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It never returned

When the 1895 Cotton States Exposition opened in Atlanta 120 years ago as of this writing, it represented the culmination of years of planning and fund raising on the part of the exposition’s organizers. It was a big time undertaking costing over $2 million dollars, which, by today’s currency standards, equates to around $57 million dollars.

The exposition was situated on land that would one day become Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and it is in large part because of preparation done for the event that Piedmont Park looks the way it does today. To level the ground, organizers removed acres of dirt that made up the site’s rolling hills. They enlarged a small pond and renamed it Lake Clara Meer. Almost 350 flagpoles were erected on the grounds and atop buildings. Meandering footpaths and roads criss-crossed through the site and a train track had been constructed to deliver passengers to the exposition.

It was the biggest thing to hit Atlanta since the Civil War but opening day at the Cotton States Exposition was not without its problems. Many of the exhibits were not complete and it would be a month later, in October, before the exposition was fully up to speed, a fact that did not seem to bother the 35,000 people who attended opening day ceremonies.

The event lasted for 100 days and, though at its end organizers would complain that the exposition was not financially successful, the estimated 800,000 visitors who attended were treated to a wide and captivating collection of exhibits, events and distractions. Among them was the subject of this week’s Stories of Atlanta.

Lance Russell

Lance Russell is an Atlanta-based filmmaker and media communicator who, for over three decades, has been entrusted by clients to tell their stories. A seasoned producer with an innate ability to cut to the heart of the matter, Lance’s instincts are tailor-made for today’s “media bite” culture. Brief, poignant and always entertaining, Lance’s current passion is bringing Atlanta’s colorful and inspiring past to life with his “rest of the story” style video series, Stories of Atlanta. “History’s best communicators,” says Lance, “have always been storytellers. It’s in our DNA. ‘Once upon a time’ is how we got to where we are now.”


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  1. Joe Kitchens October 3, 2017 9:36 am

    I recently stumbled across an internet posting by the USDA showing the distribution patterns of cotton production in Georgia, and followed up by checking the Tifton Experiment Station postings. Apparently we are about to equal or exceed cotton production in Georgia, which reached its highest point in 1911 (2.8 bales). Production (along with prices) remained high during the years of World War I, and for a time afterward. In 1922 inflation overtook the industry, already nagged by the incursion of the boll weevil. As William Rawlings has explained in his remarkable book A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff; The Great Recession and the Death of Small Town Georgia.(Mercer University Press, 2013), cotton production collapsed, banks failed and thousands of sharecroppers, farm laborers and farmers left for the cities, and for manufacturing jobs in places like Detroit. It marked the death of many small towns in Georgia and of a way of life. Today the industry is highly mechanized and industrial in scale and has apparently done little to stem the seemingly endless decline in rural communities in the state’s vast upper coastal plains.
    Joe KitchensReport

  2. Gary Moss October 8, 2017 5:02 am

    As a filmmaker, you might be interested to know that the Cotton States Exhibition was the site of the first theatrical projection of a film to a paying audience. “Annabelle In the Sun,” a dance by Annabelle Whitfield, was shown in a tent near the intersection of today’s 10th Street and Myrtle Avenue. Two inventors, Thomas Arnat and Francis Jenkins, had created a hand cranked projector capable of showing a film to a full audience. Despite the enthusiasm of the The Atlanta Constitution which called it “the most wonderful electric invention of the age,” Atlantans were reluctant to enter the dark, smoky tent. The theater was damaged by a nearby fire and closed after a few weeks. The inventors estimate they’ve lost $5,000 and Atlanta lost a chance to lead a new industry.Report


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