Tiny Monroeville, Alabama, marked the release of the highly anticipated novel Tuesday

By Kathy Ehrich Dowd
July 14, 2015 01:00 PM
Brynn Anderson/AP

In a scene that could have been expertly written by Harper Lee, a bell tolled shortly after sunrise in Monroeville, Alabama, Tuesday atop the Old Courthouse Museum.

The sound marked the start of a marathon reading of Go Set a Watchman, the second novel by its most revered and enigmatic resident, and one of many events the town held Tuesday to celebrate the historic release of the highly anticipated book.

The day-long celebration technically started at midnight when former Monroeville residents Judy May and sister Julia Stroud purchased the first two copies of Watchman from the town’s Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe, which had ordered 10,000 copies of the book – more than the town’s 6,300 residents, per the Associated Press.

The sisters and about 200 others queued up outside the bookstore Monday night into Tuesday – some dressed as characters from the book – and were entertained by an Atticus Finch impersonator, complete with glasses and a briefcase.

“I’m so excited, I’m shaking,” May, 51, told the AP as she held her already-prized possession.

Later, a crowd gathered for the reading at the Old Courthouse Museum, which was once the spot where Lee’s father (the model for Atticus Finch) practiced law, and the model for the fictionalized courtroom proceedings in To Kill a Mockingbird. Restored to its 1930s appearance, the museum now welcomes visitors and honors Lee and Truman Capote, a friend of Lee’s who spent part of his childhood in the town.

Montgomery resident Candy Smith, 49, was the first reader in the event that was supposed to last eight hours.

“I love To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn’t know if I’d get a chance to read, but I’m excited,” Smith told the AP.

A local café planned to serve “Boo burgers” and “Finch fries,” per The Christian Science Monitor, while locals and tourists alike could take one of the walking tours departing from the the local library. According to AL.com, the library is housed within the hotel actor Gregory Peck stayed in while he was in town researching his iconic role in Mockingbird.

Historian and Lee friend Wayne Flynt also spoke at the Monroe County Library Tuesday morning, and told the crowd he saw Lee a day earlier. Recounting her reaction to perusing reviews of the book, he said Lee “chortled” and seemed to be enjoying the attention, per AL.com.

PBS also released video showing Lee receiving a copy of the book at a luncheon in Monroeville late last month, quietly saying “thank you, thank you very much,” upon examination.

At the Monroe County Courthouse Tuesday, retired police Det. Robert Champion portrayed Boo Radley, and addressed the controversy surrounding the book, which seemingly portrays Atticus Finch as racist.

“I hope people don’t start to compare the two books,” Champion said of the issue, per AL.com. “Let it stand on its own and realize people, even fictional people, change.”

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