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History Center seeking suggestions for 'Atlanta in 50 Objects'

Rosebud, the sled.

Excalibur, the sword.

Frodo’s ring.

There are objects that can speak volumes, all by themselves.

Atlanta’s tale could be told with just such totems, starting with the spike pounded into an Eastern Seaboard rail bed and continuing with a pink mechanical pig or a curvy 7-ounce glass bottle.

The Atlanta History Center is assembling a roster of these meaningful items to tell the story of our town, and it is seeking suggestions.

The project is called “Atlanta in 50 Objects,” and it is intended to be a sort of crowd-sourced visual glossary. The center’s website says it is “actively engaging audiences in the creation of user-generated content to showcase the public’s own interpretation of what makes Atlanta ‘Atlanta.’”

Visitors to the center have been dropping paper suggestions into a Plexiglas box. Others are sending ideas in via the center’s website.

“It’s not a unique idea,” said Don Rooney, the center’s director of exhibitions. Rooney mentioned a similar exhibit at the Smithsonian, “101 Objects That Made America,” which included a silver-plated compass from the Lewis and Clark expedition and an Apollo spacesuit. A history of the world, told in objects from the British Museum (starting with a 15,000 B.C. Clovis point and ending with a solar-powered phone charger), used the same conceit.

What’s new in the local effort is the chance for average Atlantans to influence the final choices of objects. “We are a lot more about letting the visitor speak their voice,” Rooney said. “We don’t have all the answers. We don’t even have all the questions.”

The history center offered 16 different categories to help organize the suggestions: architecture, arts, business, civil rights, the Civil War, events, food, geography, institutions, neighborhoods, people, places, politics, religion, sports and transportation.

A few suggestions have already been posted on the center’s Tumblr page. One is an architectural remnant from the Owl Room at the 1913-era Hotel Ansley, a highly decorated bracket featuring an owl with eyes that glow red when lights are low. Another is a “charge coin” from Rich’s, a device that predated the charge plate and allowed customers to buy merchandise on credit at the venerable department store.

The history center will accept suggestions through March 2. Then curators will prepare an exhibit that will debut in January 2016. It will be an oppotunity to show off the history center’s new campus, now undergoing renovation.

“Atlanta in 50 Objects” will also serve as a drum roll for the center’s Atlanta exhibit, which has been rethought and redesigned for the first time since 1993, and opens in  summer 2016.


Those with a suggestion for “Atlanta in 50 Objects” can fill out a short form and add it to the list at the Atlanta History Center’s website, One can see previous suggestions at the same site.

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About the Author

Bo Emerson is an Atlanta native and a long-time AJC feature and news writer.