After a week of fear and grieving in the wake of the Boston terror attack, metro Atlantans found relief Saturday in a slew of springtime festivals that brought together sunshine, community and, of course, corn dogs.
From the Atlanta Dogwood Festival to Kennesaw’s Big Shanty celebration, parks thrummed with crowds enjoying a day of fun. Upwards of half a million people were expected at several major festivals, and preliminary reports indicated attendance did not disappoint.
But even as people munched turkey legs and spun themselves silly on carnival rides, many were of two minds.
Jimmy and Heather Moore debated whether to attend the Dogwood Festival right up to the night before going. Heather Moore had been glued to breaking news about Boston all week, checking her smartphone when she couldn’t watch TV.
“It’s just a big public gathering,” the Roswell mother said, “and you don’t know.”
But by Friday night, with the second of two bombing suspects in custody in Boston, the Moores decided to bring their two kids to Piedmont Park. And so Saturday Lacy, 4, and 2-year-old Brooklyn were thrilling to a puppet show that featured a juggling rabbit and singing horse.
Others, however, felt the Boston tragedy was a distant, isolated incident.
For Cindy and Ladd Gould of Marietta, heading out to the SweetWater 420 Fest in Atlanta’s Candler Park was not about being brave in the face of terrorism. They felt no threat whatsoever.
“It’s just a nice day,” Ladd Gould said.
Added his wife, “We’ve got our hats and sunscreen. That’s our precautions.”
Event organizers were not so nonchalant. The terror attack at the Boston Marathon heightened security at many points, including several of Atlanta’s first running races since Monday’s attack. With the Boston suspects having been identified through photos taken at the scene, Atlanta police Chief George Turner had law enforcement personnel monitor more than 1,000 public and private cameras this weekend through the Operation Shield Video Integration Center.
While there was no intelligence to suggest the city was a target, Turner urged the public to stay alert and report suspicious activity.
Security outside the Dogwood Festival Saturday checked people’s bags. Festival director Brian Hill said extra security staff was on hand, some in plain clothes, and a security sweep of the park was made before opening.
“The dogwoods are blooming and we’re seeing a good crowd that came out to celebrate and not hunker down at home watching the television,” Hill said.
By 2 p.m., as the sun conquered a morning chill, the park was alive with dads hoisting kids onto their shoulders, young couples holding hands, and families laying down blankets and towels and letting spring do its magic.
Sitting on one of those towels was Donna Jones, spooning some blackberry yogurt for her 14-month-old granddaughter, Anniston Cartwright. Jones said the Boston explosion brought back memories of Atlanta’s Olympic bombing 17 years ago.
Few cities in America can empathize so keenly with the people of Boston. Other cities have seen terrorism, some even on a larger scale. But people here, who recall other bombings to a local nightclub and an abortion clinic, said they pride themselves on not backing down.
“With that in mind, I was even willing to bring my granddaughter,” said Jones, who traveled from Warm Springs.
Runners competing in races Saturday said they felt a special bond with those at the Boston Marathon. Race officials at the SweetWater 420 Fest 5K near Candler Park brought in more police and more two-way radios. Medical personnel were placed at the finish line, which was the attackers’ target in Boston. Volunteers received an email before the race with emergency logistics, should something untoward happen.
“It’s in the back of everybody’s mind,” race organizer Mark Clement said.
The 5K run, which typically has between 5 percent and 10 percent no-shows, this year had 6 percent of entrants not show up, organizers said.
As runners crossed the finish line, many said they felt no anxiety or risk. Runners are fighters, said Lane Nichols, 24, of Smyrna, and what happened Monday just made him want to run more, and harder.
Competing in her first 5K race, Bronwyn Watts, 28, of Decatur said she wasn’t thinking of Boston when she began the race. But when people along the route cheered her, she became emotional thinking of “everybody uniting.”
And when fatigue made her consider slowing to a walk, she thought of all that had happened in Boston, and she kept going.