By Maria Saporta
Sixty years ago – June 3, 1962 – marked a tragic milestone in Atlanta’s history.
It’s the day 106 members of the Atlanta Art Association lost their lives in a plane crash at Orly airport in Paris. Those on board the plane, which crashed on takeoff, represented the crème de la crème of Atlanta’s cultural community. A total of 130 people died in the accident, including eight crew members. The numbers are painful to write down – 33 children were orphaned, 46 adults lost a parent and 21 spouses were widowed.
When I was only six years old in June 1962, I remember my parents’ deep sorrow at having lost so many friends on that tragic day.
It was hard to imagine the impact the Orly accident would have on the development of Atlanta, which was still a relatively small Southern city in 1962. But it was a city that always dreamed big.
“The purpose of this trip was to move Atlanta forward so that it could become a great international city,” said Rickey Bevington, chairman of the Atlanta World Affairs Council, who lost his great-grandmother and grand-grandmother. mother in the accident at Orly. “They knew you can’t have a Paris or a London or a Rome without beautiful art.”
At the time, Atlanta had no scheduled transatlantic flights. The 106 patrons who flew to Europe on a charter flight spent three weeks on a grand tour of high art in Europe.
It was from the Orly crash tragedy that led to the development of the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center – now known as the Woodruff Arts Center – in honor of its primary benefactor, Robert W. Woodruff, the legendary leader of the Coca-Cola Co.
One of my parents’ dearest friends (who was like a second father to me) was Joe Amisano of the architectural firm Toombs, Amisano & Wells. He was chosen to design the Memorial Arts Center, which opened in
Today, the Woodruff Arts Center is one of the most important art centers in the country, along with the Alliance Theater, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and the High Museum of Art. The Arts Center serves more than 800,000 patrons each year, including more than 170,000 students and teachers, making it the largest arts educator in the state of Georgia.
Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, said the Orly accident represented Atlanta’s resilient spirit.
“For me, it’s certainly important to recognize our heritage here at Woodruff Arts Center,” Moddelmog said. “How we became is such an amazing story. It was such a tragedy, but it was like Atlanta’s symbol of the Phoenix rising from its ashes. We must ensure that we never forget the impetus that gave birth to the Center des arts. »
One of the great gestures that emerged from the Orly crash was when the French government donated a statue by Auguste Rodin titled “The Shadow” in memory of the Atlantans who died in the crash. The statue is prominently displayed on the lawn in front of the High Museum of Art.
For the 60e anniversary of the Orly crash, the space around “The Shade” will display flowers to honor the history of the Center for the Arts and the people who have been the foundation of Atlanta’s cultural community.
Coincidentally, the 60e anniversary takes place in conjunction with the ninth annual Woodruff Arts Center Educators’ Conference, hosted by the Alliance, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the High. Chris Moses of the Alliance Theater will share the story of the accident before the keynote speaker at the educators conference.
Also June 3rdthe Woodruff Arts Center website will publish the poem that Pearl Cleage wrote about the Orly crash on the 50e birthday titled: “Wish You Were Here.”
Moddelmog said the Atlanta families affected by the accident “care very deeply” that the story will not be forgotten. Given the late date, Moddelmog said they realized they weren’t going to be able to hold a big event to commemorate the 60e anniversary – as had happened for the 50e anniversary.
But Atlanta’s artistic leaders wanted to respectfully honor this important moment in Atlanta’s history 60 years after the fact.
On Monday, June 6 at 1 p.m., the Atlanta City Council will issue a proclamation honoring the 106 people who lost their lives in the 1962 crash. Descendants of families involved in the accident have been asked to take part in the ceremony.
A 20-year-old PBS documentary about the Orly crash “The Day Atlanta Stood Still” captures the significance of this moment in time.
Although Atlanta lost so many patrons that day, Rickey Bevington said the impact of the accident “moved Atlanta’s arts and culture forward by a generation in just a few short years.”
Bevington, a longtime Atlanta journalist, became the voice of families who lost loved ones in the accident.
“I’m able to talk about it in a way that’s not as raw as kids who have lost their parents,” Bevington said in an interview Thursday. But it was a subject she never got to discuss in front of her late grandfather – Milton Bevington.
One of the most poignant stories in the documentary was that Milton Bevington flew to Paris to surprise his wife – Betsy Bevington, and stepmother – Dell White Rickey. He could have taken the same Air France charter flight to Atlanta with them, but his wife insisted that they not travel on the same plane in case there was an accident so that their three young sons would not lose both their parents. Milton Bevington saw the plane crash on takeoff in Paris.
In a column published in the June issue of the Atlanta Intown newspaper, Bevington wrote:
“The Orly plane crash is a symbol of both indescribable pain and Atlanta’s will to move forward. 106 citizens inspired Atlanta to leverage the arts to transform their southern city into a world-class city. If beauty can come from tragedy, I hope the Atlanta of today reflects the optimistic future they envisioned.