One Square Mile: Stone Mountain Park Carillon

Photograph by Dustin Chambers
Photograph by Dustin Chambers

Stone Mountain Park Carillon | Stone Mountain, GA | 18 miles east of Atlanta

Here is the office on a Sunday afternoon in her 40th year at the machine. The music runs from her fingers to the circuitry in a dark room below her feet and then under the ground and down the hill and up the amplifying tower at the water’s edge, 380 feet away. This journey takes less than a second. “I’m pushing 8,000 watts,” Mabel Florence says. “That’s a lot for an old lady.” She will not say how old. But she will share the secret of her unfailing attendance as the official carillonneur of Stone Mountain Park: “If you’re sick, take about five aspirin and a good shot of Scotch.” The massive electronic carillon was a gift to the state from Coca-Cola after its appearance at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Now she plays the bells every weekend: twice on Saturdays, three times on Sundays, the sound ringing out across the park. Today she opens the console room and looks at the only two people in the small amphitheater outside and asks them whether they want to hear love songs or Christmas songs. They say love songs. She plays “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” and the man pulls the woman close. They walk away during “Ave Maria,” replaced by two more lovers during “O Holy Night.” There are no words for the way she plays that song on those bells on this damp gray afternoon with the leaves red and yellow and the man and the woman standing there in wonderment. Then they go, and the amphitheater is empty once again, and Mabel Florence plays on. She does not intend to retire anytime soon. This is a powerful machine, perhaps a dangerous one, and she will choose her apprentice carefully. “I’m gonna find an engineer and teach ’em to play,” she says, “rather than find an organist and electrocute ’em.”

This article originally appeared in our January 2015 issue.