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Candice Dyer

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Remembering Little Richard, the Macon-born “architect of rock ‘n’ roll”

Little Richard
Little Richard poses for a portrait in circa 1967.

Photograph by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Little Richard troweled on plenty of No. 31 pancake foundation to “feel pretty.”

So when he furiously assaulted the piano, working up a sweat, his makeup streamed in rivulets down between the ivories, which a luckless barback at Atlanta’s Royal Peacock or some other chitlin’ circuit venue later had to clean key by key. It made a mess, but everyone agreed the “architect of rock ‘n’ roll” was worth the trouble.

Little Richard was one of the first 10 inductees into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone ranked him No. 8 on its list of “Immortals,” citing three of his hits— “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly”—among the top 500 songs of all time. The entertainer died of cancer May 9 in Tullahoma, Tennessee. He was 87.

“He shaped musicians like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince, and influenced how people dress and how they define themselves today,” says David Kirby, author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “He dreamed up a world that nobody thought possible, dreamed up you and me.”

Known for his hellzapoppin’ showmanship as well as his unschooled talent, Little Richard was flamboyant, from the top of his mile-high pompadour to his red shoes. He transformed rhythm-and-blues with elements of jubilee gospel and boogie-woogie for a new sound that made listeners’ hips swivel. “Keith Richards observed that when Little Richard came on the scene, it was as if the world changed suddenly from monochrome to Technicolor,” Kirby says.

Born Ricardo Penniman in Macon, Little Richard was also possibly the world’s most lovable egomaniac. In patter between songs, he would exclaim: “I’m beautiful!”, “I’m not conceited —I’m convinced!”, and “The beauty is still on duty!” That unassailable self-love proved one of the few constants in a career known for its zig-zagging contradictions, as he tracked glittery stardust all over the South’s switchback dirt trail between the Saturday night juke joint and the Sunday morning church service. He was both sacred and profane, an ordained evangelist and a wild-man hedonist. Through it all, he never wavered in his conviction that he was a “blessed and beautiful child of God.”

“Richard was the freest spirit that I ever knew,” says Macon jazz musician Tommy Goodwin. “He was the ultimate libertine.”

This strength likely figured into the artist’s very survival, as well as his stagecraft. Plug his particulars into any actuarial table—the runt of a family of 12 black children born into Depression-era poverty in a small, segregated Southern town; eyes and legs that were slightly mismatched in size, resulting in a permanently mischievous leer and a limp; sexual ambiguity and a penchant for drag; and plenty of cheeky attitude—and the odds-on projections would likely have doomed Penniman as hate-crime statistic. (“I was what they called a freak,” Little Richard would say of himself.)

So how did this incandescent oddball transcend the bullies, Klansmen, and workaday enforcers of conformity to become an international superstar, and, in his words “the king— and queen—of rock ‘n’ roll”?

“He was just too charming,” says Kirby. “In his heyday, he was a threat to everything parents, preachers, and principals stand for, but he coated that threat in happiness, sass, and gobs of makeup.”

Penniman washed dishes at a Macon bus station, where he banged out ditties on the pots and pans, arriving somehow at his signature battle cry: Awopbopaloobop, Alopbamboom! He picked up the novelty song “Tutti Frutti” at the Tic Tock, a lounge that catered to middle Georgia’s LGBTQ community. The original bawdy lyrics—let’s just say they revolved around “booty”—had to be sanitized for the public in 1955.

“People called rock ’n’ roll ‘African music,’” Penniman wrote in Rolling Stone when he received the “Immortal” designation. “They called it ‘voodoo music.’ They said that it would drive the kids insane. . . . Only it was worse back then, because, you have to remember, I was the first black artist whose records the white kids were starting to buy. And the parents were really bitter about me. We played places where they told us not to come back, because the kids got so wild.”

In a repressed social climate, the music liberated their bodies, and their spirits followed.

“All new music changes the world, but no music changed the world the way this song did,” asserts Kirby. “To quote the Book of Genesis, there was a firmament in the midst of the waters. It’s a huge song musically, but it’s also a seminal text in American culture, as much as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ‘Song of Myself,’ and the great documents of the Civil Rights era are. In a sense, it’s America’s Other National Anthem. . . .  I hear America singing, and it sounds like Little Richard!”

Gary Montgomery, an impresario with Left Lane Entertainment, says he prayed with Penniman shortly before his death from cancer. “He was so outrageous in the 1950s,” he says. “Look at him. Where did that come from? He was not little but larger than life, pounding a piano like a thunderstorm. Richard left a huge mark on our world. Now the beauty is off duty.”

Candice Dyer is a frequent Atlanta contributor and the author of Street Singers, Soul Shakers, Rebels with a Cause: Music from Macon.

A young RuPaul and Charlie Brown star in Al Clayton’s 1980s photography show, “Drag Queens & Club Kids”

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RuPaul Al Clayton
RuPaul, photographed by Al Clayton

Photograph courtesy of Jennie Clayton

Before RuPaul Charles metamorphosed into a femme fatale household name, he was preening through Atlanta’s nightlife as an avatar of androgyny known for his genius with props and accessories.

You might have seen him high-stepping in wading boots held up with garters, a loincloth, or football shoulder pads trimmed with fringe. However, when photographer Al Clayton invited him to the studio, Ru kept it simple: he stripped to the waist, donned a grass skirt as a hat, and arched his back. Elton John wanted this shot, which hangs in six-feet-by-six-feet glory on the wall of the EBD4 gallery in Chamblee as part of an exhibition called “1980’s ATL Portraits of Drag Queens & Club Kids.”

The show opens with a fundraiser event on Saturday called “Unseen Atlanta,” benefiting Clifton Sanctuary Ministries, which does outreach work with homeless men, like the two whose portraits are featured in the show. (One of them, Joe, is the namesake of Joe’s Place.) A week later, on October 19, the venue will host a dance party to celebrate the campy hedonists who made Atlanta a playground for nonconformists 40 years ago, pushing the boundaries of intersectionality long before that word and others—trans, cis, nonbinary—entered the mainstream conversation. The exhibition, which is also a part of this year’s Atlanta Celebrates Photography, will then be free and open to the public from October 23-26, and will also include images from Clayton’s Book Still Hungry in America and photos that were featured in the recent Ken Burns documentary Country Music.

La Palace de Beaute Al Clayton
L-R: Judy, Larry Tee, and Lahoma of La Palace de Beaute, photographed by Al Clayton

Photograph courtesy of Jennie Clayton

For the youth culture living a nocturnal life, the 1980s were a time of decadence, pageantry, and creative ferment. The club kids flocked to Club Rio, Metroplex, Weekends, and Velvet, while drag queens Vogued at Backstreet and Lipstix.

“That era was a great experience for me since we were making movies, making music, doing television shows, and running clubs,” says Larry Tee Thom, a photo subject and friend of RuPaul’s who now hosts a reality show in Berlin. He cowrote the song “Supermodel.”

“Atlanta had such a talented crew of artists, performers, and comedians, many of whom went on to bigger things—the ones we didn’t lose to drug overdoses,” he says.

Joe Coppage Joe's Place Al Clayton
Joe Coppage, namesake of Joe’s Place at Clifton Sanctuary Ministries, photographed by Al Clayton

Photograph courtesy of Jennie Clayton

DeAundra Peek Al Clayton
DeAundra Peek, photographed by Al Clayton

Photograph courtesy of Jennie Clayton

“The 1980s also had a lot of problems,” says drag queen DeAundra Peek, one of Clayton’s photo subjects. “We had a president who didn’t acknowledge that AIDS was decimating the gay community. So comedy was a matter of survival, to keep on keeping on. We loved to make each other laugh. People came to the clubs to escape bigotry and prejudice.”

Clayton, who died in 2014, was not a denizen of this scene but had established a vaunted reputation for chronicling the South’s demimonde with empathy and sensitivity.

“When people were in front of his camera, he treated them the way he would want to be treated,” says David Hopkins, who was Clayton’s assistant at the time. “He knew how to, with very little direction, give them a space to reveal themselves in a way so other people might really see them for the first time.”

Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown, photographed by Al Clayton

Photograph courtesy of Jennie Clayton

“He really appreciated the art of drag,” says Charlie Brown, who was photographed applying a luscious coat of lipstick. “He got the fact that we are not men who want to be women—we are men by day who transform ourselves into women by night.”

Peek marvels at the guilelessness in the images of herself as a young queen. “These photos were taken right at the beginning of my performance career,” she says. “DeAundra was a sweet, innocent girl then. I think the photographer captured her wide-eyed newness perfectly.”

Adds gallerist Elyse Defoor, who curated the show, “Al Clayton had the gift of capturing that soulful light that shines inside all of us.”

Atlanta’s patron saint of pit bulls

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Jason Flatt pets Sarah, whose face was mangled in a dog fight.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KAYLINN GILSTRAP

The brown puppy has acquired a perpetual, ingratiating, lopsided grin. She recently started to wag her tail and answer to the name June.

A couple of months ago, she was found chained outside DeKalb Animal Control. Half of her face was missing, her ankle was broken, and she had a nasty staph infection. She looked destined for euthanasia. Nobody wants a pit bull mangled in a dogfight, which is precisely why Jason Flatt did want her. An animal control worker had texted him a photo of the pup’s disfigured face.

“I didn’t know what I was looking at, at first,” Flatt says of the dog’s messy wounds. “I can’t say for certain that there was dogfighting involved, but her injuries are consistent with it. I wasn’t sure if she even had a jawbone left, but I knew one thing for sure: I had to save that dog.”

Every morning, Flatt wakes up compelled by that simple mission: He has to save a dog—especially ones that everyone else has given up as lost. June received reconstructive surgery for her injuries and joined the ranks of damaged creatures salvaged by Friends to the Forlorn (FTTF), Flatt’s Dallas, Georgia–based animal rescue operation, which has worked with every canine breed from Chihuahuas to Mastiffs but specializes in pit bulls. He takes on the fighters and the biters, the blind and the deaf, and any other special-needs case rejected by other organizations or sentenced to death row at the pound. One dog had been frozen to the ground during an ice storm; another had more than 60 puncture wounds; one had been tortured with a shock collar. Flatt even offers a sort of hospice care, taking in dying dogs and easing their final days with steak and ice cream.

“The worse shape the dog is in, the more determined I am to fix it,” he says. “Pit bulls are despised. They’re hated and feared and therefore more likely to be abused.”

The world of animal rescue has its own lingo and division of labor. There are the Cross-posters, who share heart-melting photos online; the Transporters, who deliver animals into safe custody; the Rescuers who pull from the shelters; and the Fosters, who take in ailing or traumatized animals like June to heal before they land in a forever home—if they can avoid the dreaded Rainbow Bridge. Flatt plays all of these roles and more, sparing no effort or expense to restore the most hopeless cases to health and happiness. Even among the devoted community of animal welfare activists, he stands out as a zealot, both for his ecumenical, thorough-going approach and for his visually arresting face, which is heavily inked with a variety of tattoos, including life-size paw prints on each cheek that memorialize two of his rescues.

“Quinn came from a fighting ring in Dublin, one of 38 dogs I rescued from that case,” Flatt recalls, indicating the print on the right side of his face. “And Melony was a cruelty and fighting case in DeKalb,” he adds, pointing to the other. “They both were full of scars; they both needed time to trust me. I made a plaster mold of their paws to use as the pattern for my tattoos. By the time I die, I want my body to be covered with paw-print tattoos.” It’s a tribute he reserves for his personal fosters.

Flatt’s countenance also bears short epigraphs, written around his eyes and down his neck: “Look Deep,” “Don’t Sleep,” and “Forlorn.” His back is a canvas for a giant, majestic pit bull with angel wings. A native New Yorker, he talks fast, moves with restless intensity, and warns new acquaintances that he often “drops the f-bomb.” A vegan, he munches on raw broccoli throughout the day. In what little spare time he has, he boxes and writes lugubrious poetry about the alienation of pit bulls (“I’m just a pit bull. . . . I was born out of brutality and cruelty / any act of kindness toward me would be something completely new to me. . . .”). All of which give Flatt the aura of a punk-rock St. Francis of Assisi, the animals’ patron saint who reputedly tamed a marauding wolf.

“We are judged by what we look like and not what we are. We both are expected to fail. I have always had to prove people wrong. So do they. I relate to them.”

“People assume I’ve been in prison,” he says with a shrug. “Women clutch their pocketbooks tighter when I walk by. Children point and stare. I get treated like a freak show.”

No matter; his unconventional presentation is a defiant statement of solidarity with his spirit animal. “Pit bulls and I both are looked down upon without people getting to know us,” he says. “We are judged by what we look like and not what we are. We both are expected to fail. I have always had to prove people wrong. So do they. I relate to them.”


Pit bulls claim a complicated history, as chronicled in the book, Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey. First, they are not, in the technical sense, a breed. They are a category that comprises the American pit bull terrier (APBT), the American Staffordshire terrier (AmStaff), and the Staffordshire bull terrier, a smaller, English cousin that Britons do not regard as a pit bull. In 2013, the United Kennel Club added one more: the American Bully, a heavier variant of the AmStaff. Dogs from these breeds can weigh anywhere from 25 to 100 pounds and display at least 16 different coat colors and patterns. They all, however, possess a poignant, unassuming kind of beauty, with their blocky heads and wide-set eyes, front legs that often are comically bowed, and skinny hindquarters.

Pit bulls were not always demonized. During the 1920s, they were known as solid, all-American, dependable “Yankee Terriers.” Teddy Roosevelt kept one in the White House, and comic hero Buster Brown’s brindle companion was always by his side. Silent-film star Pal the Wonder Dog appeared in 224 films, traveled with his own valet, and was eventually cast as Pete the Pup, abetting the mischief of the Little Rascals. Yet another pittie listened “for the sound of his master’s voice” from a Victrola.

Jason Flatt pit bulls
According to temperament tests, pit bulls are often better behaved than golden retrievers.

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

The dog’s reputation started to change in the 1970s and ’80s when a spate of magazines—from Esquire to Sports Illustrated—published harrowing exposés of dogfighting, rife with misinformation that presented pit bulls as hardwired to kill and therefore complicit in the blood sport. One widely circulated Texas Monthly article claimed the dog has “an undershot jaw capable of applying 740 pounds of pressure per square inch”—a figure that over time was exaggerated to 2,600 ppi and never corroborated with science. Other myths made the rounds: The dogs do not feel pain. They never let go. They can bite through steel, concrete, and chain-link fences. And the dogs have locking jaws, double jaws, or jaws that can unhinge like those of a snake. Each article always seemed to use the phrase “ticking time bomb.”

The fact is, their mandibles are like any other mutt’s, and according to the American Temperament Test Society, pit bulls are statistically better behaved than golden retrievers. (Published studies have shown chihuahuas and dachshunds are among the most aggressive toward humans.) The damage was done, though. This Cerberus-like image made the pit bull the ultimate guard dog and status symbol for tough guys, from urban rappers to rural Ku Klux Klansmen. Dogfighting—and overbreeding—increased.

“It’s estimated that, at any given moment, there are 40,000 dog fights with 100,000 spectators,” says Amy Soeldner, animal cruelty liaison officer with the Atlanta Police Department. “In Atlanta, it’s mostly impromptu fights in backyards and basements. The more organized contests take place in rural areas.”

“They’re often starved to the point of emaciation to get down to a certain weight class, and they’re given steroids and narcotics,” says Soeldner. “I’ve seen puppies dragging large bricks with padlocks. The dogs’ ears and tails are often cropped with kitchen shears. I’ve seen children as young as seven at dog fights.”

In all 50 states, dogfighting is a felony—one that sent the Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick, who owned 51 pit bulls, to prison for 19 months. But, as a testament to their native temperament, many of his animals were successfully rehabilitated, earning them the nickname “Vicktory pups.”

Flatt curses not only this cult of cruelty but also the public apathy that enables it. “People say, when they hear how these dogs are treated, that they’re ‘outraged,’” he says. “Outraged? Really? Tell me when you’re outraged enough to get up off your fucking ass to do something about it.”


Meet Jason Flatt’s Dogs

Jason Flatt pit bulls
Zeth

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

Jason Flatt pit bulls
Smudge

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

Jason Flatt pit bulls
Morty

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

Jason Flatt pit bulls
Rubble

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

Jason Flatt pit bulls
Boss

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

Jason Flatt pit bulls
Fabio

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap


Flatt, 45, grew up in Queens, where he dragged home stray dogs and learned “not to take any shit from anybody.” He concedes, “I wasn’t the greatest kid. I got into some stuff, but nothing serious, like getting speeding tickets on my motorcycle.” One positive influence remained a constant in his life, though: Calvin, a pit bull who lived to be 18, bucking all of the stereotypes. “Calvin was regarded as a family member,” he says. “Losing him was hard. That was the first big loss of my life.” Flatt was 12. He dreamed of becoming a veterinarian but ended up, for a time, in a much different field.

Taking in Flatt’s aesthetic today, it is hard to visualize him clad in Brooks Brothers, but for many years, he made a nice living as a commodities broker and then as managing director of an equity research publication on Wall Street. His quick, adrenalized wits served him well in that high-stakes environment. “I was leading a very selfish life, very involved with myself and my career,” he says. “I made good money. I’ll never be that rich again, but I don’t care. What’s important to me now is that I live a decent life, saving dogs.”

At age 32, he faced the second great loss of his life. “On July 22, 2005, I got a phone call that rocked my world,” Flatt says. “My older brother, Evan, who was a federal agent, killed himself. Nothing mattered to me during that time. I plunged into a really bad depression. I was dying on the inside—I died that day along with him.”

Flatt, whose job enabled him to work remotely, opted for a fresh start, a change of scene. A friend had introduced him to Georgia, where there was more elbow room, so he bought some 14 acres of grassy, rolling land. Then, one day, someone gave him a five-week-old, five-pound pit bull puppy. Flatt named him Angelo.

“This little dog literally saved my life by giving me a purpose.”

“He was just what I needed,” Flatt says. “This little dog literally saved my life by giving me a purpose. He was easy to train, would do anything you commanded. He was so attuned to what I needed. He liked other dogs, was gentle with children and cats. I would take him running with me. He was my savior. I couldn’t find peace until I had him. That little dog made me get up in the morning.”

When he went to the pound to get a friend for Angelo, he experienced another life-changing revelation. Almost all of the kennels held a pit bull. For every responsible breeder—the most famous of which is Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, whose southwest Atlanta–based Pitfall Kennels counts Serena Williams, Jermaine Dupri, and Usher among its clients—there are far more opportunistic backyard breeders who have flooded the market and shelters with neglected or mistreated animals.

“At any given time, at least 80 percent, and possibly as high as 90 percent, of our dogs are pit bull types,” says Audrey Shoemaker, director of client services for Fulton County Animal Services. “Because pit bulls make up so much of the population here, they’re the dog most often euthanized.”

Flatt decided to foster a couple of dogs, which he placed in permanent homes, then took on a couple more. “Word got out that I was saving one dog at a time,” he says. “Pretty soon, I had placed 100 dogs in homes.”

Jason Flatt pit bulls
Flatt calls his home the Pit Bull Palace.

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

He established Friends to the Forlorn in 2009, converting his two-story, eight-bedroom house into what he calls the Pit Bull Palace. Furniture is minimal and covered; there is no television. “The dogs own the house,” he says. “They just let me live here.” But there is no telltale pet odor. Flatt goes through seven loads of laundry a day and several gallons of bleach. Outside, he has constructed eight segmented, grassy yards, with eight-foot high fences and two feet of concrete underground to prevent dogs from digging their way out. The dogs usually get at least a couple of hours of outdoor playtime every day. Security cameras monitor the facility. Often, he says, he gets calls from former dog owners, just sprung from prison, who want to reclaim their money-makers. “Don’t mistake my compassion for weakness,” he warns.

He keeps up to 30 pit bulls on his own property with the help of two full-time employees. Other dogs are farmed out to 47 foster homes across metro Atlanta, where they await adoption. The most aggressive animals are more isolated. “It just depends on the dog, depends on its temperament whether it’s allowed to socialize. We never leave any dog unattended.” He’s only ever been bitten when breaking up dogfights—an inconvenience he shrugs off as an occupational hazard.

So far, his organization, a 501(c)3 with an annual budget of $400,000, has saved 600 dogs and counting.

“Last year, he came to the shelter to temperament-test a group from a cruelty conviction,” Shoemaker says. “He ended up pulling two into FTTF and helped me place a third with another responsible group that he trusted. He saved some great dogs from that case.”

She adds, “I also call Jason when I have strange situations. For example, someone abandoned a couple of donkeys. He took them both in, and now, they live in his pasture.” That would be Brutus and Jenny.

“I had to lose myself to find myself. I’m not saving these pit bulls—they are saving me. I would die for them. I’ve found exactly what I was put on earth to do.”

In the course of tending to so many animals, Flatt has acquired the ad-hoc expertise of a vet tech. “At this point,” says Dr. Clay Leathers, Flatt’s on-call veterinarian, “Jason has a supply of medicine, and he usually doesn’t encounter an injury in the middle of the night he can’t deal with. I work with a lot of rescue groups, but Jason’s is the best because he goes above and beyond. He takes the cases that no one else will touch.”

When Flatt pulls a dog from a shelter, he expects some inevitable challenges. “We know the dog will have issues—parasites, kennel cough, or much worse,” he says. “So, we quarantine him for two weeks to get the health problems taken care of. We do temperament tests. If the dog is aggressive, we respond with lots of love and patience. We take our time with him. It’s very important not to rush a dog or force yourself on him all at once. Let him decide he can trust you, and you will eventually tame him.”

To keep so many animals from ending up incarcerated in the first place, Flatt also works with West Georgia Spay and Neuter, and together, they have fixed more than 6,000 dogs and cats. One bitch and her pups, if left unaltered, can theoretically produce 67,000 dogs in seven years, he says. He also just began helping Paulding County with a trap-neuter-return program for feral cats.

Despite these achievements, Flatt still feels overwhelmed by the beseeching eyes that follow him at the pound. “I can save 140 a year, but it’s a losing business model,” he says. “I could clean out the pound, and it would be full again within another week or two.” He considered adding on to the Palace last year to accommodate more dogs and applied for a zoning variance. Some of his neighbors turned out in protest.

County commissioner Tony Crowe decided to investigate this unusual operation that everyone was buzzing about, so he popped in for an inspection. “The place was very secure and very clean and very professionally handled,” he says. “I was thoroughly impressed. I didn’t understand why anyone would protest something that so clearly is doing so much good. That was baffling. I don’t know if they envisioned a huge pack of dogs just running loose and wild or what, but that is not what Jason is doing. Besides that, he’s saved the county a bunch of money with his spay-neuter program.”

Now, Flatt is dreaming even bigger. Instead of adding on to his current compound, he wants to build a new state-of-the-art treatment center for dogs on property nearby. It would include a furnished apartment so a manager would always be on site, along with a veterinary clinic with high-tech equipment, including hydrotherapy and an underwater treadmill. “We get hundreds of broken legs with our dogs,” he says. “Many of our dogs are hit by cars, so they need full rehab.” So far, FTTF has raised a little more than $500,000 in its capital campaign to drum up $2 million toward this goal. Flatt hopes to break ground within the next three years.

One popular fundraiser is Bully Bingo, which the group coordinates quarterly at Mazzy’s bar in Marietta. Flatt sells a collection of his poetry, Ode to the Forlorn, along with T-shirts and other pit bull merchandise (also available through his website, friendstotheforlorn.org). That event usually brings in around $5,000, and it provides some social bonding time for the organization’s hard-working foster families.

“This is like our Mothers’ Day Out when we can come together as humans and discuss our four-legged children,” says Emily Hite, who is on her eighth dog with FTTF. “We bring each other pee pads for toilet training, and sometimes, Jason will bring us the medicine we need. Our latest dog, Finley, has a severe bacterial infection, so we call him the ‘hot mess express,’ but he is improving.”

Her husband, Greg Hite, a history teacher, adds, “We’re flaming liberals who live in Decatur, and we don’t have any children. We wanted to do more with our lives besides appreciate good wine. So, we fell in love with pit bulls, and it’s been an intense experience, nursing sick ones back to health. To see one that is near death and then, a couple of weeks later, is just a goofy dog chasing a ball or curling up with you on the couch—there’s just no feeling like it.”

Even after logging long hours at the pound or the veterinary clinic with a mauled dog, Flatt comes home to wash out 28 water bowls and mop the floor. He sorts through the 1,500 or so emails he receives each day, most of them slugged “URGENT.” He tries to reply in some way to all of the ones from Georgia. In accordance with his “Don’t Sleep” tattoo, he only snatches a nap at night, but he feels happy and rested. “I haven’t had a vacation in years,” he says. “I was even late for my mother’s funeral. But rescue work saved me,” he says. “I had to lose myself to find myself. I’m not saving these pit bulls—they are saving me. I would die for them. I’ve found exactly what I was put on earth to do.” Lucky dog.

This article appears in our December 2018 issue.

There’s a movement in Georgia to modernize mead

Georgia mead
One of the 20 varieties of mead crafted at Etowah Meadery in Dahlonega.

Photograph by Whitney Ott

A growing thirst for mead is keeping the bees in north Georgia busier than usual. “We’ve gone through 6,000 pounds of honey since we opened,” says Blair Housley, who launched Etowah Meadery in Dahlonega last November. “It’s like Kool-Aid for adults.”

Housley and other Georgia meadmakers are looking to elevate the fermented honey wine from an archaic novelty to a beverage as buzzworthy as cider or even craft beer. At least five meaderies now serve north Georgia; longtime beekeepers at a sixth, Allison’s Honey, are in the development phase. Of these, Etowah is the largest, with the most varieties of mead—20 and counting, including blueberry, currant, and chocolate raspberry.

“We face two challenges,” says Housley, who studied at the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center in California. “People either don’t know what it is, or they’ve had a bad experience with it, like something sickly sweet made in someone’s bathtub or served at a Renaissance festival.” (Artisanal meadmakers look askance at the Ren Fest.)

Considered the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage, mead is believed to have been produced 40,000 years ago, and archaeological evidence of it has been found on every continent except Antarctica. The Queen of Sheba reputedly gave King Solomon mead, and rowdy Vikings quaffed it in Beowulf, the oldest surviving epic poem in Old English. Contemporary tipplers know mead from Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings.

“Mead has a very alluring history with stories of aphrodisiacs, orgies, battles, and lore, not to mention it packs a pretty stiff punch,” says Justin Schoendorf of Monks Meadery in Athens. “Monks were the main keepers of bees [that provided] wax for religious ceremonies. They made mead on the side to earn money. During the English Reformation, King Henry VIII dissolved all of the monasteries and destroyed the hives. We wanted to pay tribute to those monks.”

The owners of Viking Alchemist Meadery in Marietta are also inspired by the beverage’s history. “I discovered mead as a drink of the Middle Ages through the Society for Creative Anachronism,” says co-owner Robin Kosoris, whose products are available at Whole Foods and most of Atlanta’s larger package stores and growler shops—and who plans to meet increased demand by moving to a larger facility. “My aim is to make mead a mainstream beverage that people drink as easily as they do a white wine.”

Many meadmakers entered the field by brewing beer. “Georgia’s beer selection was just so dismal in the early 2000s that I started making my own,” Schoendorf says. “In the back of every beer book, there’s a chapter on mead. So, I began to experiment.”

Tom Dilbeck, owner of BeeCraft Mead Company in Dawsonville, recalls the difficulty of getting his recipe right in the early days, before he opened his doors commercially last year. “About 15 years ago, when we first started, we didn’t do so well in competitions,” he says. “One judge said our mead tasted like salad dressing. However, practice and a little scientific method made perfect.”

Dilbeck says every bottle of his craft mead is the work of an average 1,300 bees that visited one million blossoms. He even trademarked the phrase “a million blooms in every bottle.” The flowers the honeybees visit should be free of pesticides, he advises, “which is why we have some bees next to the Chattahoochee National Forest.” He notes that when the mead is just right, “you get the aroma of the flowers when you sip it.”

The family members that run Southern Origin Meadery in Canon raise their own bees, which are transported from place to place to capture varying blooms. “In June, we move our hives to north of Clarkesville in time for sourwood blossoms, which produce a super-light honey for our mead,” says co-owner Brianna Brown-Kidd.

All of the meaderies offer tastings, which cost roughly $10 and allow visitors to sample a range of flavors and intensities. Mead is typically equivalent in alcohol content to wine. And, like wine, it can be paired with food.

“I’d use our sweet peach with barbecue,” says Housley, “and our blueberry for hamburgers. The darker the food, the darker the mead, like wine.”

This article appears in our August 2018 issue.

Remembering Tom Crawford: Longtime political journalist was “a great raconteur and a walking encyclopedia”

Tom Crawford
Tom Crawford

Photograph courtesy of Lynn Todd-Crawford

Tom Crawford’s editors used a vivid verb to describe how he worked. They said, admiringly, that he “vomited a story,” meaning he was a fast writer who never blew a deadline.

“As a writer, Tom was the ultimate utility infielder,” says Charlie Hayslett, who worked with Crawford at the Atlanta Journal. “Most folks I’ve known have been good at one or two things but struggled with others. Tom could do it all—straight news, in-depth, complicated analysis, really well-argued opinion pieces, short stuff, long stuff. Didn’t matter. Tom did it all, and really, really fast and really, really well.”

The old-school newspaperman who found innovative ways to cover Georgia politics for more than three decades died of complications from cancer on July 18 at age 67. He was editor of the Georgia Report, dean of the State Capitol press corps, and a columnist who appeared regularly in 35 newspapers across the state. In May, he posted a final note to Georgia Report, saying that he was “in the final stages of cancer and under home hospice care.”

“I appreciate the support of all our readers. It has been quite a ride. Thank you all very much,” he wrote.

“Editing Tom was the easiest gig in journalism,” says Susan Percy, editor at large for Georgia Trend. “The depth and breadth of his knowledge and understanding of Georgia politics was jaw-dropping. He wrote with grace, clarity, and humor.”

Crawford, an Atlanta native and graduate of the University of Georgia, worked for the Montgomery Advertiser, the Marietta Daily Journal, the Atlanta Journal, and Georgia Trend. Long before internet-based journalism outlets were ubiquitous, he created the Georgia Report in the late 1990s, which quickly became an indispensable insider’s guide to the inner machinations under the Gold Dome. Year after year, Crawford, a member of Mensa International, trained his bemused, gimlet-eyed gaze on the General Assembly. They all are rascals on both sides, his winking dispatches seemed to say. Now here is what they are up to this week.

“Tom took the time to build the relationships, understand the issues and the players in order to use his considerable writing skills in communicating what was actually happening in a story,” says Doug Teper, a former state representative.

Crawford covered three gubernatorial administrations, the tumultuous Republican takeover of state government after a century of Democratic rule, and an array of scandals, skullduggery, and shenanigans.

Journalist and former Atlanta magazine editor Doug Monroe worked and bantered with Crawford at four publications: “Whenever I would say something like, ‘Who was that state senator who was convicted of trying to smuggle ‘funny cigars’ into the state to finance his campaign?’ Without a microsecond’s hesitation, Tom said, ‘Roscoe Emory Dean Jr.’ He then proceeded to recall pranks other senators had played on Dean. Tom didn’t have to look up anything. It was permanently available in his supercomputer of a brain.”

Crawford’s column also brought the news to readers living far afield from Atlanta.

“The state legislature and governor’s office have a direct effect on our lives, but weekly papers in small towns just don’t have the resources to send someone to cover state government, especially year-round,” says Billy Chism, who was editor of the White County News, one of Crawford’s outlets.

Crawford was certainly a skeptical observer, but not a cynic. “He was a true gentleman, but never afraid to speak the truth,” Chism says, “whether it was to the governor or an influential state senator or state representative. He also spoke up for the little guy—the common man and woman—the people who didn’t have lobbyists working on their behalf.”

When not beating a deadline, Crawford often could be found holding court at Manuel’s Tavern. “Tom was a great raconteur, a walking encyclopedia, and an unrepentant punster,” Percy says with a smile. “A stellar journalist and a first-rate human being.”

Friends have planned a public, ink-stained wake at 6 p.m. on the evening of July 31 at Manuel’s. In a Tuesday column, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Galloway encouraged anyone who would like to say a few words to send him an email.

Coyote howls have you cowering? Don’t fear, says this Atlanta advocacy group

Coyotoes

You may not see them, but you definitely hear them.

Coyotes can have a hair-raising, three-octave howl with hiccups of yipping, and they modulate their vocalizations in a way that makes their groups sound larger. You think you’re hearing a giant pack when there probably are only two or three. This phenomenon is called the Beau Geste effect, after a novel in which French Legionnaires propped up their dead along the wall of a fort to appear greater in number. Likewise, as coyotes have become increasingly active here, their ululations are striking outsized fears among metro Atlantans.

Coyotes have been documented in every county in Georgia (one often sighted in Piedmont Park was nicknamed “Rusty”). Last year, concerns prompted state officials to launch a program to trap or kill more of the animals. The Department of Natural Resources prefers not to use the unsavory word “bounty.” Instead, they call it the Georgia Coyote Challenge. Hunters are invited to present up to five “kills” per month from March through August, and at the end of each month, their names are entered into a drawing for a lifetime hunting and fishing license. In 2017, the DNR accumulated nearly 200 carcasses.

“It’s open season on coyotes year-round, and there is no bag limit,” says Charlie Killmaster, an ironically named DNR biologist. “In rural areas and metro regions, they affect the deer population, and in urban areas, they tend to kill small pets. They make an impact wherever they go.”

However, Chris Mowry, associate professor of biology at Berry College, says that “people’s fear of coyotes is mainly fear of the unknown.” He and Larry Wilson, an adjunct professor at Emory University, founded the Atlanta Coyote Project, which studies the animal’s activities and provides public education, in 2014. “We realized there was a real need for credible information to counteract the myths,” Mowry says. “Coyotes are wary, shy animals that want nothing from us. We are trying to change the mentality of fear and show that coyotes are a special part of the environment, that humans and coyotes can coexist in peace.”

How to identify a coyote

If you spotted the recent viral meme about a clueless animal lover who bathed a stray dog that actually turned out to be a coyote, take note: That was a hoax. Coyotes are smaller than wolves but larger than foxes. Here’s what to look for:

  1. pointed, upright ears
  2. a long, narrow snout
  3. a bushy tail
  4. weight of about 30 pounds

“You’re much more at risk of being attacked by a dog than a coyote,” Mowry says. Of the 350 or so animals that test positive for rabies every year in Georgia, less than a handful are coyotes, he adds. In fact, coyotes are so anxious to avoid humans that the diurnal creatures often become nocturnal in urban areas, appearing mostly when people are typically indoors.

The best way for people to avoid the animals is to stop providing food, Mowry says. Coyotes, which are not exclusively carnivorous, are attracted to pet food, compost piles, open trash, dirty grills, and even rodents drawn to spilled bird feed.

His group opposes the Georgia Coyote Challenge. Last year, they advocated for state legislation banning wildlife-killing contests, even asking Governor Nathan Deal to halt the DNR’s event, to no avail. Mowry believes the Challenge is not only inhumane but also counterproductive.

“As coyotes are killed, it reduces competition for those who remain or move in,” he says. “This means there is now more food to go around, and litter sizes increase, and more pups survive. You end up with a larger population than when you started.” Moreover, coyotes eat roadkill and mice. Rodents can carry ticks bearing Lyme Disease, and the disease could increase in humans if the canines are removed, Mowry says. “There are ripples across the ecosystem when we try to tinker with it.”

Coyotes used to be largely a western U.S. phenomenon, figuring prominently in indigenous folklore as charismatic “trickster” characters. But once humans killed off most of Southeast’s red wolves, the region was open for a new canine predator. Coyotes loped into Georgia about 50 years ago to fill the void.

The Atlanta Coyote Project conducted a survey of 2,000 locals about their attitudes toward the animal. “There was some concern, but mostly there was curiosity,” Mowry says. So, his group set up hidden, motion-activated cameras aimed at coyote dens, some on private property.

“The people who lived there would be nervous at first to learn that there might be a family of coyotes nearby on their land,” says Marie Collop, an Atlanta native and recent Berry graduate who has worked with ACP. “But then you get to watch the daily life of the coyotes. Both the male and the female, who mate for life, raise the pups, and you see the pups running and playing. The landowners would end up getting attached to them, giving them names, worrying that they weren’t getting enough to eat.”

Mowry, who is on the science advisory board of the California-based advocacy group Project Coyote, says his project will continue pushing for a ban on the hunting contests. “Not everyone is in favor of trying to kill our way out of the problem.”

This article originally appeared in our January 2018 issue.

“Redneck opera zinger” Jay Hunter Morris stars in Atlanta Opera’s The Flying Dutchman

Jay Hunter Morris

Jay Hunter Morris’s Texas twang makes him sound more like a country and western singer than a trusted former understudy to Luciano Pavarotti. The tenor stars in The Flying Dutchman, opening November 4 at the Atlanta Opera, in the role of Erik, who loves a woman enamored with the captain of a ghost ship. The event marks a homecoming for the Juilliard-trained virtuoso, who lives in Roswell with his family when he’s not touring from Italy to Beijing or performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Here, he discusses his mighty set of pipes.

Why opera?
I grew up in Paris, Texas, where my father was a Southern Baptist music minister and my mother played the organ. I got my start singing in church. I had never really appreciated opera until I moved to Dallas and heard Verdi’s “La Traviata.” I became fascinated with what a human voice could do and how you could project it with no microphone over a 100-piece orchestra to reach 2,000 people. I became a heldentenor—a big, heroic voice.

In 2011 at the Met, you caught a break that made you a world-class star. Describe that experience.
I was going through a dry patch, but I was offered the part of understudy to one of the most difficult operas: the role of Siegfried in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, a grueling five-and-a-half-hour production at the Met. There are a gazillion words in the part. At the last minute the other tenor got sick, so I had to step up. That was magical. I shared the stage with artists I idolized and sang with the greatest orchestra on Earth at arguably the world’s best opera house.

What do you like about the Atlanta Opera?
It’s home. My wife, Meg Gillentine, and I met when we both were singing on Broadway. She’s from Kennesaw and was a Miss Cobb County, I’ll have you know. Being able to work close to home, surrounded by friends and family, is the best feeling ever.

What do you dislike about your work?
Sometimes I wear tights. I could do without that.

You penned the memoir Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger. Are people startled by the difference between your folksy manner and your sophisticated arias?
I can sing in Italian, French, German, Russian, Czech, but I talk like a country boy, darlin’. It’s a source of amusement to my colleagues and to me.

Landing on November 4, 7, 10, and 12
The Flying Dutchman, directed by Tomer Zvulun and conducted by Arthur Fagen, also stars Wayne Tigges and Melody Moore. atlanta­opera.org

This article originally appeared in our November 2017 issue.

Geeky Getaways: Where to indulge your dorky side

Sometime between the ninth incarnation of Dr. Who and the rise of The Big Bang Theory, we entered the Age of the Geek. The word, once a playground taunt for brainy, bespectacled misfits, has evolved into a badge of honor, signifying a special kind of obsessive enthusiast. To be a geek is to possess both passion and knowledge—along with a stubborn notion of what constitutes a good time.

So break out your horn-rims, because the southeastern United States offers enough whiz-bang, Space Age sightseeing to make The Jetsons look downright prophetic. In fact, the landscape is dotted with destinations sure to entertain everyone from the budding scientist to the zombie fanatic. Call it revenge of the nerds. Geek is undeniably chic.

To Infinity and Beyond
Must-see sites for space-nerd nation

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. A year later America joined the Space Race with the establishment of NASA, and the agency went to work building field centers and facilities across the nation, many in the southeastern United States. Still a hotbed for interplanetary exploration, the region is packed with points of interest sure to appeal to galaxy-gazing geeks. Some of these destinations are ephemera, while others are still active, but all are guaranteed to take you out of this world.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Photograph by Pete Cross

It’s three, two, one, blast off at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where you can catch real-life rocket launches on resupply missions to the International Space Station and meet working astronauts. In addition to bimonthly launches (and perhaps more soon, as Elon Musk’s SpaceX gears up to launch twice weekly), the center wows visitors with a staggering collection of spaceships and rockets. These include an Apollo lunar module and crew capsule, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and the 363-foot Saturn V, the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever operated.

The center is also home to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, where you can check out the country’s largest collection of astronaut memorabilia. See the flag flown on the first manned U.S. spaceflight and the spacesuit Alan Shepard wore on America’s third lunar landing. (Look closely, and you’ll notice the moon dust still clinging to the legs and boots.)

U.S. Space and Rocket Center
U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Photograph courtesy of U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Continue your cosmic quest in Pearlington, Mississippi, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. A federal city of more than thirty facilities devoted to scientific innovation, it operates the largest rocket-engine test facility in the country. While some areas are top-secret, visitors can check out the Infinity Science Center, NASA’s official visitor center for Stennis; look for the massive rocket booster sticking out of the swamp near the Louisiana border—it marks the entrance.

Infinity offers guests a glimpse of the real-life work being carried out at the Stennis labs. Infinity’s ever-evolving exhibits take their cues from the real-life work being carried out in the Stennis labs. If you want to see the test sites for the RS-25 rocket engine that will one day go to Mars (and could even take humans into deep space), hop on the center’s forty-minute bus tour. When you return to the center, prepare for galactic travel in the Omega Flight Simulator. As the story of space exploration plays out on a big screen, the simulator whirls you around using the same technology used to train pilots. After splashdown, head to the Odyssey Gift Shop for a package of freeze-dried Astronaut Ice Cream, the very same treat that’s stashed on the International Space Station.

More than half a century of space exploration has yielded a spectacular array of high-tech hardware, and the world’s largest collection of rockets and missiles can be found at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. While you’re there, take a bus tour of Redstone Arsenal, the closely guarded headquarters of the Army Materiel Command. Have lunch at the Mars Grill, featuring aeroponic gardens with crops suspended in mid-air and sprayed with nutrients just as they would be in space. Fill up on cosmic bites like star-shaped tater tots, but note that this establishment is strictly BYOT: bring your own Tang.

PARI
Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute

Photograph from pari.edu

The center also hosts a variety of camps for budding astronauts ages nine to eighteen—some daylong, others weeklong. During these popular events, kids tinker with robotics, scuba dive in the astronaut-training program, and zoom down a 150-foot zip line in a simulated parachute water landing. Grownups need not be jealous: There are also weekend camps for adults and families.

To contemplate the heavens while taking in our planet’s natural beauty, visit the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) in Rosman, North Carolina. Billed as “the foothills of the universe,” this site in the Pisgah National Forest was NASA’s first East Coast satellite-tracking facility, selected for its isolation and protection from manmade light pollution and radio interference. Come for the monthly presentations on current astronomy, and do some stargazing through PARI’s high-powered telescopes. To gain some perspective, stroll the Galaxy Walk, a scale-model sculpture trail of the solar system. And visit the center’s galleries, which showcase hundreds of meteorites, including a fragment of the first one observed falling to earth in 1492 in France.

 

Blinding You with Science
Don’t-miss marvels for the microscope set

From a secret city where groundbreaking work in experimental physics took place during World War II to the headquarters of a national agency charged with battling global health crises, Southern-based centers and labs are responsible for some of America’s most revolutionary scientific work. Grab your safety goggles and go behind the scenes.

American Museum of Science & Energy
American Museum of Science & Energy

Photograph courtesy of Oak Ridge CVB

In 1942, government officials embarked on a highly classified plan to end World War II. It required the construction of an entire city from the ground up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, some twenty miles northwest of Knoxville, and the recruitment of 75,000 patriotic workers—most of them young women—who were promised good pay for steady but unknown jobs that supported the war effort. What they weren’t told is that they were part of an effort to enrich uranium for the world’s first atomic bomb, an endeavor known as the Manhattan Project.

Discover this “Secret City” during a visit to Oak Ridge. The American Museum of Science & Energy tells the story of the Manhattan Project through photos, video, and a rotating roster of mixed-media shows. Admission includes a three-hour bus tour to a trio of sites within the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Your guide—a Department of Energy staffer—will introduce you to the Y-12 National Security Complex, a still-active nuclear manufacturing plant established in 1943 for uranium enrichment; the K-25 Building, another enrichment facility and the largest building in the world during its heyday; and the X-10 Graphite Reactor, the world’s oldest nuclear reactor and the first to produce plutonium. The tour, which is open to U.S. citizens ages ten and up, also circles Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Department of Energy’s largest science and energy lab. It’s home to Titan, the world’s fastest supercomputer; a 3-D printer that produced a Mustang Shelby Cobra automobile; and the Spallation Neutron Source, a research facility where car manufacturer Toyota (among others) is using Spallation’s intense pulsed neutron beams to develop batteries that could one day be used to better power electric cars.

CDC Museum
David J. Sencer CDC Museum

Photograph courtesy of David J. Sencer CDC Museum

Explore science of a different kind at the David J. Sencer CDC Museum in Atlanta, where the scientists double as sleuths, combining old-fashioned detective work with cutting-edge technology to understand and treat mysterious diseases. The first floor showcases a sprawling permanent exhibit on the history of the seventy-one-year-old Centers for Disease Control, with more than 150 artifacts charting the federal agency’s battles with public and global health crises such as HIV/AIDS, Legionnaires’ Disease, smoking, guinea worm, and polio. The museum also maintains a staggering archive of 3,000 items for public perusal, including an early twentieth-century quarantine sign, a carbon dioxide–baited mosquito light trap, a Ped-O-Jet inoculation gun used to help eradicate smallpox, and an iron lung. Find timely rotating exhibits on the second floor, where topics range from the recent Ebola epidemic (on display through May 2018) to humanitarian design solutions, such as the Atlanta Beltline (beginning October 2018).

HM-69 Nike Missile Site
HM-69 Nike Missile Site

Photograph by Pete Cross

Down in the swampy heart of Florida’s Everglades National Park, the work done at the HM-69 Nike Missile Site wasn’t exactly rocket science, but it was close. The massive Cold War relic, developed in response to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, sits less than 200 miles from Havana, and the anti-aircraft base remains virtually the same as it was on the day it was decommissioned in 1979. Today, from December to April, park rangers lead daily tours of the complex, which includes three missile barns and a restored Nike Hercules missile. You can walk the battery control and launch areas, imagining how soldiers at the base would scour radar screens for bombers and other air threats, ready to push a button and launch the 11,000-pound missiles—some armed with nuclear warheads—into the sky.

 

A Cult Following
Vacation destinations for zombie zealots and Potterheads

Countless worlds of fantasy and wonder have sprouted from the minds of geeks, offering a welcome escape from the laws of reality. They’ve cultivated devout followings, with kids checking the sky for a Hogwarts acceptance letter and adults spending hours trying to appear undead. A stunning theme park and a series of location tours allow fans to dive deeper into these worlds.

Universal Orlando
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Photograph courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

If you’ve ever dreamed of sitting under the Sorting Hat as it thoughtfully considers your character, then the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando will certainly cast its spell on you. Here, entire towns mimic those in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling’s incredibly popular novels about a young wizard and a magical world that exists in secret alongside our own Muggle (or non-magical) one.

At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, stroll the streets and shops of Hogsmeade, England’s only all-wizarding village, where sweet Butterbeer pours from taps at the Three Broomsticks pub and Honeydukes peddles treats like Cauldron Cakes and Chocolate Frogs, complete with a wizard trading card in each box. Wander through the castle gates and into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where you’ll follow Harry into Headmaster Dumbledore’s office before joining him for a broomstick ride over the grounds.

With a park-to-park ticket, you can now board the Hogwarts Express, a fully functional locomotive, and travel from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley (inside Universal Studios Florida theme park), where Harry was first introduced to the wizarding world. Should there be soul-sucking dementors lurking about the magical London alley, arm yourself at Ollivander’s, where you can pick a wand—or rather, let the wand pick you. At the far end of the alley, enter Gringotts bank (marked by the fire-breathing dragon on its eave) to see the grand marble lobby where goblins keep the books. There, you’ll climb into a cart that plummets deep into the bank’s subterranean vaults, where you just may run into Harry and his best friends—or even He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Keep your wand at the ready just in case.

Atlanta Movie Tours
Atlanta Movie Tours

Photograph courtesy of Atlanta Movie Tours

If good-natured gore is what you’re after, head to Atlanta, which reigns as the country’s most livable city for zombies. Just ask Atlanta Movie Tours, whose Big Zombie experiences are inspired by the post-apocalyptic AMC series The Walking Dead, shot in Georgia. The company offers three chronological tours guided by a character or insider from the set who will share behind-the-scenes anecdotes as you visit key locations. Non-zombie fanatics can join you: The guide shows clips from the show to provide context. Walk the eerie corridors of the hospital where the zombie virus first festers in the pilot episode, or opt for tour number two to test your own walker-battle skills in the abandoned, kudzu-choked warehouse area known as the zombie arena (to which Atlanta Movie Tours has exclusive access). The third tour covers season six and circles back to iconic locations skipped on the first two tours, so if you make all three pilgrimages—as diehard fans of the undead should—you’ll have lurched through nearly the entire series.

If you’d rather walk among the living dead, join Georgia Tour Company’s live-action, interactive theatrical production, the Touring Dead II–Survive the Ride. From the moment the six-hour walking and bus adventure begins in the fictional Walking Dead town of Woodbury (or Senoia, about an hour south of Atlanta), you’re no longer on a pampered tour: You’re fighting for survival alongside rugged hero Rick Grimes, taking on whomever—or whatever—you might stumble across. You must be at least thirteen years old—and unarmed—to pit yourself against the “walkers” in this monster mash. The company also offers a two-mile walking tour of Walking Dead filming locations around Senoia.

 

Geeky Getaways sidebar

 

Kingdom Con
The fandom conventions of Atlanta

Dragon Con

Billed as the largest gathering of its kind, Dragon Con celebrates science fiction and fantasy, gaming, and comics. This Labor Day weekend rite showcases virtually every kind of cosplay in the galaxy, as preening attendees strive to out-freak each other—and gawkers turn out in droves to watch. Not to be missed is the Saturday morning parade up Peachtree Street. Spectacle aside, the conference is also known for its serious panels on art and literature.

MomoCon

Started by a Georgia Tech anime club in 2004, this four-day festival in May celebrates Japanese anime and manga, American animation, comics, video games, and tabletop games. One of the fastest-growing all-ages conventions in the country, parents are encouraged to bring children and need not worry about excessively adult content and merchandise. Highlights include martial arts programming and mingling with celebrity voiceover artists, designers, and writers.

Walker Stalker Con

This carnival of zombies puts fans under the same roof as their favorite actors from The Walking Dead. Cast members sign eight-by-tens and pose for selfies (both for a fee) in a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere. The free celebrity Q&A panels afford attendees the opportunity to ask actors questions on the main convention floor—no tickets required. The three-day event returns to Atlanta for the fifth time in October.

CONjuration

This magical fantasy convention started in 2014 as a children’s Harry Potter–themed day camp, but expanded to include all ages after so many adults expressed interest in the programming. The November event now explores other magic-driven literature, such as The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, with authors and performers leading bewitching panels and workshops. Attendees are encouraged to don their most enchanting attire.

Libation Literacy

Carousel_Hotel-Monteleone2Sloppy Joe’s
Key West, Florida
This legendary joint opened on December 5, 1933—the day Prohibition was repealed. Ernest Hemingway bought his Scotch here, and every year the saloon hosts a surreal tableau: the Papa Look-Alike Contest, in which dozens of barrel-chested men with man-scaped white beards compete for the title. sloppyjoes.com

Peter Kern Library
Knoxville, Tennessee
A Confederate veteran, Peter Kern opened an ice cream “saloon” after the war. His namesake bar, styled as a speakeasy, presents its menus in World Book encyclopedias. Craft cocktails are named for literary figures such as Atticus Finch, Holly Golightly, and (gulp) serial killer Lester Ballard. theoliverhotel.com

Carousel
New Orleans, Louisiana
If the room is spinning, you’re not necessarily tipsy. This elegant lounge features a revolving bar—a circus-themed, twenty-five-seat merry-go-round for grown-ups installed in 1949. Hemingway mentions it in Night Before Battle, and Eudora Welty features it in The Purple Hat. Truman Capote also tippled here. hotelmonteleone.com

Captain Tony’s Saloon
Key West, Florida
Whenever a celebrity visits this watering hole, a stool is named in his or her honor. Among the inscriptions: Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, and Shel Silverstein. Jimmy Buffet started here and was paid in tequila. Established in the 1930s, it is believed to be the oldest bar in Florida. capttonyssaloon.com 

Battery Park Book Exchange
Asheville, North Carolina
When you’ve found that special title among the 35,000 books on hand, break out the bubbly to celebrate. This dog-friendly hangout doubles as a wine, coffee, and Champagne bar where you can linger in comfortable recliners and imbibe by the glass. You can also trade books for libations. batteryparkbookexchange.com

Fully Booked

sundog books

  1. Square Books
    Oxford, Mississippi
    So integral is this legendary bookshop to the lives of local writers, both Barry Hannah and Larry Brown received their mail here. squarebooks.com
  2. Faulkner House Books
    New Orleans, Louisiana
    If walls could talk, these would drawl with bourbon breath. Formerly an apartment, this is where William Faulkner wrote his first book, Soldier’s Pay. faulknerhousebooks.com
  3. Lemuria Books
    Jackson, Mississippi
    Kids rule at this charmingly cluttered shop, which has a dedicated children’s book buyer and some discerning youngsters on call to make recommendations. lemuriabooks.com
  4. A Cappella Books
    Atlanta, Georgia
    When the economy tanked, this fixture doubled down on author events, partnering with the Carter Center to bring marquee names such as Salman Rushdie. acappellabooks.com
  5. Blue Bicycle Books
    Charleston, South Carolina
    Providing a smart, cathartic outlet for teen angst, this shop hosts YALLFest, a young adult book festival the second weekend of November. bluebicyclebooks.com
  6. Books and Books
    Coral Gables, Florida
    An aesthete’s delight, this genteel landmark is housed in a 1927 Mediterranean-style building listed in the Coral Gables Register of Historic Places. booksandbooks.com
  7. Malaprop’s
    Asheville, North Carolina
    This institution strives to redeem the history of its building, which once served as a men-only club, by stocking the same number of titles by male and female authors. malaprops.com
  8. Alabama Booksmith
    Birmingham, Alabama
    This is the world’s only store that sells a variety of books with one thing in common: They all are signed by their authors. alabamabooksmith.com
  9. Maple Street Book shop
    New Orleans, Louisiana
    This store—the first in the Crescent City to specialize in paperbacks—opened in 1964 and quickly became a meeting place for civil rights crusaders. maplestreetbookshop.com
  10. Sundog Books
    Seaside, Florida
    This coastal gem takes advantage of the ocean breeze with a spacious porch where visiting authors sign books. A blue heeler pooch greets shoppers. sundogbooks.com

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