I'm having trouble pinpointing the location of Plunkett Town, Georgia.
I first heard about this area from a loquacious old man I met at Clifton Men's Sanctuary. Homer was his name, and he was homeless. We started chatting about growing up near the airport and he told me stories about the black neighborhood north of Mountain View. He called it Plunkytown, and for a long time, I could find almost no information about the place.
Eventually, I interviewed some white people who mentioned Plunkett Town, the neighborhood literally on the other side of the tracks, and the open field that lay between the two communities. Children, both black and white, ventured into the field to hunt rabbits, play baseball, and set off fireworks.
Knowing the official spelling of the place, I was able to dig up these 2 mentions in the archives of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One article states that Plunkett Town was "located south of Hapeville city limits." Not sure if I have permission to do this, but I wanted share them here as evidence of Plunkett Town's existence.
Friday night after work, Mug rode MARTA a few extra stops to meet me at the airport for a date. I wanted to see the photo exhibit commemorating the 30th anniversary of the “new midfield” terminal, or the airport as we know it today. It’s a whole different experience to visit the world’s busiest airport when you aren’t determined to catch a flight or locate an arriving traveler. It reminded me of going to a mall at Christmas – lots of people, very focused. Here’s some things I hadn’t ever noticed before:
So the exhibit. It consisted of a few photos and architectural renderings mounted to the pillars of the atrium. As we cruised around the columns, taking photos of photos, reading the captions aloud to each other, and generally giggling and acting amused, a few busy commuters paused to assess the exhibit. It’s hard to explain why we found it so entertaining.
Maybe because the airport has been such an enormous presence in our lives, and this was like a rare chance to view the family album. Mayor Maynard Jackson and his wife Valerie were there, cutting ribbons alongside a baby-faced Jimmy Carter and the young Shirley Franklin. The CEOs of Delta and Eastern were captured in a rare moment of camaraderie.
At the anniversary shindig, George Berry, who served as general manager during the transition, said:
That day had to be one of the high points of all our lives, every one of us who worked on it, dreamed about it, and who thought that being a part of such a dramatic undertaking would be something that would mark us for the rest of our lives – and it has.
I have come to think of September 21, 1980 as a day that impacted my life, and the lives of all Southside residents, in ways that are hard to estimate. It was the beginning of the end for many residential communities around the airport.
Both the 1961 and the 1980 terminals were the biggest, most advanced airports of their day, and both were quickly overwhelmed by the growing demand for affordable air travel. The "midfield" terminal survived because it was designed to be scalable. In the last 30 years, Concourse E and the International Concourse have been added to the east/west layout, along with the 4th and 5th runways to the south. This modular concept is simple and smart, but not very pretty. Terminal engineers took it as a compliment when Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New York Times said, “You’ve built a giant Xerox machine!” Each time it replicates, another chunk of my neighborhood is erased.
As we dined on $10 chow mein and enjoyed people-watching in the food court, I considered our date night at the airport as a southside tradition. For generations we have come to these grounds for romance and adventure, either at the old observation deck or parking at “blue lights.” Even though this massive airport makes it possible for me to fly cheap 2 or 3 times a year, I still identify with the homeless folks who wander these halls, just here for the scenery.
As we waited for our supper, Dad leaned over to Gayle and asked, "What does that remind you of?" He pointed to a crusty strip of concrete below.
"Going to the airport," she said, remembering with a smile. They have done this as long as I can remember– shared inside jokes and memories at the dinner table while we tried to guess what they're talking about.
Eventually, Dad explained that we were looking down on the former entrance to the airport, the bold symmetrical ramps that led to the 1961 terminal. This post card from Atlanta Time Machine shows how they would have looped the terminal.
"Did you fly much?" I asked.
"We were always picking someone up or dropping them off. I didn't fly for the first time until my 40s."
Then he told me about "Blue Lights," an infamous high school destination for necking near the runways. The long stretches of pavement were marked by low blue runway lamps, and virtually unsupervised.
I did the math. As Forest Park natives, my parents grew up with the airport, but it was the '90s before they ever actually flew anywhere. By then, it was a completely different airport– new name, entrance, tower, and terminal. It had become a place equipped to handle 4 times the passenger volume, and that volume included the very residents it had displaced.
The entire operation shown in that postcard now fits in one parking lot of the modern airport. Everything pictured there is gone, but for some reason, the entrance and exit ramps have survived. They lead nowhere and have no purpose. They are cut off and floating. What planning oversight or sentimental urge allowed them to remain? I think the lingering concrete is part of a secret map of old Air Castle of the Jet Age, only visible from the air.
(Hart Cemetery, 2010)
I could fill an entire blog with Atlanta's holdout cemeteries. You see them encircled by interstate cloverleafs and sandwiched between parking lots. The National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act prevent their erasure, so these spooky little burial grounds dot the edges of Home Depots and McDonalds all over the metro area.
There are still 2 graveyards inside the "world's busiest" airport– Hart Cemetery and Flat Rock Cemetery. The runways, built high on trapezoidal green hills, form these pockets of stillness. Overhead, the cruising fins of aircraft, the ceaseless breeze, and the white drone of air traffic seem to circulate around a quiet, unchanging core.
Today, Dairy and I found ourselves at Camp Fulton/Truitt 4-H Center in College Park. We were trying to investigate another College Park "ruin" – the barricaded grounds of Kathleen Mitchell Elementary on Paul D. West Drive. Instead we found this decaying campground in a 38 acre forest next to the airport. I spent a lot of weekends in Girl Scout camps, State Parks and 4-H camps, so the little brown cabins and hand-routed directional signs felt very familiar... but I didn't expect to find them here.
Despite scenes like this, this facility is still in operation. This swimming pool must have been amazing. It made me even more curious about the 80-something acres north of this site... All fenced off, demolished, overgrown and directly under the flight path.
"March 2009 aerial view of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport" from the official HJAIA Flickr stream.
You needn't live in the flight path to keep an eye on Hartsfield-Jackson! You can see some interesting airport views on their photo blog, or get updates on Twitter. Maybe you wondered who followed these PR feeds. It's me!