Editor’s Note: Civics 101

February 2017
Atlanta police officer at a call box on Lower Alabama Street, 1935

Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center

Twelve years ago, when I was a reporter at Creative Loafing, I found myself one day scrolling through the microfilm of early 19th-century Atlanta newspapers at the Atlanta History Center. I don’t even remember what I was looking for, but I recall stumbling, randomly, across a news story about a string of murders in and around Grant Park. A man had been attacking young black women, stabbing them to death. One victim managed to escape, and her description of the man—“tall, black, broad-shouldered and wearing a broad-brimmed black hat”—led to weeks of breathless coverage about the killer the press dubbed “The Atlanta Ripper,” a name inspired by the still-fresh serial slayings in London by Jack the Ripper. Like Jack the Ripper, the Atlanta killer was never found, though many theories were floated at the time. (Among the most offensive was from a local judge, who posited each killing was by a different assailant: “There are at least 1,000 negro men in Atlanta today who stand ready to cut the throats of their wives at the slightest provocation.”)

I became slightly obsessed with the Atlanta Ripper, eventually writing a story about him for CL. I bring all this up because midway through the reporting for our cover package on Forgotten Atlanta, I asked our lifestyle editor, Mary Logan Bikoff, if she wanted me to write something about the Ripper. “Sure,” she said. But then I didn’t follow up. Turned out, as Mary Logan tells me, it’s probably for the best. Why? The scope of the package was threatening to get out of hand. Americans are not, in general, great at remembering history, but in Atlanta, which paves over its history with unnerving regularity, the condition is especially severe. Which is why even Mary Logan, who was born here, found herself shocked by the amount she didn’t know about her native city. (Mary Logan’s email to me earlier today: “Asa Candler Jr. had an enormous menagerie at his mansion on Briarcliff Road??”)

All this is to say that what we included is just a fraction of what we could have, given the sufficient space and time. We leaned hard on historians across the metro area, but none more than the good folks at the Atlanta History Center, especially media relations manager Howard Pousner. Howard was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for decades, and his institutional knowledge is vast. Likewise, researching vintage photographs gave our design department a crash course in Atlanta history. “I found out there was a riot on my street back in 1966,” says Kristin Kellogg, our design director.

Our hope is that every reader—from those who’ve lived decades here to those who just moved here—will find something about Atlanta they didn’t know. And if you want to know more, can I recommend the Atlanta History Center? You’ll lose yourself.