Yesterday I finally had the chance to visit Stone Mountain, a large granite monadnock formation to the east of Atlanta. In terms of sheer natural beauty it rivals Ayers Rock or Devils Tower; you can take a cable car to the top and explore the ethereal moonscape while admiring the distant Atlanta skyline.
But this is not the primary significance of Stone Mountain. Carved into the north face is the world’s largest bas-relief sculpture… of the Confederate heroes Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, all riding their favorite horses (Black Jack, Traveller, and Little Sorrel, respectively). I’m afraid that for my visit the sun was in exactly the wrong position for photographs, so I am reduced to reproducing Wikipedia’s:
This sculpture, which measures some 76 by 158 feet, dates from 1916 and, after many fits and starts, was finally completed in 1972. It is faced by a long, gently sloping lawn (where the people are sitting in the picture above); this is lined with memorials to the thirteen states of the Confederacy, and at the top, facing the sculpture, is Memorial Hall, which houses the Discovering Stone Mountain Museum. This museum deals with Stone Mountain and its surrounding community throughout history, including Indian occupation, the arrival of European settlers, the Civil War, granite quarrying in the nineteenth century, races to the top of the mountain in the twentieth century, the bicycling events of the 1996 Olympics, the politics and production of the sculpture itself, and yes, the founding of the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan on the top of the mountain on November 25, 1915. Almost needless to say, this was designated as a “dark chapter” in the Mountain’s history; it was nice, though, that they acknowledged it, rather than pretending it didn’t happen.
But it seems that Stone Mountain wants to live down its Confederate associations as well. No, they’re not prepared to blow up the monument, as some have requested. But there’s more to the park than the sculpture, and very little of it is Confederate. You can visit the Great Barn, ride the Scenic Railroad, or enjoy the Yogi Bear 4-D Adventure (this is all provided by Herschend Family Entertainment, which has been contracted by the state of Georgia to run the place). Although it’s clear that the whole thing was once intended to be the “Southland’s Sacred Mount” – somewhat like the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa – and apparently the Stone Mountain Memorial Association retains the right “to reject any project deemed unfit,” they don’t seem to have any qualms about allowing the Laser Show Spectacular, projected after dark and only on certain nights onto the side of the mountain with the carving, accompanied by music and fireworks, or Snow Mountain, a series of slides and ramps on the lawn facing the sculpture, that will be covered in artificial snow for sledding come wintertime. Even the gift shop is completely devoid of Confederate memorabilia. Instead, there’s lots of American patriotism on display:
And, on one postcard, even the sculpture itself has been defaced with a US flag, something unthinkable at one point.
I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I don’t care much for the Lost Cause stuff you sometimes find around here, but if you’re going to have a memorial… man, have some respect!
A website entitled Shades of Gray: The Changing Focus of Stone Mountain Park has more information.