It is becoming increasingly difficult to get lost. In fact, with the exception of traversing the fringe regions of the planet, those areas without access to a cell signal, wi-fi or satellite reception, one has to work pretty darn hard to lose one’s way. For sure, you can get confused or disoriented…but lost? Thanks to digital everything, the solution to that problem is to simply go to The Google and find out where you are and how to get to where you want to be.
It was, as everyone knows, not always like that. Atlantans in the 19th century spent all of their days without any of the conveniences of even the 20th century, let alone the 21st. Back in the 1800s, you couldn’t just run down to the convince store and buy a map. And even if you could, most people didn’t because they rarely went anywhere.
Take the case of Benjamin Walker, who owned the land we know today as Piedmont Park. With the exception of a stint in the army during the Civil War, Ben Walker spent his entire life on the land that became the park. His travels only took him into town to buy supplies and to socialize and, for those trips, he knew the way. But like most Atlantans, Benjamin Walker probably lacked a clear understanding of the relationship that each the region’s neighborhoods had to one another. In short, he wasn’t very well oriented.
But all of that changed in 1871 when a traveling troupe came to town and created a product for which Ben Walker and all of his neighbors had been hungering. It was a way to get the “big picture” of one’s physical relationship to the rest of the city. It seems like such a simple thing today but for people in Benjamin Walker’s day, it was virtually impossible to know exactly how all of the pieces of a city fit together. Which is why knowing your place is the subject of this week’s Stories of Atlanta.