Go Tell It on the Mountain
May 27, 2015 12:18 AM   Subscribe

The last time he hiked to the top of Stone Mountain before embarking on a new life in South America, longtime Atlanta writer and novelist Charles McNair saw a ghost, had a dream and found a new, pure heart in the old mountain.”
posted by ob1quixote (17 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is amazing. The first time I climbed Stone Mountain, I was 8 and with my beloved, amazing Georgia grandparents, documented in pictures I still treasure. I stayed away for 30 years, ashamed of the history of the state, the place, and my family. We moved to Decatur a few years ago, and now, in winter when the trees are off, Stone Mountain hangs over the horizon, visible from our back deck. I also catch a glimpse of it every day on my drive home, rising above the Lilburn Walmart.

On New Years Eve, 2014, some friends invited me to climb it with them. The Stone Mountain I saw then was the one described in this article, Shannon Byrne's Stone Mountain. It's an amazing place, filled with the Atlanta and Georgia that are today. Yes, those idiots are still carved into the side, yes, you can still feel the ghosts of the Klan, but the laser light show is as much about James Brown as it is about Dixie. I'm going back soon.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:23 AM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Politics aside, the Confederate monument remains a fantastically imagined and executed work of art – a world-class sculpture etched onto the most intractable of mediums, the stone heart of a mountain.

When I lived in Decatur in the 1980s, I had a friend who kept a Cessna 172 at Stone Mountain Airport. When the wind was blowing right and he got to use the grass strip for take off, you would get a tremendous close up view of the mountain. Much closer than this, but you get the idea.

Politics aside, the sculpture is an ugly man-made scar on a natural wonder.
posted by three blind mice at 4:21 AM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Climbing it was as much an Atlanta childhood rite of passage as riding the Pink Pig, or milking Rosebud, back in the 70's.
posted by thelonius at 4:42 AM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Did they rework the laser show since I lived in Atlanta ('97)? The laser show back then was about as crazy-ass a piece of Confederate-sympathizer bullshit propaganda I've ever seen, with General Lee literally (in the narrative) rising from his grave to bring the South to glory again.
posted by sonascope at 5:29 AM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh wow, Charles is on the Blue! (He is one of my former coffee shop regulars who became a friend after a while. ) So cool!
posted by Kitteh at 5:51 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have not shelled out money to see it, but by all accounts, the 21st century laser show is a sort of history of Atlanta and Georgia thing, with yes some civil war stuff but more civil rights stuff (as the article notes, the town of Stone Mountain is a middle-class black suburb now), and the music is a mix of Georgia classics (James Brown, Ray Charles) and more modern stuff that mentions Atlanta/Georgia, and then every summer I think they add summer hits (Pharrell Happy).

Yelp Reviews
posted by hydropsyche at 6:05 AM on May 27, 2015


Very powerful stuff. LOVE LOVE LOVE The Bitter Southerner. Look forward to it every week. Somehow missed this article.... Think I'll take the kiddos to Stone Mountain next week before it gets too hot. Great post.
posted by pearlybob at 6:18 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Atlantan here. I haven't read this article yet. I just want to say how much I LOVE the Bitter Southerner.
posted by robstercraw at 6:23 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I got to hang out with Shannon Byrne for an afternoon right before her website launched. Her seemingly endless font of positivity and energy is something to behold.

I really loved this piece. It actually made me a little misty at the end there. Charles is a pretty incredible guy. He used to play professional baseball in the Italian countryside in the 1970's. I'm going to miss running into him at Manuel's Tavern now that he's moved down to Columbia.
posted by Maaik at 9:00 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I chaperoned a field trip of second graders to Stone Mountain last year. There was no mention of the carving at all, even though it loomed over us. The group was just taken through the nature center and participated in a learning activity related to the life cycle of butterflies.

I was underwhelmed.

One of the kids I was in charge of asked me about the carving. I told him what my family always told me: it's there so we can remember our mistakes.

TBH, I wouldn't feel bad if the carving fell off the mountain. I vacillate between being annoyed that all the new Atlantans have no idea mass Klan inductions were once held there to being proud that the carving is no longer really important to the park, which has shifted its focus from Civil War history to nature education and activities.

The carving is like Atlanta's embarrassing drunk uncle. It's not going anywhere, it's been here forever, we have great memories and it's hard to explain to outsiders. Also it's offensive. But there it sits, part of the family none the less.
posted by EinAtlanta at 9:17 AM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hi, Maaik! Thanks for the links. Y'all at WABE do fantastic local stuff (and I'm a sustaining member).
posted by hydropsyche at 9:25 AM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not sure when they changed it, but the last I saw Lee (or is it Jackson?) rides around on his horse and sees lots of sad images then he raises his sword at the climax of Elvis's Glory Hallelujah and breaks it in a "never again" gesture and they all ride off the mountain.
posted by betsybetsy at 9:49 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've loved visiting Stone Mountain. Park in Stone Mountain village and walk right in on the Stone Mountain trail, all for free; head for the path going up to the top but take an immediate right, and wander the back side of the mountain. No carving, no confederate theme park, no tourists, just the lovely wilderness of Stone Mountain -- wildflowers, pines, birds, great views, and lots of crazed granite.
posted by chortly at 11:00 AM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


The thing is, the carving hasn't been there forever. It wasn't completed until 1972. Like a lot of things in the South it's not from as far back in the past as you would hope and nobody wants to talk about it. Not a bad hike though (other than the fact that they are still flying the southern cross, fuckers).
posted by mike_bling at 12:11 PM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


the park, which has shifted its focus from Civil War history to nature education and activities.

Wow. I was a boy from a Northern family living in the South. I was a Civil War buff. I used to make my parents take me to Stone Mountain to spend time wandering through the museum, reading everything. Then we would hike up the mountain. (We'd also help ad archaeological digs where new roads were being built, and wandered around Kennesaw Mountain, and spent hours wandering the eroded emplacements behind our neighborhood. I always knew that the right side won the war and no place in Atlanta never gave me the feeling that they supported Lost Causers. And that was the '80s. In this age of revanchist Confederatism, I guess I am glad they have gone towards being a nature center.

I was just thinking earlier this week that I needed to take my kid to hike the mountain next time we go visit my parents. (A friend posted a pic from the top of the rock. The memories!)
Does the laser light show still end with the traitors on horses riding off the mountain?
posted by Seamus at 12:18 PM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


sonascope: “Did they rework the laser show since I lived in Atlanta ('97)? The laser show back then was about as crazy-ass a piece of Confederate-sympathizer bullshit propaganda I've ever seen, with General Lee literally (in the narrative) rising from his grave to bring the South to glory again.”
betsybetsy: “Not sure when they changed it, but the last I saw Lee (or is it Jackson?) rides around on his horse and sees lots of sad images then he raises his sword at the climax of Elvis's Glory Hallelujah and breaks it in a "never again" gesture and they all ride off the mountain.”
It's funny. I haven't seen the laser show in person probably 25 years. What betsybetsy describes has been the end of the vignette during the Elvis “An American Trilogy” number for as long as I can remember. However, the middle, especially during the big crescendo before the lullaby portion, is exactly what sonascope describes. (In the above recording from a few years ago you can hear the rebel yells in the crowd.) I guess my oft repeated thesis that to most people the laser show looks more like the Squidbillies version than Atlantans really want to admit isn't entirely without merit.

mike_bling: “The thing is, the carving hasn't been there forever. It wasn't completed until 1972. Like a lot of things in the South it's not from as far back in the past as you would hope and nobody wants to talk about it. Not a bad hike though (other than the fact that they are still flying the southern cross, fuckers).”
I'd dearly love to see McNair's idea of incorporating the leaders of the civil rights movement into the carving. Stone Mountain is a beautiful place. I've loved living in its shadow for the last 30 years. It's such a shame that you can't really take out-of-town guests there without a big disclaimer.

Although, if what you want is to explore the unique ecosystem of a granite dome, Panola Mountian State Park is less than a half-hour from Stone Mountain and has none of the baggage.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:54 PM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


This piece is amazing. Oh, Willie. Oh, ghost stories. And The Bitter Southerner in general is amazing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:12 PM on May 27, 2015


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