Our favorite stories of 2016

From a dad’s heartfelt tribute to his son to a look at where your recycling actually ends up, here are 9 great reads for the long weekend ahead
Gentrification in Kirkwood
A photo of Anna Thornton’s Kirkwood home in 2012, against the street today. The author’s home is on the right.

Photograph by Josh Meister

How gentrification really changes a neighborhood
From our March 2016 issue

To neighbors, she was “Miss Anna,” and to her children, she was the strictest, strongest woman in Kirkwood.

Anna Thornton stuck with this neighborhood four miles east of downtown through decades of decline, determined to help spare from jail the local kids she’d once babysat. Anna watched over her beloved Warren Street like a one-woman police force and benevolent monarch. Her kids say she liked to cut loose during Saturday night parties, watching children imitate James Brown on the living room floors she kept gleaming like mirrors, her eyes peeled for mischief outside. Keep reading

GM ignition switch scandal
Brooke Melton’s car was a key piece of evidence in her parents’ lawsuit against General Motors.

Photograph by Josh Meister

No Accident: Inside GM’s deadly ignition switch scandal
From our January 2016 issue
For Brooke Melton, the day began with a voicemail from her father, wishing her a happy 29th birthday. She drove to her shift as a nurse at West Atlanta Pediatrics. After work she climbed into her white 2005 Chevy Cobalt and threw her bag onto the passenger seat. A cautious driver—she’d never once gotten a speeding ticket and always wore her seatbelt—Brooke was headed to her boyfriend’s place to celebrate over a birthday dinner.

Darkness had already descended when Brooke pulled onto Hiram Acworth Highway. Driving north on the lonesome two-lane road, past the strip malls and convenience stores, she came to a half-mile downhill straightaway, a stretch of asphalt bordered by Georgia pines and utility poles. Where the road leveled, rainwater pooled on the blacktop. Suddenly Brooke lost control of the Cobalt, hydroplaning across the center line. An oncoming Ford Focus slammed into Brooke’s rear passenger side, violently reversing the car’s counterclockwise rotation. The Cobalt spun off the road, over the shoulder, and 15 feet down into the surging waters of Picketts Mill Creek. It was just before 7:30 p.m. Keep reading

Bedtime rituals involve playing with Dad.
Bedtime rituals involve playing with Dad.

Photograph by Matt Moyer

My son has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. But there’s so much more you should know about him.
From our November 2016 issue
My son is a constant loop in my thought track.

My son is the boy you can hear from outside the house or from the other room, making sounds that seem to have no form.

My son is quiet, sometimes for hours at a time.

My son spends most of his time inside, in his wheelchair or on the floor, watching movies, listening to music or stories, playing with me. Keep reading

Susan Schuenemann
Susan Schuenemann

Photograph by Bryan Meltz

Police never found who shot and raped Susan Schuenemann, but she hopes science might
From our December 2016 issue
It was late on a sticky summer night in 1985 when Susan Kendrick Schuenemann, then 19 years old, came home to her basement apartment on the edge of Savannah’s historic district. A cosmetology student, she had just returned from a weekend trip to Atlanta and was eager to see her younger sister, Christa, who was visiting. As she opened the door, she saw her sister’s suitcase overturned on the floor, clothes tumbling out. Had an intruder been there? The thought spooked her. Susan didn’t have a telephone, so she walked to the closest pay phone a few blocks away to call Christa and her roommate, who were at the Who’s Who, a Savannah bar near the riverfront nightlife.

The summer of 1985 had been a violent one, part of a yearlong crime surge that would make the Savannah metro area the country’s murder capital. In the first six months of the year, 26 people were killed in Chatham County—a pace of one murder per week. The rate of sexual assaults also climbed, with more than two rapes reported each week.

Susan glanced around nervously as she walked across darkened Chatham Square, shrouded in leafy live oaks and Spanish moss, then two more blocks to a pay phone affixed to a metal pole. A couple of young guys rode by on bikes and shouted, “Hey, Cotton Top!” Her two-tone hair was black and buzzed short underneath, with floppy pure-white tufts on top. Annoyed, she turned toward the phone and put in a dime. When the bartender answered, she asked him to find Christa and put her on the phone.

As she began talking to Christa about the scene at the apartment, a man walked up and asked how to get to Bolton Street, a few blocks away. She brushed off the interruption, barely glancing at him: “I don’t know.”

Susan saw the man walk about 20 or 30 yards, then snap his fingers and spin on his heels, as if he had forgotten something. He headed back toward her, but she turned into the phone to argue with her sister, who was reluctant to leave the bar and come home right away. Later, she would feel too uncertain to describe the man in any detail. Keep reading

Bats white-nose syndrome
Jacalyn Beck inspects a bat she netted at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

Photograph by Steve Fennessy

Gone: The race to stop the fungus killing millions of bats
From our August 2016 issue
Bats are warm and fuzzy, which hasn’t stopped us from treating them with a cruelty that borders on the baroque. Over the centuries, bats have been shot, gassed, burned, electrocuted, drowned, bludgeoned, stoned, poisoned, and blown up. On the day after Christmas in 1960, at Carter Caves State Park in Kentucky, three boys ripped hibernating bats from the walls and ceiling of a cave and then trampled them. Ten thousand were dispatched that way, according to a global examination of bat deaths published last year in the journal Mammal Review. In Laos, bats roosting in palm trees were killed by young men who waited until dusk to take them down—with slingshots. In Gibraltar, youths smoked out a colony of 5,000 bent-wing bats, then proceeded to kill them. (It’s not clear how.) Over the winter of 1941, boys in Minnesota lit newspapers on fire near hibernating bats, burning them to death.

In some corners of the world, bats are less a nuisance than they are dinner. In 1917, scientists in Congo observed the Mangbetu people’s method for cooking the free-tailed bat: “Spiked on a splinter of wood, singed and broiled over the fire, the bowels left in as a condiment but pressed out just before serving, make them choice morsels.” It was a delicacy fit for a king—literally—provided the teeth, sharp as needles and thought to cause internal bleeding if ingested, were removed first. “They make a very welcome present, but should one forget to break out their needles he would be guilty of the gravest offense. Suspected of an intention to murder the king, his days would be numbered.”

No matter the culture, bats are freighted with a supernatural significance that reduces this complex and intelligent animal to a symbol (in China, five bats represent five blessings) or an omen (Dracula, death), which only distracts from truly understanding them. Keep reading

Syrian refugees Clarkston Georgia
Seven-year-old Rima holds up a drawing of the Syrian flag that she made at school.

Photograph by Bryan Meltz

Refuge: One Syrian family’s long odyssey to Georgia
From our April 2016 issue

The uprising began in February of 2011 in Daraa, in the southwest of the country, with splashes of red graffiti on school walls and grain silos: “The people want to topple the regime!” By late spring it had spread 300 miles north to the city of Aleppo. Students crowded the streets, demanding the ouster of the auto­cratic Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, whose family had for decades kept a brutal stranglehold on the majority Sunni Muslim population. The police pushed back, first with tear gas and batons and later with bullets and shotgun shells. Bodies were left to fester in the sun.

Driving to work every day, Amin,* an employee at an Aleppo mattress factory, encountered roadblock after roadblock, stretching a 15-minute commute into a stressful, hour-long ordeal. “I consider myself to be a simple man,” Amin, a Sunni Muslim, told me recently through an interpreter. “But I could see that life was changing in ways small and big. And I knew it would change more. I thought to myself, Will this be over in one year? Two years? More? And in the meantime, what about my children?Keep reading

1996 Atlanta Olympics Izzy
Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones

What is it? An oral history of Izzy, the mascot marketing snafu of Olympic proportions
From our July 2016 issue
It would be hard to overstate how shocking it was when Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta? Over Toronto? Athens? Melbourne? The news, which came on a Tuesday in September 1990, sent the city into a frenzy of celebration. But for Billy Payne, who’d run the three-year campaign that led to the announcement, it was just the beginning. Now came the hard part: Finding corporate sponsors, building an 85,000-seat stadium, delegating the thousand and one tasks to ready the city for the world stage. Far down on his list? Designing a mascot in time for the closing ceremonies of the Barcelona Games in 1992, when the Olympic torch would be passed to Atlanta. Payne quickly appointed a “mascot committee,” which created design guidelines and canvassed for submissions. Ten companies proposed a mascot. One was chosen. The winner would live in Olympic infamy. Keep reading

Where does my recyling go? Atlanta
Photograph by Andrea Fremiotti

Where your recyclables end up may surprise you
From our August 2016 issue
It smells in here. Like wet cardboard. Old shoes. Hot milk. Cat litter. And it’s your fault. That is to say, the reason it’s stinky inside “the MRF,” Waste Pro’s 400,000-square-foot Material Recovery Facility on Fulton Industrial Boulevard, is because most of us put out the wrong stuff for pickup.

Leave a big blob of yogurt in the plastic container? That cup is contaminated, and it’s probably going to the landfill. Did you put your shredded bills into a plastic grocery bag and neatly knot it at the top before putting it in the recycling bin? Landfill. Were you feeling self-righteous by using a glass bottle instead of plastic? Glass goes to the landfill, too.

“It’s a problem of education,” says Roni Page-Dowdy, program manager for Waste Pro. “People don’t know what goes in recycling and what doesn’t. And they definitely don’t understand what happens after that.” Keep reading

Salem Camp Meeting
The Elliotts say grace before Big Sunday lunch.

Photograph by Johnathon Kelso

Each summer, faithful flock to Covington, Georgia for one of the country’s oldest Christian revivals
From our October 2016 issue
Salem Camp Ground in Covington, site of one of the country’s oldest Christian revivals, started out as a brush arbor—a few poles draped with tree branches to give worshipers shade from the summer sun. That was in 1835. The Civil War was still a generation away. Covington was a new town with a fledgling square a few miles down the road from Salem. There was no railroad. Atlanta was a full day’s ride by horse. Worshipers would sleep under the wagons they rode there or use the wagon sheets as tents, their horses tethered nearby.

Times have changed. On a steamy Sunday morning in July, it took me just 35 minutes to get there from Atlanta. The campground sits a stone’s throw from Salem Road, which isn’t as quaint as its name suggests; this stretch of highway, with its O’Reilly Auto Parts and its QuikTrip and its Kroger and its Family Dollar, is indistinguishable from any other suburban highway in the South. So indistinguishable, in fact, that I missed the entrance to the campground and had to turn around.

Salem means “peace” (think shalom in Hebrew, or salaam in Arabic), and the campground, despite its proximity to the soulless highway beyond the tree line, is nothing if not peaceful. “We live in a world that is so busy. Salem operates at a completely different pace,” says Tom Elliott, a Methodist minister who teaches at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He has been coming to Salem his whole life. Keep reading