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Backstory: Cry over a hue

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"You've got to meet history on its own terms," says Tad Brown, director of the Watson-Brown Foundation, which is heading up the project. "All of a sudden we find that this paint did exist, and it was a shock to the average Jane and Joe in Athens that this would come back and be this rather flamboyant shade of pink."

Cobb's choice probably wasn't unique. Many mansions of the day - and their architectural details - were lost in the North's destruction of the South. The Industrial Age and subsequent periods brought a new palette of colors to houses, further hiding styles and décors in the broom closet of history. "What most people know of Southern history are images that are not very accurate," says Clyde Wilson, a Civil War historian at the University of South Carolina (USC) in Columbia.

Interest in antebellum décor, however, is growing. The old governor's mansion in Milledgeville, Ga., is now covered in a shade of original pink. Conservation work at the Chief Vann House in northern Georgia shows that Indians loved garish interior colors. The 1808 USC library was recently renovated in original shades, resulting in an interior awash in powerful pastels.

"We have found some outlandish, wonderful colors," says Frank White, a director of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in Atlanta.

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Still, pink, at least in its modern connotation, is not what most people would associate with Cobb. Strict as a schoolmarm, Cobb was in many ways the South's answer to Ben Franklin - a man of many talents, a prolific writer, and the author of Cobb's Code, a Calvinistic treatise on how to live properly. When the war came, Cobb rallied 5,000 Georgians and headed north. Despite his lack of military training, CSA Gen. James Longstreet called Cobb "one of our most promising officers and statesmen" after the Battle of Fredericksburg.

"It is important to remember who Cobb really was: He was a dynamic man who, when he could no longer defend a slave society with his pen, laid it down for the sword," says Mr. Dandolos, a painter-turned-history buff who has had to fend off criticism from friends for even working on the Cobb House. Dandolos believes history needs to be confronted, no matter how sympathetic or unsympathetic the character.

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