Architectural models of Olympic venues. A stack of signs, each bearing the name of a participating country in the opening ceremony’s “Parade of Nations.” A lacquered flower bouquet like those presented to gold medalists. Licensed Olympic merchandise, from dolls and key chains to motor oil and wine. Oh, and pins—lots and lots of pins. Few Atlantans may realize that all of these objects and thousands more are housed in a climate-controlled archive space in the Atlanta History Center.
“The people at Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games made a systematic effort to save these things,” says Don Rooney, director of exhibitions at the center. “Just think of the stories we could tell if only someone had saved some of what was at, say, the Cotton States Exhibition in 1895.”
The memorabilia was loaned to the center in 1997 and became part of the permanent collection in 2002—the same year that Rooney began helping organize the Centennial Olympic Games Museum, which opened in time for the Games’ 10th anniversary. The exhibition includes 450 objects and 250 photos and other items, and tells the story of each of the 17 days of the 1996 Olympics. It will close in August for a major overhaul, but when it reopens, hopefully in 2017, “we’ll shift to a historical perspective and talk about how the city and region looks 20 years later as a result of the Games.”
This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.