Get on the bunny trail in middle Georgia’s literary crossways as Easter approaches.
A stroll through downtown Eatonton reveals bunny rabbits in many different forms. There are concrete rabbits hiding out in garden beds of local residents, some wearing hats. Then there’s the black and pink spotted rabbit perched in front of the Chamber of Commerce. Rabbits in stuffed and mural forms reside inside the county library next door to the Chamber and on banners hung from lampposts along North Madison Avenue. You’ll understand why — along with the city slogan “Welcome to the Briar Patch” — upon a visit to the Uncle Remus Museum.
The largest bunny in town — the infamous Br’er Rabbit himself — stands guard at the front of the museum, and inside you’ll learn about the life of his creator. Eatonton’s native son is Joel Chandler Harris. He’s not responsible for the Uncle Remus stories himself, but he is credited with recording them from the slaves while he was apprenticing on Turnwold Plantation just outside of town.
In the stories, the fictional character of Uncle Remus narrates tales about Br’er Rabbit and his companions Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear to a group of children. Br’er Rabbit is prone to making trouble and playing tricks on the other characters. Br’er Fox is always trying to get him back, but Br’er Rabbit usually outsmarts him and prevails. Children in Eatonton grow up hearing the tales, visit the museum on field trips and the public library’s storytime, where the tales are told in front of a fireplace painted with a mural of Br’er Rabbit.
Bonnie Simmons, tourism coordinator with the Eatonton-Putnam Chamber, says the rabbits around town began appearing in 2011 as part of the Briar Patch Arts Festival. “Some older homeowners have always had them,” she says, “but the festival came up with painting rabbits all over town as a promotion.” Three years ago, those rabbits were sold to businesses, hence the Chamber’s spotted one, another at the library dressed to look like Dr. Seuss and even a milk chocolate Easter Bunny at Rossee Oil.
“Since then, it’s expanded and grown,” she adds. “Some people have bears and even Br’er Fox. You can drive around town and visit different places where you’ll find the rabbits.”
Last year, the town decided to take its connection to Br’er Rabbit even further by introducing the slogan “Welcome to the Briar Patch.”
“We’ve always embraced Br’er Rabbit, but this is a fresh look,” says Simmons. Street banners depict Br’er Rabbit hopping through a field of daffodils and holding a bouquet of his own. He looks harmless, but beware. “I was bred and born in the briar patch,” he’ll tell you with a sly chuckle. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”