Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bites of Atlanta History

Here's something about me -- I'm not much of a non-fiction reader. When I read narrative (as opposed to reference) I almost always read fiction. When I do read non-fiction, more times than not it's in the form of memoir, which often reads like a fictional novel. This is not to say that I don't learn substantial, real and true facts about history, events and places from reading novels and memoirs.

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.

And a little sampling of fiction for good measure:

** 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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you want to read the Leo Frank trial testimony it is available on the Leo Frank Library and Archive here http://www.leofrank.org