I toured the Atlanta History Center last week and my gosh..it was a wonderful experience! I was able to explore the incredible interior of a beautifully preserved southern mansion, amble through its stunning gardens, walk around an old farm house, restored slave quarters, a victorian kid’s playhouse and visit two terrific exhibitions: one about Atlanta’s history and one focused solely on the civil war.
The civil war museum was deeply, surprisingly, moving. This was not just the usual collection of guns, swords and tin army cups. There were very personal displays including letters to loved ones, photographs, bullet riddled clothing with accounts of how the person who wore them met his fate and individual stories of how the war affected local families not just during, but after, this terrible conflict.
One sad photograph showed a solemn, wounded veteran (and former farmer) with two of the scariest looking mechanical arms attached to his shoulders. A permanent spoon was affixed to the bottom of one of the ugly contraptions. There were so many wires and pulleys, the poor man looked like a puppet. I wondered if he had a wife or a family.. The display card next to the photo explained that many men turned to opium and alcohol to deal with their physical and mental traumas after the war.
One couldn’t help but feel overcome by the enormity of this human tragedy.
About half way through the other exhibit depicting Atlanta’s history, I noticed even more drawn and blank faces; these of the women in all the old pictures. My gosh, they all looked so spent, exhausted and hauntingly hallow, as if every dream they ever had for their lives had been crushed and burned to ash. Their blank stares reflected those of the civil war soldiers..
Even in the photos that were more recent…not one smiling face.
Life was just tough for our fore bearers in every single respect. Whereas our generation pursues happiness and fulfillment, they pursued food, warmth and safety from war, accidents and disease.
I left the History Center full of conflicting emotions…sadness, anger, gratitude, sympathy, regret and pride. So much sacrifice, so much pain, so many mistakes, so much work, so much faith.
These are the costly growing pains of a nation and her people.
(Bullet hole through soldier’s belt buckle.)