Submitted by Nancy Morris
(AP) — When the cotton mill closed, the rural Georgia town of Grantville began a slow transformation into a ghost town.
Residents fled. Storefronts faded. Buildings decayed.
Over the decades, time turned the remains of the town into something almost post-apocalyptic, the perfect modern-day set for humans and “walkers” to attack one another. That’s how the hugely popular TV show “The Walking Dead” ended up coming to town and bringing new life to Grantville.
In Grantville, the town’s ruins were featured prominently last season. Bodies of walkers slain on the show were buried in a vacant lot beneath the brick archway remaining from a cotton mill building. Gunshots were fired from a nearby rooftop.
Now, every Saturday, visitors from around the country and the world turn off Interstate 85 and onto a two-lane highway that leads to the tiny town 49 miles southwest of Atlanta.
Since last summer, more than 3,600 visitors have taken a free tour led by Grantville Mayor Jim Sells, who explains where each scene from the “Clear” episode — during which the character Morgan makes it his mission to “clear” walkers by killing them — was filmed.
Visitors have come from as far as Australia, Singapore and Brazil, giving new life to the town through tourism, Sells said. He calls it phenomenal, but adds: “We don’t understand it.”
“Nobody came after they filmed ‘Lawless’ and ‘Broken Bridges’ here,” he said, referring to movies shot in the town.
“But once this episode aired from ‘The Walking Dead,’ people started showing up from all over.”
Then came the film crews.
Though Union troops destroyed train stations in many Georgia towns near the end of the Civil War, Grantville’s survived. The mayor recalled how “Walking Dead” production crews took just four hours to transform the old freight depot into a restaurant where actors battled zombies.
Grantville is among a handful of rural Georgia towns undergoing a renaissance, thanks to the AMC show. Senoia, Haralson and Atlanta are also places where scenes have been shot.
On a recent Saturday in Grantville, visitors gathered at Station 22 Grill, as groups do every Saturday, to watch the “Clear” episode, the 12th in the show’s third season. Production crews blocked off Main Street for 15 days for filming.
When the episode ends, more than 50 people gather around Sells. He leads them around town and then inside a second-story apartment, the hideout used by one of the characters in the show. The walls are covered with chalk-drawn rantings as they were during filming. The small-animal cages, used to hold rabbits and other bait for walkers, and a couple of rifles are there, too.
On this day, tourists from as far as New York and Indiana are in the group. Jamie Silvey, 36, of Huntsville, Ala., said she had traveled to Georgia for three Walking Dead tours. She had already taken an Atlanta tour and planned to hit Senoia the next day. And Daniel Bradley of Warner Robins, Ga., said, “Once I found out all this was here, I just wanted to get a little piece of it.”
Now, Sells hopes “The Walking Dead” draws enough attention and visitors to Grantville that perhaps new businesses will locate there.
“We could use a grocery store, a drug store, a daycare,” the mayor said.