MONROEVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — As tributes to Harper Lee pour in from around the world, the hometown of the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird author is mourning her death.
According to a statement released by Lee’s family Friday, she died in her sleep early that morning in her hometown of Monroeville. The family said that although Lee had a stroke several years ago, her death caught them off guard.
Lee was 89 years old.
People in Monroeville said the town was special to Lee, and that Lee was special to the town.
“She was a great gal,” said Joe Brock, of Monroeville.
Brock said he met Lee through her older sister, Alice, and that the author used to spend her summers in Monroeville after moving to New York.
He said he’d considered visiting Lee at her assisted living facility earlier this week, but didn’t make it there.
Asked what he’d miss most about Lee, Brock said, “Her warmth and her sincerity. And I’m glad to say that I was her friend and Alice’s friend. They made my stay here in Monroeville much better than it would have been.”
While Lee was known around town as a private person, most people in Monroeville have some sort of connection to her.
Woody Bullard works at a car dealership in Monroeville. He said Lee was a good customer there, who favored Buick LeSabres.
“She was a negotiator!” Bullard chuckled.
He continued, “old legends never die, and (Lee) has been a great legend in Monroe County.”
Caddy corner from the car dealership, sits Monroe County’s old courthouse.
It’s now the Monroe County Heritage Museum, which is full of tributes to Lee and her work.
The old courtroom remains, and is kept in pristine condition, as a landmark.
According to Wanda Green, the museum’s executive director, the courtroom was replicated for the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck.
Green said the museum saw a lot more visitors Friday.
“I got here a little before 8 (a.m.), and the phone was ringing,” Green said. “People from all over the world, in other countries, heard about (Lee’s death) before I did.
“I think the book was so special, everybody wanted to be like Atticus (Finch). Everybody wants to be the hero, or the heroine, that stands up for somebody else.”
It’s common knowledge in Monroeville that Lee did not like to talk about Mockingbird.
“Everyone in this community always respected that,” Green said.
Though, in Lee’s passing, she left behind a question about her book that might never be answered.
Many wonder whether the author based the story on her real life, in Monroeville.
“Her dad was a really good lawyer,” Brock said. “To Kill a Mockingbird, if you read that, that was her dad — I think. That was a book about her dad.”
“That’s just speculation here,” Green said. “But I would like her to say, ‘I’m Scout.’”