Alabama has an official state museum supported by taxpayers. First in the nation, actually, dating back to 1901. Tennessee has one, too. So does Florida. So does South Carolina. So do a lot of states not even neighbors, and some with considerably less history than Georgia has accumulated.
Indeed, most states think highly enough of their heritage and the importance of passing it on that their residents have and support their own museums, even if they have to pay for it themselves. But not Georgia.
As recently explored in a major Atlanta newspaper article on who dropped this particular ball and why apparently Georgia has warehouses full of artifacts, documents and so forth — only some of them in the barely open Georgia Archives, which is set up for paperwork and not stuff.
As many schoolchildren know, the usual substitute for taking a field trip to a “state museum” is visiting beneath the Gold Dome to see the exhibits of a stuffed two-headed calf and similar, provided as being less weird than the empty-headed legislators who take up most of the space.
This abandonment of heritage, of cutting new and future generations off from their roots, seems a deliberate policy. The state has also abandoned a golf hall of fame it never built, dismantled its music hall of fame, and left its sports hall of fame orphaned.
Perhaps reflecting the priorities of leadership, it has managed to keep the state agricultural museum in Tifton open along with the Go Fish! educational center in Perry.
To be sure, museums and historic sites devoted to single events or personages dot the landscape. However, what is lacking is the whole ball of wax to survey in one place, the big picture, the ability to walk through time and events in chronological sequence.
And, just to get scary, yes such would cost a bunch of money — not for the contents as the state already owns a mountain of stuff, but the building and setting up the displays, assuring preservation and proper staffing able to inform guests. More than 20 years ago, then-Gov. Zell Miller was pushing for such a museum ... and then got a cost estimate of $125 million and retreated in terror.
It would cost more now, to be sure, and the state today isn’t even covering the bill for public education much less supporting things like museums. So, don’t expect such a fundamental facility soon. On the other hand, a billion dollars for a new football stadium via a mix of private/tax money ... great idea!
By the way, the state currently owns a building in downtown Atlanta that it has long said would be perfect for such a museum — the old World of Coca-Cola, which it acquired for $17.3 million and now just lets sit there, gathering dust instead of visitors.
And that is where all this becomes really bewildering instead of just lamentable by way of insult to the past and ancestors.
In case anyone has missed noticing the unavoidable, the core of Atlanta increasingly is becoming a sort of Disney World aimed at grownups / parents / convention guests. Call it Dollar World.
The major attractions concentrated there are becoming jaw-dropping. The city boosters there list 32 attractions ... without even counting nearby stuff like the Carter or King centers. Most are concentrated in a downtown with Centennial Olympic Park as its core. Some are slightly removed in nearby areas where fun things are less in evidence … like the Capitol where many scary things take place. The empty World of Coke building is right across the street.
Let’s see, just to skim the cream ... there is the Georgia Aquarium, the new Coke universe, the Georgia Dome, World Congress Center, Turner Field/Braves Museum, Philips Arena, CNN Center, Imagine It! Children’s Museum, Cyclorama, Zoo Atlanta, etc. About 17 of these 32 listed diversions are in the core, others way off in the “Midtown” distance like High Museum of Art, Fox Theatre, Atlanta Botanical Garden.
And that is without mentioning the brand-new supersized SkyView Atlanta Ferris Wheel — quite the norm for an amusement park — the coming-soon College Football Hall of Fame and that billion-dollar new perch for the Atlanta Falcons. By the way, that will probably result in the Georgia Dome being torn down. It was built and opened in 1992 ... after Gov. Miller thought a state history museum would be a good idea.
Maybe somebody believes that history would be a yawner, a real turn-off if invited to that party.
Someday maybe they’ll just put a huge fence around the entire area, charge a general admission of about $100 a day as at Disney World, and let the paying guests in to pick and choose from among all the attractions. Food and souvenirs will still cost extra, of course. Lodging, too.
Atlanta’s center — not so much the satellite/parasite suburbs that grew up around it — is no longer a special place where fortunes are built with great new ideas, nor even exceptional careers. Jobs servicing tourism and visitors, sure, but careers, except those of politicians, are less visible.
What keeps Atlanta going is increasingly that it has become Dollar World, where non-residents are invited to spend some days and all their dollars partaking of spectacles and pleasures.
A museum exhibiting the sweep of Georgia history would probably need to have a whole wing dedicated to how Dollar World evolved.
Oh ... maybe that is why there is no official interest in such a facility coming out of ... Atlanta.