Atlanta History Center Epitomizes Atlanta in Nostalgic “50 Objects”
This article originally appeared on About Atlanta.
If ever there was a physical embodiment of Atlanta’s diverse history and multifaceted personality, Atlanta History Center’s “Atlanta in 50 Objects” exhibit is it. The eclectic exhibition, which opened January 16, 2016, showcases centuries of history captured by these so-called “objects,” a loose term encompassing everything from people and places to abstract concepts and social movements.
It is perhaps because of the community’s involvement that this exhibition so poignantly represents a city as hard to define as Atlanta.
In November 2015, the history center asked the public to help it select the objects that best tell the city’s story. Ideas poured in from digital channels like Facebook and Twitter, while an onsite suggestion box received its share of in-person input.
Themes quickly appeared, some with unexpected and overwhelming support.
“One of the things that surprised me the most was how many times trees were mentioned,” recalls Don Rooney, the center’s director of exhibitions, in a press release.
The result of this community-driven exhibition is a collection of moments, mementos and memorabilia that speak to the good, the bad and the quirky milestones in Atlanta’s short but dense history.
In one corner, you’ll find a small-scale replica of Downtown Atlanta paying homage to legendary architect and developer John Portman. In the opposite corner, you’ll find Hank Aaron’s 600th homerun bat. Front and center sits Martin Luther King Jr.’s handwritten manuscript of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. And nearby sits a copy of Gone With the Wind, written in Midtown by fierce and fabulous Margaret Mitchell.
Along with an arsenal of other items—including a 1915 Coca-Cola bottle mold, 1969 Delta Air Lines stewardess uniform and life-size Chick-fil-A cow—these objects instill in locals a sense of nostalgia and remembrance. “I’ve seen people get misty-eyed,” says Hillary Hardwick, vice president of communications.
Strong juxtapositions pepper the exhibit, some more obvious than others. Items like Lester Maddox’s infamous axe handle memorialize Jim Crow-era intolerances while adjacent objects honor civil rights victories. Peruse further, and you’ll encounter a more subtle juxtaposition: Michonne’s katana sword from AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and a neighboring Native-American scraper tool found in an archeological site known as Standing Peachtree. Together, these items represent the oldest and newest pages of Atlanta’s history books.
By capturing various bygone eras in such diverse ways, Atlanta History Center brings to life the many beats that collectively form the city’s pulse. One thing is certain, this exhibition will make your heart flutter.