Three months ago we ran an oral history of Freaknik, and the story became, far and away, the most trafficked piece we’ve seen in the history of our website. In retrospect, it’s easy to understand why. Freaknik was nothing less than a cultural phenomenon, and everyone who lived through it (or endured it, depending on your perspective) couldn’t wait to discuss it. (Thank you for your participation and your tweets, Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin, Ryan Cameron, et al.)
In this month’s issue, we revisit another moment in Atlanta’s history—the legendary Ramblin’ Raft Race, which turned a 10-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee into something that was part circus and part bacchanal. Although the first raft race predated Freaknik by more than a decade, the two events were major chapters in the social evolution of Atlanta, albeit for different demographics. They were also events that ultimately suffered the same fate, victims of their own success.
Much of the fun in compiling these two stories was going through photographs we dug up in archives and personal collections. In the case of the raft race, it was an embarrassment of visual riches—the hair, the clothes, the swimsuits. But the biggest laugh came from the photo above, where we learned to what great lengths this magazine used to go to drum up subscriptions. It also made me miss the days of seven-digit phone numbers.
The joke about the 60s was that if you remember it, you weren’t there. I’m glad that saying doesn’t hold true for the Ramblin’ Raft Race, whose participants were generous with their time and painstaking in their details. Especially Larry Patrick, the founder, whose recollections remind us of a time when one guy with a crazy idea created something weird and wonderful—and unmistakably Atlantan.
This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.