Before moving to Atlanta, I read Anne Rivers Siddons' novel Peachtree Road. I don't remember the characters or the melodrama from the book, but I do remember the incident at Orly, the burials at Oakland Cemetery, and the aftereffects on Atlanta society. In 1962, an Air France plane crashed at takeoff from Paris' Orly Airport, killing 130 of the 132 passengers and crew. Among them were 106 Atlanta Art Association patrons on their way home from a European art tour, and the loss of so many prominent movers and shakers dramatically affected Atlanta's arts world. Woodruff Arts Center, home of the High Museum, Symphony Hall and Paideia's annual high school graduation ceremony, was originally called Memorial Arts Center and was founded in 1968 in memory of those who died at Orly. I'm now inspired to read Explosion at Orly: The Disaster that Transformed Atlanta.
I started thinking about Atlanta history when one of our fabulous library parents returned The Winecoff Fire, raving about how interesting a read it had been. It's the story of a disastrous fire at the Winecoff Hotel on Peachtree Street, in December 1946, that most Atlantans have likely never heard of, yet remains the deadliest hotel fire in American history -- 119 people died, and numerous national safety codes were established or changed as a result.
Did you know that the new Pencil Factory Lofts, on Decatur Street as you drive downtown along the train tracks, is the old National Pencil Factory site**, where the murder of Mary Phagan sparked the notorious lynching of factory manager Leo Frank? Or that Grady Hospital was known as "The Gradys" during segregation because its two towers served as two separate hospitals for black and white patients?
Right now I'm reading a fabulous memoir, No Place Safe: A Family Memoir by Kim Reid, who was 13 when the first of "Atlanta's Child Murders" was found in the summer of 1979. Kim's mother was first black female investigator for the Georgia's DA's office, and while her mom became obsessed with finding the killer of Atlanta's black children, Kim was commuting from SW Atlanta to the northside, trying to be herself and still fit in as one of a handful of black students at Catholic Marist School.
If you'd like to experience Atlanta's history one bite at a time, check out one of the several books in our library that explore events in our city's past. Bites add up to meals, and varied, balanced meals add up to some serious mental nutrition.
- The Winecoff Fire: the Untold Story of America's Deadliest Hotel Fire by Sam Heys
- Peachtree Creek : a Natural and Unnatural History of Atlanta’s Watershed by David R. Kaufman
- An Unspeakable Crime: the Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin
- And the Dead Shall Rise: the Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank by Steve Oney
- Murder and Mystery in Atlanta by Corinna Underwood
- Outcasts United: a Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John
- The Historic Oakland Cemetery of Atlanta: Speaking Stones by Cathy Kaemmerlen
- Grady Baby: a Year in the Life of Atlanta's Grady Hospital by Jerry Gentry
- Explosion at Orly: the Disaster that Transformed Atlanta by Ann Uhry Abrams
- Negrophobia: a Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906 by Mark Bauerlein
- Rage in the Gate City: the Story of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot by Rebecca Burns
- Burial for a King: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Funeral and the Week that Transformed Atlanta and Rocked the Nation by Rebecca Burns
- Atlanta Rising : the Invention of an International City, 1946-1996 by Frederick Allen
- Two Confederate Hospitals and Their Patients Atlanta to Opelika by Jack D. Welsh
- Archival Atlanta : Electric Street Dummies, the Great Stonehenge Explosion, Nerve Tonics and Bovine Laws : Forgotten Facts and Well-kept Secrets from Our City’s Past by Perry Buffington
- The Herndons: an Atlanta Family by Carole Merritt
- Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: the Saga of Two Families and the Making of Atlanta by Gary Pomerantz
- Margaret Mitchell of Atlanta, the author of Gone with the Wind by Finis Farr
- What'll Ya Have? A History of the Varsity by Dick Parker
And a little sampling of fiction for good measure:
- No Crystal Stair by Eva Rutland
- Bound South by Susan Rebecca White
- Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
- Peachtree Road by Anne Rivers Siddons
** note -- as it turns out, the Pencil Factory Apartments are NOT at the site of the National Pencil Factory in 1913. The factory was actually on Forsythe Street near Five Points, near the current location of the Sam Nunn Federal Building.