 and, to this day, continues to sell a reported 75,000 copies a year in North America alone. We don’t know the worldwide tally, but over the decades “GWTW” has been translated into 35 languages.

The man is Harold Strong Latham (1887-1969), who lived at 17 Pleasant Place and was a literary editor at the Macmillan Publishing Co. in New York City. In 1935, he was on a tour of the South to scout new writers. While he was in Atlanta, Lois Dwight Cole, the manager of Macmillan’s office there, told him about a friend, Mitchell, who just might have a manuscript he could read. Cole introduced them.

Both women were graduates of Smith College in Massachusetts, and we found the following account on the school’s alumnae website:

“When Latham and Mitchell met, she admitted she had been working on a novel about Civil War-era Georgia but said it was not yet ready for outside scrutiny. “

After a few conversations though, Latham convinced her to let him see the manuscript. She handed it over as he was on his way to catch a train to his next destination. The rest, as they say, is history.”

That history includes the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, hundreds of millions of copies sold over the decades, and what might be called the first Hollywood blockbuster. According to USAToday, “by the time the movie version (which won eight Academy Awards) was released [in 1939], the novel had already sold more than 2 million copies in 16 languages.”

Note, please, that this is a 1,037-page book. It requires more than a texting-mindset attention span, yet it remains high on the fiction popularity list. This coming June, it will have been in print for 80 years.

The Kearny Library exhibit features more than two dozen vintage copies of “GWTW,” in English and in numerous translations — e.g., “Als Een Vlam In De Storm,” “Lo Que El Viento Se Llevo,” “Vom Winde Vehweht.” There are even copies in Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Cyrillic, et al. (And more than one alphabet we did not even recognize.)

The artwork is equally fascinating.

This display would not exist if not for Latham — not just because of his role in having the novel published, but because all these editions (and more) were part of his personal collection.

KPL Director Josh Humphrey noted that the library has approximately 150 “GWTW” volumes, most of them signed by Mitchell to Latham. All were donated to the KPL upon Latham’s death.

That Latham would have made such a bequest is not surprising, since he was active in the Kearny community. As noted in author Barbara Krasner’s new book, “Legendary Locals of Kearny,” he organized the Presbyterian Boys Club [now the PBGC] in 1909, was president of the West Hudson Hospital Association and a trustee of the Kearny Museum and Historical Association.

Humphrey said this will be a changing exhibit, with the various editions replaced by others. What will remain constant are the charming figurines of Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Melanie Hamilton, Ashley Wilkes, etc., donated by “GWTW” fan Rita Reitz of Wood-Ridge.

Also donated, by River Terminal of South Kearny, was the archival-quality display case that now graces the KPL main room. The 600-lb. beauty arrived in one piece (no assembly required), and Humphrey thanked not only the generous donor but also the Kearny DPW workers who carried it inside.

The director also cited library staffers Nicole Canchucaja, Michelle Ruivo and Bart Van Oostendorp for their work in setting up the exhibit.

One more thank-you is due.

There is a story that, in early drafts, the name of Mitchell’s “GWTW” heroine was “Pansy,” but the author changed it to “Scarlett” just before the book was to be published. Reportedly, it was Latham who suggested this. Whether the new name had been in the author’s mind already, or Latham chose it, is not known.

But his opinion was apparently a deciding factor.

Consider: Would a heroine named “Pansy” have left such a dramatic imprint on the public imagination? We doubt it. And if you disagree — well, fiddle-dee-dee!

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