Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Camp Creek Train Crash Memorial Week; Books Signings, and A Play Based on My Book

This week marks the first ever celebration and memorial of the lives, heroes, and story of the 1900 Camp Creek Train Crash in McDonough, Georgia.  In 2009, The History Press offered me the opportunity to write about the train crash and published my book In Atlanta or in Hell: The Camp Creek Train Crash of 1900.  This week, here in the city, the City of McDonough, the McDonough Main Street Program, and former city councilwoman Sandra Vincent are spearheading a week-long series of events to commemorate this part of our local history and to honor those heroes of the crash.  Here is the list of events, some of which have already taken place:
*Opening Reception and Book Signing at Bell, Book and Candle-Saturday, June 16th
*Performance of Old No.7-a play based on my book In Atlanta or in Hell...Tuesday, June 19th
*Quinlan's Run-A 2 mile walk/run that follows the same route J.J. Quinlan ran on that fateful night to get help and waive off oncoming trains-Saturday, June 23rd at 7:00 a.m.
*Model Train Museum -The Middle Georgia Model Train club will have their display in the Chafin Bldg. in downtown McDonough from 9-5 with a replica of the engine that crashed on display all day-Sat. June 23rd
*Book signing for In Atlanta or in Hell: The Camp Creek Train Crash of 1900 at the Chafin Bldg. at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  Local Civil War Historian Mark Pollard and I will speak about the crash and local history
*Candlelight and Memorial Service at Alexander Park to honor those lost in the crash-Saturday, June 23rd at 8:00 p.m.

I am very proud of the City of McDonough for taking the initiative on these things.  The memorial service and events are long overdue.  As some of you know, the dead from this wreck were brought back to McDonough for burial preparation and transport.  Because there were so many of them, their bodies were laid out on the square until the two funeral homes here in town could get to them. Many say this is what has contributed to the many paranormal activities in the downtown square.

The Dutchtown High School Theater Department wrote and performed a musical based on my book, In Atlanta or in Hell: The Camp Creek Train Crash of 1900. The presentation of the play was at the Henry County Performing Arts Center Tuesday evening. I was amazed at their talent and hard work. It was a humbling experience seeing a play based on my work.  I met many of the cast afterwards and was able to sign personalized copies of the book for them. Here are some photos from the event taken by Erica Barnham of Bell,Book and Candle, the independent bookstore in McDonough who sponsored the book signing.

Caprice Walker of Bell, Book and Candle and I at the book signing
                                                           A scene from Old No. 7 
Me with the young actresses who portrayed the Woman in Red and Miss Merritt from the crash

I am looking forward to the walk/run on Saturday. Yes, I will be out there huffing along with the rest of the crowd.  I have been walking two miles several times a week here lately, so I should be able to hold up okay.  I am also looking forward to the model train museum and memorial service later this week. If you have not read about the crash and its impact on the area, check out my book or go online and do a bit of research. This happened on June 23, 1900.  It was the worst train crash in Georgia history, and of the 39 victims, quite a few were railroad employees headed home to Atlanta to see their families.  You can also check out my blog post from a few years ago about how this event has inspired quite a few legends about hauntings and paranormal activity on the square.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Appearing at True Story this Friday at Kavarna in Decatur, Georgia Reading A Selection from The Atlanta Ripper!

Kate Sweeney, a producer with NPR's City Cafe with John Lemley, invited me to be a part of an ongoing project she has called True Story!  This program, held only a few times a year, includes non-fiction readings by local and regional authors.  Also appearing on Friday night are Jack Walsh, a local author and Nick Tecosky from the Write Club Atlanta.  The event is being held at Kavarna in the Oakhurst section of Decatur. The website is  We begin at 8:00 p.m., and each writer has about 15 minutes to present an interesting artifact from his past and read a selection from one of his works.  Although Kate asked me to come based on the interview I did with John Lemley on City Cafe about The Atlanta Ripper, I can read a snippet from any of my four books.  I think I will stick with The Atlanta Ripper, as it includes the most intriguing stories from Atlanta's past.  If you are in the area, come and join us. This should be a lot of fun.  Here is the web blog for the event:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Did Charles Salter (The Georgia Rambler) Stumble Upon the Formula for Coca-Cola in the 1970s?

For many years, Charles Salter wrote a column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called "The Georgia Rambler."  Traveling the state in his 1975 Chevy Station Wagon, he visited lots of interesting places and met a lot of interesting people.  Recently, having retired from his work, Salter penned a book chock full of his adventures, many of them a retelling of some of the stories that graced the pages of the state's largest newspaper.  The book, rightfully titled The Georgia Rambler, contains a hodgepodge of stories about war veterans, animal oddities, snakes, uniquely talented individuals, and, what is my favorite story, the account of his running in to a pharmacist who has what might be an early recipe for the "elixir of life"- Coca-Cola.

According to his book, Salter ran across this recipe while visiting a pharmacist, Everett Beal, in the late 1970s.  Beal, who received a recipe book from another pharmacist some time before this, inspected his gift to find that there was what looked like a recipe for "Coco-Cola Improved."  Written in brown ink on two pages, the recipe included things that Salter mentioned might be hard to find today.  Included among the ingredients were "...coca, or fluid extract coca, alcohol, nutmeg, prunes, cinnamon, caramel, sugar water, citric acid, vanilla extract, lime juice, lemons, oranges, and caffeine" (Salter 133-134). Intrigued by what he found, Salter took a photo of the book and formula and set up a meeting with a representative from the Coca-Cola Company.  Of course, the man with whom he met could not comment on whether or not this was an old recipe for Coca-Cola.  However, he kept the photograph.

                                         (Salter and a copy of the photo of the alleged recipe.)
                                              Photo courtesy of

What is more interesting than the original find of this possible formula was the uproar it created, albeit over 30 years later.  Appearing in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1979 right after his visit with the officials at the Coca-Cola Company, not much came of the Salter discovery. However, Ira Glass, host of the popular show, This American Life, happened upon the column in 2010 and ran with it.  As a matter of fact, he tried out the recipe. Glass contacted Jones Soda and together with their flavor partner, Sovereign Flavors, the recipe came to life.  According to one chapter in the book written by Salter's son Chuck, "Along the way, This American Life also compared the formula to one in Coke's own archives.  It was in a notebook that belonged to John Pemberton, the pharmacist who invented Coke.  The two formulations are virtually identical, except that the one my dad wrote about included the ingredient amounts.  It was written in a pharmacy recipe book believed to belong to a friend of Pemberton's" (Salter 137)  What Glass surmised was that the recipe was indeed one of the original recipes, or a later improvement.  Interestingly enough, avid Coke drinkers could tell the difference, but some corporate flavor experts could not discern the recipe from the drink currently produced by the Coca-Cola Company.  The show aired in 2011, and it went viral.  The show's website crashed because of so many hits, and people from all over the world became interested in the story.  Coca-Cola even got in on the publicity, running ads giving the link to the story and the website address.  Afterall, free publicity is good!

So did Salter stumble upon the Coke formula? It sort of sounds as if he did. But, who knows?  What I do know is that the original formula is a closely-guarded secret. According to officials at Coca-Cola, only four or five people alive know the formula, and they do not tell who those people are. The formula stays tightly guarded in an Atlanta bank vault, according to officials at the company, but they do not say which bank.

I highly recommend Salter's book.  I was supposed to do a book signing with him back in October, but a trip to Toronto for a teaching conference called me away.  The book is full of amazing stories, but none are better, to me at least, than the story about one of the greatest mysteries in Georgia history-the secret formula for the most popular drink in the world.  Have a Coke and A Smile!!  (You know I had to do it!)