Arts & Culture

Weekend Agenda: A Look at Atlanta’s History

Spend the weekend learning about the city’s past through a series of fascinating artifacts

If your town were to illustrate the whole of its history and culture in a set of only fifty objects, what might you see? That’s a question the Atlanta History Center began posing to city residents back in 2014 via social media. And now, the center’s new “Atlanta in 50 Objects” exhibit answers it with a variety of items as diverse as the city itself.

Photo: Greg Dupree

The Atlanta skyline. 

The exhibit includes such Atlanta highlights as The Varsity, a downtown drive-in dining staple since 1928, represented by a casted version of the classic combo #1 order—two chilidogs, fries, and a Frosted Orange. It pokes fun at Atlanta’s infamously woeful traffic problems with a live-feed map of traffic congestion around the city. It even features an 11-foot Holstein cow urging you to “Eat Mor Chikin,” as is the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A way.

From left: A circa 1923 WSB radio microphone and nameplate. “Welcome South Brother,” otherwise known as WSB, was the South’s first radio station, launching in 1922; An original 1969 Delta flight attendant uniform. (Photographs courtesy of the Atlanta History Center)

Much of Atlanta’s history is tangled in its fate in the wake of the Civil War. Also among the items exhibited: General Sherman’s original Special Field Order No. 67 to evacuate Atlanta in 1864, the “Atlanta from the Ashes” statue, erected 100 years after the city’s destruction to commemorate its return to prosperity, and a first edition copy of Margaret Mitchell’s beloved Gone With the Wind. (The author’s home is part of the Atlanta History Center.)


Atlanta mayor James Calhoun wrote to Sherman after the evacuation order (above) was issued: “You know the woe, the horror, the suffering cannot be described by words.” Sherman rebutted: “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it…”

It’s a smorgasbord of symbols that avoids favoritism or ranking, says Don Rooney, director of exhibitions at the center, although he does have a few personal favorites.

“When I was a child, we’d ride into Atlanta during Christmas time to see and ride the Pink Pig and go shopping at Rich’s downtown, so I’m especially nostalgic to pieces like that in the exhibit,” Rooney said, “It’s a fun, emotional, and nostalgic practice, looking back at the things that make a city.”

Priscilla, the Pink Pig monorail, formerly an institution at Rich’s Department Store.

All fifty pieces will remain on display at the newly renovated Nicholson Gallery at the Atlanta History Center until July 10.