A Brief History of Underground Atlanta

Atlanta owes its very existence to the railroads. In 1839, when the city of Savannah was celebrating her 106th anniversary, Atlanta was little more than the dusty crossroads of two old Creek and Cherokee trading roads, one of which still exists today (in more or less its original form) as “Peachtree Street”. There were a handful of trading posts there, and little else.

But that was soon to change, because in 1836 the Georgia legislature had voted to build the Western and Atlantic Railroad to open trade with the Midwest. And in 1837, the future city of Atlanta was chosen to be the site of the line’s depot. A booming city soon grew up around the railroad depot, which proved to be the city’s very lifeline.

But then disaster struck. General Sherman burnt Atlanta to the ground in 1864. Atlanta’s massive railroad depot was, of course, a prime strategic target: just as you always seem to go through Atlanta’s airport when flying these days, back then most goods shipped in the South went through Atlanta, too. And so the Good General made damn sure that it burned to the ground, along with most of the rest of the city.

In the years immediately following the war, Atlanta got by with a few improvised rail depots. But there was never a question that a new depot would be built. And so, in 1869, work began on the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot. Interestingly, for reasons I have yet to learn, the new depot was built in a gully. Remember this, as it will be important later.

The depot did a brisk business. Business was so brisk, in fact, that the area surrounding the depot had become hopelessly congested by the 1910s. There were trains, horses and buggies, pedestrians, and more and more of those newfangled automobiles jockeying for space on Alabama Street. The area became so congested that the city built iron bridges over a few of the streets for automobile traffic.

In the early 1920s, Atlanta architect Haralson Bleckley convinced the city to replace the haphazard iron bridges with a unified system of concrete bridges over all the streets in the area. So instead of Alabama Street having a 5-block long dip in it, the bridges would elevate the road and make it perfectly level. The plan also called for filling in other gaps created by the railroad depot and creating a system of small parks that would connect the new streets for pedestrians. The city approved his plan, and basic construction was completed by the mid 1920s. Unfortunately, none of Beckley’s planned parks were ever built, save one: Plaza Park, which was built in 1943 and later renamed Peachtree Fountains Plaza, which sits at the modern entrance to Underground Atlanta.

One consequence of Bleckley’s plan was that all of the businesses that had been located at the original street level moved up to what was then the second floor. The old storefronts were boarded up and became basement storage. Well, most of them. Some of them became speakeasies during Prohibition. Blues legend Bessie Smith’s “Atlanta Blues” opens with the lines:

Down in Atlanta G.A.
Underneath the viaduct one day
Drinking corn and hollerin’ hoo-ray
Piano playin’ till the break of day

As we all know, Prohibition ended – and with it, the need for speakeasies. And many businesses in the area went under, moved, changed hands, or lost old timers due to retirement. So after a few years, the entire subterranean area – a 12 acre, 5 block stretch of street – was completely forgotten about.

The future home of Underground (center)
The future home of Underground (center)

Continue reading “A Brief History of Underground Atlanta”

R.I.P. Alfred Shaheen

Alfred Shaheen, the inventor of the Hawaiian shirt, has died. He was 86.

According to this article from metro.co.uk:

As tourists from the US [went to] Hawaii after World War II, many began to bring home colorful but cheesy looking shirts and sundresses that would be cause for much amusement among friends.

Shaheen began to change that in 1948 when he opened Shaheen’s of Honolulu and began designing, printing and producing “aloha” shirts, dresses and other ready-to-wear clothing of better quality.

Shaheen’s original designs can easily fetch $1,000 these days. If you’ve ever seen this album cover, you’ve seen a Shaheen original:

Elivis - Blue Hawaii

Rest in Peace, Alfred!

Bacon Explosion!

I must try this:

Bacon Explosion

In a nutshell, you take ten strips of thick-cut bacon and lay them out in a 5×5 weave. You then take two pounds of bulk Italian sausage and lay it on top like a giant patty. You then take the rest of your bacon and cook if how you like it, then crumble over the top of the sausage patty. Add some barbeque sauce and spice rub, roll the whole thing up, then cook on the grill for around 2 hours!

Ohmygod yum!

Read the full recipe here.

Digital TV Coupon Program Broke

If you own an analog television and get your programming via an antenna instead of cable or satellite, you probably know that you’re going to need a converter box to continue receiving TV after February 17, 2009.

You might also know that the federal government set up a $1.34 billion program to give away $40 coupons to help defray the cost of a converter box.

What you might not know is that the program is now broke; people are still allowed to sign up for the coupons, but they’re being put on a waiting list on the off chance that Congress will give the program more money.

If you need such a converter box, apply for one NOW. Right now… as in “this second”. At least get your name on the list before the Feds cut it off.

The “Detox” Myth

For years, I’ve been arguing with New Age nuts over the whole concept of “detoxing”. It seems to me that human evolution created a prefect mechanism for “detoxifying” the body: the liver, kidneys and colon. As far as I’m concerned, those three body parts can handle almost anything you can consume, and any other substance is probably a poison (in which case you should stop reading this and call Poison Control immediately) or a recreational drug (in which case you should stop reading this and put on some music and a trippy screensaver). Anything else, in my view, is hokum.

And it appears that the British charitable trust Sense About Science agrees with me. In a recent study, the organization found that most of the more outlandish products (think Kinoki foot pads) made completely false claims, while more mundane products used a very loose definition of “toxins” in order to claim that they “detoxify” the body. For example, a Garnier face wash claimed to “detoxify the skin”, but the company defined “toxins” as  “dirt, make-up and skin oils” – toxins that any soap could remove.

Read more about it here.

Football Notes

– What a crappy weekend for football. The Falcons apparently got shell shocked in the second half of their game; I wouldn’t know – I had friends coming over that night and I was out running errands… and listening to the game on the radio! Ewwww! But then our friends came over, and I could only watch the last couple of minutes of the San Diego-Indy game (I still have it on the DVR, however). So then, my friends and I started to drink. Since I was at home, I really drank. So I didn’t get up until 15:30 on Sunday… just in time to tune in and see the final minutes of Baltimore smacking down Miami. So the only game I really got to see was the Philadelphia-Minnesota game… only the batteries in my remote died, and when I replaced them, my DVR went crazy, so I lost a large chunk of the third quarter. You can bet that I’ll have the situation under control next weekend!

– Speaking of betting, all of next week’s home teams are favorites: Tennessee is favored by 2½ over Baltimore, the Panthers are favored by 9½ (yes, ) over Arizona, the New York Football Giants are 4 point favorites over Philadelphia, and the Steelers are 6 point favorites over the Chargers.

– The New York Giants baseball team moved to San Francisco in 1957. I was born in 1971. There is, therefore, no reason whatsoever for me to say “New York Football Giants”… but I like saying it anyway, even if it is pretentious.

– Congrats to Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison for winning the Associated Press 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award! Silverback is the fifth Steeler so honored, and he joins the august company of other winners Joe Greene (1974), Mel Blount (1975) , Jack Lambert (1976) and Ron Woodson (1993). That’s pretty good company to have! Harrison had 16 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, and 12 special teams tackles on the league’s best defense this year. Read more about it here.

Slimming Down AVG

There are many companies out there that offer a free antivirus programs to home users. Avast! is one, as is Avira, BitDefender, and AVG. AVG, however, appears to be the sole vendor to offer a free antivirus program for the x64 versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. And since I just got a new x64 computer running Vista Home Premium, I was in the market for a new AV solution. So I downloaded and installed AVG Free 8… only to recoil at how bloated the whole thing had become!

AVG Free 8 has, in my opinion, two big problems: the Link Scanner and the Notification Area.

According to About.com, Link Scanner is “a tool that protects the user from visiting malformed sites from a search engine. So for example, if you were to open up Google and type ‘skiing’ and Google returned 100 sites concerning skiing, Link Scanner would visit each of those sites and determine if you were at risk by clicking on any of the supplied links”. This is a giant waste of bandwidth for nearly everyone involved – especially since the same types of sites that Link Scanner blocks are easily blocked by Internet Explorer and Firefox’s phishing filters, as well as OpenDNS’s servers if you use that service. More importantly, Link Scanner visibly slows down Google and adds these annoying green icons all over your results page:

AVG Link Scanner

So – how do you disable the Link Scanner?

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Windows 7: MP3 Warning!

The latest beta (test) version of Microsoft Windows – currently known as “Windows 7” – leaked to the Internet just before Christmas. Millions have downloaded it illegally… but you might want to hold off on actually installing it. Microsoft recently admitted to a bug in the included Windows Media Player 12 which can delete the first couple of seconds of every mp3 file it plays!

What actually happens is that Windows will corrupt any MP3 file with a header larger than 16KB if that file’s metadata is overwritten. So your data will become corrupted if you manually edit the ID3 tags in Windows Explorer *or* have WMP set to automatically fetch the artwork and other information over the Internet (which is the default setting if you picked the “Express Setup” of WMP 12).

This bug applies to leaked build 7000 of Windows 7 only. It does not apply to any other Microsoft operating system, or any other build of Windows 7. Although Microsoft is working on a patch for this, you can avoid it completely by not using WMP12 or using any built-in tool for editing metadata. Risk takers are advised to turn off the “download artwork” option if they must use WMP12 in Windows 7.

Read more about it here.

What’s Wrong With This?

Quick – what’s wrong with this sign?

Welsh Sign

OK, it’s a trick question of sorts… unless you speak Welsh.

You see, all signs in Wales are required by law to be in both Welsh and English. No one on the Swansea council knew enough of the tongue to translate the English portion of the sign into Welsh, so they emailed the text to a translator they’d used before. Unfortunately, the translator was out of the office, and he or she had the “Out of Office Assistant” turned on. When the Swansea council got a reply to their email, they simply assumed that this was the correct translation. And so… the Welsh portion of this sign reads…

“I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.”