Locals reminisce, learn from Atlanta-based exhibit


ATLANTA — The clicking and clacking of a teletype machine are music to one’s ears as they enter into Atlanta’s time capsule: the Atlanta History Center’s “Atlanta in 50 Objects” exhibit.

As if traveling back into space and time, one is overwhelmed by the exhibit’s sights and sounds.

Walking through the exhibit

To one’s left, they stumble upon a 1923 WSB radio microphone, Georgia Tech’s Ramblin’ Wreck and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech manuscript. To the right, there is the mock “Plane Train” ride that is used at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to transport passengers from one concourse to another.

In the distance, a woman announces, “Welcome aboard the ‘Plane Train.’”

“Atlanta in 50 Objects” welcome sign (Photo by Lexi Thayer)

As one continues scanning the scene around them, they discover a microscope from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an ax handle signed by segregationist Gov. Lester Maddox and an issue of Time Magazine signed by Atlanta icon Ted Turner.

Upon arrival at the exhibit, visitors observe these noteworthy objects as they enter the 3,200 square foot exhibit.

Each object on display represents certain aspects of Atlanta’s history. For instance, there is a 1969 Delta Air Lines stewardess uniform, Hank Aaron’s 600th home run baseball bat and the 1996 Olympic torch are a representation of the history of Atlanta.

Delta Air Lines uniform from 1969 (Photo by Atlanta History Center)


About the exhibit

With over 300 suggestions from Atlantans, the Atlanta History Center has collected 50 objects that make up Atlanta’s history.

“My thought was to find things to choose that really had an impact on Atlanta,” said guest curator Amy Wilson.

Curator Donald Rooney explained he and Wilson specifically chose these 50 objects showcased in this exhibit because they thought the objects would resonate with a broad audience that visits their museum.

Rooney explains that the exhibit wasn’t an original idea, and he wanted to enlist locals’s help so that the average Atlantan could have their voice heard.

Curators began working on the project in November 2014 by utilizing Facebook and other websites over the span of three months asking for suggestions.

According to Atlanta InTown, the original idea behind collecting the 50 objects was the Smithsonian’s “History of America in 101 Objects.”

The concept of the exhibit is to pull on one’s emotional heartstrings while also touching on serious subjects from Atlanta’s history.

“We wanted to have a diverse presentation of objects to make it interesting for all kinds of learners or viewers and for all ages,” Rooney said.

In particular, the Pink Pig is meaningful to a lot of locals who rode it as a child.

Rooney himself explains he remembers riding the Pink Pig as a young boy. It’s the feeling of nostalgia that brings visitors to the “Atlanta in 50 Objects” exhibit.

Rich’s Pink Pig ride (photo by Lexi Thayer)


Museum employee Andy McGee explains that the exhibit is a great way to get local Atlantans interested in the history of their city.

“A lot of people have their own memories associated with a lot of the objects in there,” McGee said.

McGee’s favorite part of the exhibit is the airport train because he has vivid memories riding it at the airport.

With the success of the exhibit thus far, McGee believes there is a lot of potential for a follow-up exhibit that would include items that people thought should have been included but were not.

For Wilson, the experience and process was enjoyable.

“It was fun to see what people wrote in,” Wilson said.

A lot of the suggestions locals wrote in were expected, but some were surprises to Rooney and Wilson.

Different Atlanta institutions were able to collaborate on this particular project as well.

The selection process

Wilson explained that, though the experience was fun, figuring out which objects to choose was challenging.

Rooney explained that there were specific objects suggested, and that he and Wilson went after those they thought were the most important to include.

They gathered objects that represented important events and themes in Atlanta’s history. For instance, many people wanted to see Dr. King’s stance on civil rights represented in the exhibit.

The history center combed through its own archives and felt that the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech letter was a broader representation of Dr. King’s work than any single aspect of his civil rights work.

The peace prize acceptance speech manuscript is on loan from Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King, Jr. collection, Robert W. Woodruff Library.

“Atlanta in 50 Objects” exhibit (Photo by Atlanta History Center)


“We sat around a table with others including museum teachers, educators, and talked about other things that should be included,” Rooney said.

While museum officials made the decisions of what items to include, it was always an effort to include the objects that seemed to be the most powerful in their message.

Good examples of this were Dr. King’s speech and Skip Caray’s World Series Championship ring. These objects spoke a broader message than one line item on Dr. King’s resume or one player in the Braves dugout, said Rooney.

“Collectively, these 50 objects accurately represent a broader swath of history,” Rooney said.

There are many aspects of Atlanta’s history that were not represented due to the limitations on the size of the exhibit.

Some of the items that were not included in the exhibit but have made a significant impact on Atlanta as a city include Home Depot, Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University, explained Rooney.

These objects were not included because the public didn’t include them on any of their suggestion lists. Nevertheless, they remain important, Rooney said.

Curators respected the public and their suggestions, but it was really up to the people to provide the content of the exhibit, said curators.

“I hope that especially Atlantans — who have been here all their lives — when they see these things, it’s like a touchstone for them, for their memories,” Wilson said.

After all, this exhibit was created by the people of Atlanta for the people of Atlanta.

Much like 50 objects can’t suffice to describe Atlanta’s rich history, 1,000 words can’t suffice to describe the amazement of this exhibit.

It’s open though Dec. 31, 2016, and open every day 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., opening at noon Sundays.


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