Is Sharp Objects' Small, Murderous Town Based On A Real Place?

Photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO.
Sharp Objects, HBO’s latest foray into prestige literary adaptations, begins with a montage of the signs and streets of a small town. We pass the quarter-filled parking lot of downtown center, with American flags flying at each light pole. We see the four men sitting on a bench outside the barber shop, the dim glow of the Great Wall Chinese restaurant, the balloons beckoning people inside the gift shop. Finally, the official introduction, painted onto a green wall: “Welcome to Wind Gap, Missouri.”
Even before meeting the show’s characters, we steep ourselves in Wind Gap. That’s because when it comes to Sharp Objects, setting is character. In order to understand what motivates people like Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), the journalist sent back to her hometown to investigate the deaths of two pre-teen girls, or Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson), her controlling mother, you must first understand the politics of Wind Gap. But will you, Sharp Objects fan, be able to travel to Wind Gap yourself to take photos in front of the Crellins’ stately Victorian mansion?
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Sorry to disappoint, but no, Wind Gap, Missouri, is not a place that can be found on any map. It’s a fictional town created by Gillian Flynn, the author of Sharp Objects. That said, Wind Gap does draw on the real dynamics of towns located in Missouri’s “Bootheel,” the southeastern-most part of the state.
When Missouri was first admitted into the Union in 1821, its southern border was supposed to be a continuation of the same border between Kentucky and Tennessee, called the 36°30′ north. However, as legend has it, the Bootheel was incorporated into Missouri because of the extensive landholdings of a single individual: the “Czar of the Valley,” John Hardeman Walker. When Missouri was undergoing the process of organizing a state government, Walker’s land, located in Little Prairie, was supposed to go to Arkansas. He petitioned to be part of Missouri. Since Walker was so powerful in the region, his petition worked.
Culturally, the Bootheel – also known as Little Dixie – is more Southern than it is Midwestern. Consequently, Sharp Objects, with its twangs and sweet tea, is another addition to the Southern Gothic genre, even if it’s set in Missouri. One Missouri reader on a Sharp Objects message board wrote, “I feel like Flynn made a concerted effort to show the Bootheel for what it is rather than lumping us into the Midwest like most do. Down here, it is hotter and more humid than the rest of the state, and, geographically, doesn't look any different from Northern Louisiana.”
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The creators of Sharp Objects found the perfect “Wind Gap” in the small Southern town of Barnesville, Georgia. From now on, Barnesville – population 6,000 — will be famous for providing the setting for Sharp Objects. But before the HBO show stormed the town for 23 days, Barnesville had a reputation of its own, thank you very much. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the town was known as the “Buggy Capital of the South” for its work producing approximately 9,000 buggies (as in horse and buggies) annually. Now, each September, people flock to Barnesville for the Buggy Days Festival, which features a buggy parade.
Allegedly, the selection of Barnesville happened almost spontaneously. According to Culture Trip, location scouts had narrowed the show's setting down to three Georgia towns — none of which were Barnesville. Then, on a trip to Jackson, Georgia, one of their top picks, Sharp Objects director Jean Marc Vallée encountered Barnesville and knew it was the right location. When you watch Sharp Objects, you'll see just how right it is
Finally, what in the tarnation is a wind gap? According to Merriam Webster, a wind gap is "a notch in the crest of a mountain ridge not occupied by a stream." A dry geological formation doesn't quite capture the show's humid, oppressive environment. If the town's name were going to be closer to what the town's ethos is really like, it would be called, "Rumor Swamp" or "Drama Locust." Something more atmospheric. But for now, Wind Gap will do.
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