The Carvings on Stone Mountain, #7

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Cedonia & Brice Browder 8-1916

In 1920, closest to the date of the carving, Cedonia F. Browder, age twelve and her brother Brice, age eight, are found in the household of George M. Browder, age thirty-one, and his wife Dell A. age thirty-four. Both Cedonia and Brice are identified as “Meyer” instead of Browder and there’s another individual in the house called Durling F. Meyer, age seventeen, listed as a “step-son”. Ten years earlier, on the 1910 census, Frances Browder is the only child listed in George’s household, with wife Ada, age twenty. Durling is listed in the household of Fred H. Meyer in 1910 with his mother, Della, so it appears Ada died and George remarried, and the census taker mistakenly listed Cedonia and her brother as step-children.

In 1920, the family is living in Montgomery, Alabama and George is listed as an assistant manager in produce, not a profession that lends itself to carving names on a mountain nearly two hundred miles away. George, Ada and Frances are listed in Montgomery in 1910 as well, and the census tells us their address was 312 Goode Street. Since Cedonia would have been eight in 1916 and Brice four, it’s likely their father did the carving, in all probability during a family vacation.

George is listed in a directory from Montgomery, AL in 1915, as a ship clerk and his wife is identified as Ada F. Browder, so he must have married Della later, meaning Brice and Cedonia had the same mother. The directory listing has them on Early Street, which is where they are living in 1920.

The family appears to have moved to Miami, Dade County, FL by 1930. Both Cedonia, spelled Sedonia, and Brice are still in the household. George is listed as a farmer, “working on his own account” and they’re listed in the 48th Ward at 3352 S.W. 4th Street. The Florida Death Index lists George’s date of death as 1948. A Social Security claim lists his date of birth as 20 August 1888 and his date of death as 7 December 1948.

In 1940, Cedonia, listed as “Cadora Wright” is in the household, but the census says that in 1935, she was living in New York City. On a Florida state census from 1935, however, Cedonia is listed in Dade County with her husband, Chauncey Wright. There’s a record from 1940 where Cedonia Browder divorced Chauncey Davis Wright in Dade County, FL. F. Cedonia Browder married Chauncey D. Wright in Dade County in 1930 and in 1956, Frances Cedonia Browder married William D. Black in Dade County. She does not have a profession listed in 1940, but in 1930 she’s listed as a saleswoman at a candy store. The Florida Death Index lists her date of birth as 9 September 1907. She died in Dade County, FL on 4 May 1990, at age eighty-two. On the Florida Death Index, she’s listed as Francis Cedonia Browder.

A passenger listing from Texas shows George Brice Browder, age 48 arriving in San Antonio, TX on 12 July 1959 on American Airlines. His birth date is listed as 21 May 1911 and his place of birth is Montgomery, AL. He lists his residence as 1812 Lynnhave Road, Ft. Worth, TX, and he was arriving from Mexico. In 1940, George Browder, age twenty-eight, is listed as a lodger in the home of James A. Smith in La Grange, Cook County, IL. His place of birth is listed as Alabama and he’s divorced. His occupation is plant maintenence.

George B. Browder married Pauline T. Martin in Miami, in 1947. A city directory from Fort Worth shows him still at Lynhaven Road in 1958 and his wife is listed as Pauline. City directories show him in Forth Worth as late as 1969. The Social Security Death Index lists his date of death as January, 1984 in Fort Worth. The Texas Death Index lists the date as 16 January 1984 in Tarrant County.

I was unable to find an obituary or Find a Grave listing for Cedonia or Brice.

Dead Parrots and Shows About Nothing 

Question MarkPython, Seinfeld, and Absurdity

People think of absurdity as someone acting irrationally, or strange things happening to an otherwise normal person, but often the heart of absurdity comes from people rationalizing behavior which defies explanation. My stock portfolio just tanked; now’s the perfect time to buy more! Whenever our instincts conflict with our intellects, we’re often at a loss to explain the discrepancy and grasp for whatever explanation seems to best suit the situation, regardless of how convoluted it may be. Writers such as Albert Camus have explored the absurdities of human behavior, the struggle to find meaning in an otherwise chaotic universe where events often seem random and arbitrary. For Camus, the ultimate absurdist act was suicide, particularly in reaction to the perceived meaningless of existence.

The human compulsion to create rules, only to search for ways to bend or break them provides endless examples of absurdist logic in action. While the tendency to make inexplicable decisions sometimes defies common sense, there is, often, a logic to absurdist reasoning, even if the reasons defy convention or otherwise seem contrived or arbitrary. A good source for examples of this is the Bible, in particular the book of Job in which Job must endure numerous hardships including physical maladies and the deaths of loved ones for no other reason than God has made a bet with Satan on how righteous Job is.

On the iconic television show Seinfeld, the absurdity sprang from the fact that the main characters knew their method of dealing with life often hurt them, but were unable or unwilling to change. Other commentators have pointed out how unlikable the characters were: Jerry the self-centered perfectionist; Elaine the insufferable intellectual snob; George the pathological liar; Kramer the bumbling n’er-do-well who often succeeds in spite of himself. What is most apparent about each of these characters is how often their problems are caused or escalated by their refusal to alter their behavior, even when that behavior was shown to have negative consequences. This was best highlighted in the episode entitled The Opposite, where George started doing the opposite of what his instincts told him, and soon found his dream job, an attractive girlfriend, and the success which had long eluded him.

A forerunner of the absurdity implicit in Seinfeld was the legendary British show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which introduced the antics of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam to American audiences, and befuddled numerous Silent Generation parents. The absurdity of Python often derived from distinguished people doing silly things; proper British upper crust individuals acting like idiots. With Python, it was common to establish a theme early in the show which keeps recurring throughout, such as a segment on identifying trees that only seemed to highlight “the larch” or having characters randomly say, in utter confusion, “lemon curry?” Seinfeld also had such themes, such as when George gets in trouble for saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes. Jerry proposes replacing the phrase with, “You are so good looking,” establishing the running gag for that episode.

One of the most famous sketches on Monty Python was The Pet Shop or, as it’s better known, the dead parrot sketch. In it, John Cleese portrays a disgruntled customer returning to a pet shop with a parrot he purchased there which he’s discovered is dead. The outright absurdity of the customer trying to convince the shop keeper of the condition of the parrot is compounded by the revelation during the skit that the bird was apparently dead when sold to the customer. What is instantly recognizable is not only how ridiculous the situation is, but how true to life it is. Who among us has not had to deal with a know-it-all salesperson whose eye toward the next sale overrides his or her concern for customer satisfaction. Is Cleese’s indignation at being “had” any different than a shopper’s ire over being sold a substitute pair of shoes that do not fit properly or shoppers learning that the advertised deal which lured them into a store is not available and most likely never was?

What often made Seinfeld so interesting was how densely packed it could be. In the episode called The Pothole, each one of the main characters had storylines, and even Newman had a subplot related to the main action. Jerry accidently knocks his girlfriend’s toothbrush into the toilet, and she uses it before he has a chance to tell her; George loses a key chain given to him by his boss; Elaine tries to devise a way to order Chinese takeout despite living on the wrong side of the street; and Kramer adopts a highway. In this episode, the worst tendencies of each character were fully on display. How else could it end than in a fiery cataclysm?

For centuries, it has been the province of drama and literature to point out the foibles of human nature and thus hold a mirror up to the behavior of individuals with an eye toward instructing them in proper actions. The Greek tragedies were filled with the consequences of failing to heed the will of the gods, and medieval morality plays featured characters often led astray by their baser instincts. In Job, his three friends try to convince him his fortune will improve if he’ll only admit that he’s not as righteous as he claims, while Job protests that he’s done nothing wrong and the reader knows he’s telling the truth. Throughout, Job’s pronouncements have a decidedly sarcastic ring to them leading one to believe the writer’s intent was to be darkly humorous. If Job doesn’t represent the actual birth of absurdist literature, it’s certainly one if the earliest surviving examples of it.

Even the most absurd situations have a logic to them. In my sketch Got Your Goat, a man named Harold comes home to his high rise condo in Midtown Atlanta and asks his flustered wife, Agnes, where the goats are. After a bit of conversation back and forth Agnes confirms that Harold isn’t crazy, they really do have goats. While the surface situation is absurd, underlying it is the logical premise that Harold has a familiar ritual in his life which brings him solace and when it isn’t there, he doesn’t accept the loss easily or well. The sketch ends without a coherent resolution but with one which further deepens the absurdity.

Whether it’s the contrived silliness of Monty Python or the situational absurdity of Seinfeld, the humor presented resonates with audiences from one generation to the next. Perhaps the impact of Seinfeld was its instructive nature, displaying the petty and superficial actions of its characters as a mirror on the narcissistic and self-serving culture of the nineties as a warning against becoming too self-involved. As with previous generations, tracing back through the morality plays, the Greek tragedies, and the book of Job, it’s a lesson people need to be reminded of again and again.

Bizarro Atlanta, Summer of 1996

World Athlete's Monument

Midtown Atlanta, with The World Athletes Monument in the foreground, 4 September 2009.

“The world is coming to Atlanta!”
—Ad for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics

For seventeen days in the summer of 1996, Atlanta entered the Bizarro World, where the downtown connector was clear, MARTA was packed, and the world stopped by for a visit. Less than a year before, Atlanta had been thrilled when the Braves brought home their first and only World Series pennant since coming to town, so spirits were high as ’96 dawned. Atlanta had worked hard to get the Olympics, under the watchful eye of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, or ACOG as it was more commonly known. They were responsible for everything from seeing that the city was ready for the influx of international athletes and spectators, to giving the Atlanta Games the worst mascot in the entire history of sports in the form of Whatizit, or Izzy, the blue blob in sneakers which had absolutely nothing to do with the city’s past, present or future. The Paralympics, held a month or so afterward in the same venues, got it right with their mascot, Blaze, which was based on Atlanta’s symbol, the Phoenix.

Whatizit, or Izzy

Whatizit or Izzy, the much-maligned mascot of the ’96 Games. Really, ACOG?

At the time of the Olympics, I was serving as Membership Vice President for the Atlanta Junior Chamber of Commerce, or Jaycees, to which I had been elected a few months earlier. Like everyone else, our activities were somewhat hampered by events around town so most of us contented ourselves with accomplishing what we could while taking in as much of the Olympics as possible. Apparently, I tried to get a job working concessions at one of the venues, as I have an ID badge from Aramark. I remember going somewhere to get the ID but don’t recall why I didn’t follow through on the job. It’s possible it was a volunteer fundraising opportunity for the Jaycees — where we worked and the organization got paid — that didn’t work out.

GML Olympic concession badge

My ID badge for Olympic concession work which was never used.

Authorities had been warning residents of potential traffic problems for months so the terrifying specter of twenty-four hour gridlock haunted the waking hours of most commuters, sending them to seek out suburban park and ride lots to hook up with public transport while the Games were in progress. This brought about a completely different reality than the one foretold, as suburbanites, frightened into not driving, crowded onto MARTA, leaving the highways far less crammed. I lived in East Point at the time and had to commute through town to North Druid Hills for work. To say I was pleasantly surprised to encounter rush hour traffic in downtown Atlanta that was moving fifty-five to sixty miles an hour is putting it mildly. Driving through town I passed the Olympic Stadium every morning and evening, making it one of the few times I’ve driven in town as an adult where I actually enjoyed the trip.

To finance the building of Centennial Park, ACOG sold bricks where one could have his or her name imprinted. I purchased one in memory of my father, who died in April, 1995. The brick is located in Section 63, making it easier for me to remember where it is, as that’s the year I was born. Right next to my father’s brick is one commemorating Jim Morrison.

Brick at Centennial Olympic Park in memory of my father.

The relationship between city government, ACOG, and the International Olympic Committee was often tense. A number of construction projects were being finished just as Olympic officials started arriving and news reports were full of stories about haughty officials or their families demanding special treatment or otherwise being rude. Other countries’ delegations complained about the rampant patriotism on display at venues, particularly the indoor gymnastics events, where deafening chants of “USA, USA!” made it difficult for athletes to concentrate. Despite all the hiccups, the mood around Atlanta was festive and lighthearted as everyone looked forward to the best Games ever.

All that changed on the evening of 27 July when a bomb went off in Centennial Park, killing or contributing to the deaths of two people and injuring a hundred and eleven. The death toll would have been much higher, had it not been for the actions of a sharp-eyed security guard named Richard Jewell. While 911 operators argued over the address of Centennial Park after receiving an anonymous bomb threat, Jewell spotted a suspicious backpack, notified his superiors and began evacuating the area. His reward for what may have been the most remarkable achievement of his career was to be crucified in the press after an overzealous FBI leaked his name as a suspect. While he won a court case against the news network and was eventually vindicated with the arrest and conviction of Eric Rudolph some years later, it’s doubtful his reputation ever fully recovered. He died on 29 August 2007 at age forty-four.

The morning after the attack, I had a ticket to see Olympic tennis at Stone Mountain. I woke up, dressed, and hopped on MARTA without turning on the television, and did not learn of the details of the bombing until I arrived at Kensington station and saw the front page of the Journal/Constitution. I had been hearing rumblings along the way of beefed up security, due to an incident, but didn’t know the full extent of it until I saw the paper. In addition to that one morning of tennis which stretched into the late afternoon due to several lengthy rain delays, and which featured Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, other events I attended included one night of track and field at Olympic Stadium, and one afternoon when I drove to Athens to see the finals of rhythmic gymnastics. I had been invited by a colleague to see the first match-up of the US versus Cuba in baseball, but we failed to hook up at the venue and since he had the tickets, I couldn’t get in.

Before the Games began, I managed to see the torch relay at three separate locations around town but only specifically recall two of them, once on Roswell Road one evening with some friends, and once on Clifton Road in the afternoon, in front of the CDC, where I was working. Someone who worked on my floor was one of the torch bearers and I was able to have a picture taken with the torch. I believe the third was on Peachtree Street close to the intersection of West Peachtree, near where the Jaycees had their offices. This one was by chance, as I’d gone to the location for another purpose and just happened to find myself in close proximity to the relay.

GML with the Olympic torch

Me, posing with the Olympic torch following the relay; July, 1996. Photographer unknown.

One of the enduring landmarks from the Games is the statue in Midtown entitled The World Athletes Monument but which I’ve always called The Statue of Five Naked Guys Holding Up the Globe that Prince Charles Gave Us During the Olympics. A few years later, when Princess Diana was killed in a car accident, the statue became the focal point in town for remembrances of her, which is ironic considering she and Charles had been divorced for a number of years by that point. There were numerous other arts projects, part of the Cultural Olympiad which coincided with the Games. Plays were written and performed, statues erected, giant murals were painted, many of which were painted over in the intervening years or demolished when the buildings on which they were painted were torn down to make room for something else. There are, still, a few remnants of the Games around, Centennial Park and Turner Field the most visible, but many of the venues were broken down, packed up and shipped elsewhere once the Paralympics were over.

The Atlanta Jaycees had a membership meet and greet scheduled for Lulu’s Bait Shack in Buckhead for the Tuesday after the Olympics closed and it evolved into our “Farewell to the World” party. I recall that Tuesday evening in Buckhead as being packed like a Friday or Saturday, as residents who’d had to stay home to avoid the traffic and hassles of having the Games in town turned out to let off steam once they were gone. A festive atmosphere was evident as we reveled in the fact that we’d survived it all. It must have been reminiscent of how folks reacted when Sherman packed up and headed off to Savannah in 1864, notwithstanding the fact that for us, most of the city was still intact which was one thing for which we were all grateful.

Communication Breakdown 

 

World Events, High Museum

World Events, 1996, High Museum; Artist: Tony Cragg; photo by G. M. Lupo.


The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had. 

–Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google

The Internet was once solely the province of academics and researchers; universities communicating with the governmental and military facilities that financed their research; and governmental and military facilities communicating with one another. The type of information it carried was static and highly structured and, since unhindered communication was a necessity, there were few boundaries, and the people using it were expected to know and abide by its rules. As a result, there was little need for security and facilities routinely shared information and files. The very purpose of the Internet was the free exchange of information, laying the groundwork for the massive communications portal it has become

As college students found their way onto the Internet, this culture began to change. The type of information exchanged became more informal and less rigid. Newsgroups began to flourish where people could chat, exchange information, and occasionally seek out nude photos of popular celebrities. It was in this environment where I first discovered the Internet, through an account at New York University, sometime around 1993. At the time, Freenets were springing up at places like Case Western University in Cleveland, and Erlangen in Germany which represented some of the earliest attempts to establish online Internet communities. The first note I posted to an Internet newsgroup was an inquiry about my family on soc.genealogy, and the first response I received was from a guy in Australia, telling me there were Lupos Down Under.

America Online (AOL) was one of the first widespread attempts by a company to package Internet usage and sell it to consumers with no background in the technology. Throughout the mid-1990s, their ubiquitous compact disks provided many experienced Internet users with free coasters for their drinks while allowing novice users their first access to the free wheeling and anarchistic world of the Internet and most didn’t like what they found there. Many of these people had backgrounds in the rigidly structured world of online services such as Prodigy, and found it hard to deal with a platform with no centralized authority which, to many, must have resembled an unmonitored bulletin board at their local supermarket.

It was during this period when the Internet was being overrun by one group of newcomers after another that I began to see it as a microcosm of society at large, particularly with regards to the experience of immigrants. Each new group started with zero knowledge of the existing protocols and etiquette, and usually set off a backlash among more seasoned users, in particular, those who had themselves been newcomers just a few years earlier. When students started using the Internet, the systems administrators who kept the mechanisms functioning, and therefore had the highest degree of knowledge about the portal, found themselves dealing with less experienced people who wanted to set up numerous chat rooms and newsgroups which, in the eyes of the admins, wasted bandwidth. The students, who established the rudimentary elements of what would over the next two decades evolve into social media, resented the intrusion of the first wave of consumers onto the Internet via services such as Netcom and AOL, especially since this included many of their parents, and the term “AOLuser” became a favorite derogatory expression for them. WebTV made it even easier for inexperienced people to get on the Internet, invoking the ire of AOL users, who now considered themselves the experts, just as the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of cities such as New York and Boston resented the influx of Irish, German, and Italian immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, and as many of their descendants now are resentful of Muslim newcomers.

When the World Wide Web first came about in the early-90s, I didn’t like it. Unix browsers at the time were text based without a method for displaying graphics and the whole enterprise seemed designed as a method of collecting links to other sites rather than conveying useful information. Netscape changed all that. The introduction of a graphical interface to the web suddenly made it come to life and demonstrated its full potential for transmitting knowledge. The Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) which made up the web was a simplified form of Standard General Markup Language (SGML) used at CERN, making it relatively easy to master. Before long, websites were popping up all over the place, and businesses were anxious to get pages set up, even if they didn’t understand what the Web was or why they needed to be there. Many of these early pages were little more that fact sheets about the company containing text, with some photos, and a phone number or email link to contact a representative.

The Internet has since become a giant, worldwide, round the clock conversation that anyone with access is free to take part in. Implicit in that, however, is figuring out the rules, and observing the etiquette necessary to get the most out of the experience. Learning to navigate the various social media platforms is akin to learning a new language and culture. Each one has its own customs and quirks, and therefore its own special flavor. For people who spend most of their time on Facebook, visiting Reddit might be a confusing experience, and a considerable learning curve could be needed to understand the culture. Going from WordPress to Twitter would be similar to a novelist switching to writing micro stories. Instagram does not support animated GIFs, whereas Tumblr seems to thrive on them. Nowadays, the free transmission of information which was the bedrock of the early Internet, has led to such problems as identity theft, denial of service attacks, and phishing scams making tighter security a necessity.

Security is not the only dark side of the Internet. One industry which has thrived has been the porno industry. With the advent of digital cameras and video recorders, and quick wireless connections, filmmakers only need a reliable server, a domain name and willing participants to set up shop. It is, perhaps, typically human to create the most advanced communications network ever devised then use it to download and view nude photos and sexually explicit videos. On a more sinister note, terrorist networks such as ISIL use the Internet to communicate quickly and efficiently and to recruit new members.

An even more pervasive threat is cyber bullying and online shaming. Anyone who has ever visited certain Reddit forums, read the comments on a news or political site or fan page, knows of the incendiary nature of some of the posts. Marginalization within society which breeds hostility and mistrust, combined with the relative anonymity of online forums, combine to contribute to the angry and twisted posts some people make. Access to information and the number of public records available make it easy to identify and track an individual and just as easy to post personal details which “go viral” and disseminate quickly. As an experiment, I once tried collecting facts on an individual whose name I overheard at an event the previous evening and the level of knowledge I was able to gain about the person was frightening. In the hands of cyber vigilantes, and an overly eager audience numbering in the millions, information can become a deadly weapon.

Free exchange of information via the Internet has had a profound effect on people in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and this effect is expanding at an exponential rate. Throughout Africa, for instance, people use their phones to share music and videos of their favorite local bands or performers, giving them a global audience. It’s almost a cliché within the United States to see people glued to their wireless devices, oblivious to the world around them. With technology advancing at an increasing pace, the information revolution created by the Internet and World Wide Web in the 1990s, will continue to transform society for generations to come.