Secret Atlanta: A “Scavenger Hunt” of Weird Metro Finds

If Jonah’s name sounds familiar then maybe it’s because you, like us, depend mightily on his first book, Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests: Intown and Out.

His newest book, Secret Atlanta, was just released and you’re going to love it, too! Think of it as a “scavenger hunt” of unexpected finds and weird Georgia history.

Secret Atlanta: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure  by Jonah McDonald

This gem contains dozens and dozens of Atlanta’s secrets. If you (like me) thought you knew our city – I think you’ll be surprised.

I know you’re asking, “SECRETS?? LIKE WHAT??”

Don’t ask me to give anything away! But do you know there is an elephant graveyard in Atlanta? What about the “not-so-scientific” monument at Emory? Have you been to Atlanta’s FREE green space that is 50 feet in the air??

I had an opportunity to wrangle some time from Jonah and ask him a few questions (virtually, of course!) about my new favorite book.

For starters, how the heck did he came up with this stuff!

Jonah: When I told my friends that I was writing a book called Secret Atlanta, they said, “Of course you are!” I’ve always loved scavenger hunts, intriguing stories, and off-the-beaten-path, quirky places. So I sat down and off the top of my head compiled a list of 75 places I might include in the book.

But to make sure Secret Atlanta spanned a wider range of neighborhoods and interests, I used my book as a conversation-starter, asking almost everyone I met, “What do you know about Atlanta that other people don’t?” As a result, the stories and places in this book demonstrate the diversity of our city much better than if I had done it all on my own.

Did you find stories that have truly remained secret – until now?

Jonah: I have always been passionate about learning Atlanta’s history and a few stories are so unusual and forgotten that I just had to include them in this book. Did you know that the Atlanta Cyclorama painting was originally a political advertisement for a Northern general? Did you know that Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. built a literal wall between white and black neighborhoods in the early 1960s? Have you heard that a bridge spanning the Chattahoochee was stolen in the 1940s? And did you know that Atlanta’s oldest covered bridge is possibly haunted? These are just a few of the stories I’ve told in Secret Atlanta.

And I have to ask – what was the most bizzare-o discovery you made?

Jonah: I loved learning about two men buried just feet away from each other inside Decatur Cemetery. Despite their eternal proximity, in life they were enemies and were involved in a pistol duel inside the state capitol.

Robert Alston is now buried next to Edward Cox, the man who killed him. That story is strange enough, but when you read the book, you’ll also learn that their argument was about leasing convict laborers, a sad but important part of Georgia history that has mostly been forgotten.


You can find Jonah’s book on Amazon, his website, or where (sensational) books are sold.

You’ll also want to be on the lookout for events around town once Rona is over. You can find them listed here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/secretatlanta/events/

Other Georgia Books You’ll Enjoy

A Culinary History of Atlanta by Akila McConnell

If Akila’s name sounds familiar, that’s because we mentioned her recently in our post about an Atlanta Food Tour in a Box. She’s a local with a love of Atlanta’s history and a gift for storytelling.

About: Atlanta’s cuisine has always been an integral part of its identity. From its Native American agricultural roots to the South’s first international culinary scene, food has shaped this city, often in unexpected ways.

Trace the evolution of iconic dishes like Brunswick stew, hoecakes and peach pie while celebrating Atlanta’s noted foodies, including Henry Grady, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nathalie Dupree.

Be transported to the beginnings of notable restaurants and markets, including Durand’s at the Union Depot, Busy Bee Café, Mary Mac’s Tearoom, the Municipal Market and the Buford Highway Farmers Market.

This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States by Caroline Eubanks

Caroline is another good friend of mine. You may have seen us share this book in our newsletter a few times. We love this book that includes Georgia and beyond.

About: You may think you know the South for its food, its people, its past, and its stories, but if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that the region tells far more than one tale. It is ever-evolving, open to interpretation, steeped in history and tradition, yet defined differently based on who you ask.

This Is My South inspires the reader to explore the Southern States–Alabama, Arkansas,Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia–like never before. No other guide pulls together these states into one book in quite this way with a fresh perspective on can’t-miss landmarks, off the beaten path gems, tours for every interest, unique places to sleep, and classic restaurants. So come see for yourself and create your own experiences along the way!

Administrations of Lunacy: Racism and the Haunting of American Psychiatry at the Milledgeville Asylum by Mab Segrest

(Coming Monday!) Thanks to Doc Lawrence for the heads up on this one.

About: After a decade of research, Mab Segrest, whose Memoir of a Race Traitor forever changed the way we think about race in America, turns sanity itself inside-out in a stunning book that will become an instant classic. In December 1841, the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum was founded on land taken from the Cherokee nation in the then-State capitol of Milledgeville.

A hundred years later, it had become the largest insane asylum in the world with over ten thousand patients. To this day, it is the site of the largest graveyard of disabled and mentally ill people in the world.

In April, 1949, Ebony magazine reported that for black patients, “the situation approaches Nazi concentration camp standards . . . unbelievable this side of Dante’s Inferno.”

Georgia’s state hospital was at the center of psychiatric practice and the forefront of psychiatric thought throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in America—centuries during which the South invented, fought to defend, and then worked to replace the most developed slave culture since the Roman Empire.

A landmark history of a single insane asylum at Milledgeville, Georgia, A Peculiar Inheritance reveals how modern-day American psychiatry was forged in the traumas of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, when African Americans carrying “no histories” entered from Freedmen’s Bureau Hospitals and home counties wracked with Klan terror.

This history set the stage for the eugenics and degeneracy theories of the twentieth century, which in turn became the basis for much of Nazi thinking in Europe. Segrest’s masterwork will forever change the way we think about our own minds.

Pride of Eden: A Novel by Taylor Brown

This isn’t a book about Georgia, but it is a compelling novel written by Southern Book Prize finalist and Savannah resident Taylor Brown. You’ll find in here references to the Georgia Coast and Okefenokee!

About: Retired racehorse jockey and Vietnam veteran Anse Caulfield rescues exotic big cats, elephants, and other creatures for Little Eden, a wildlife sanctuary near the abandoned ruins of a failed development on the Georgia coast. But when Anse’s prized lion escapes, he becomes obsessed with replacing her—even if the means of rescue aren’t exactly legal.

Anse is joined by Malaya, a former soldier who hunted rhino and elephant poachers in Africa; Lope, whose training in falconry taught him to pilot surveillance drones; and Tyler, a veterinarian who has found a place in Anse’s obsessive world.

From the rhino wars of Africa to the battle for the Baghdad Zoo, from the edges of the Okefenokee Swamp to a remote private island off the Georgia coast, Anse and his team battle an underworld of smugglers, gamblers, breeders, trophy hunters, and others who exploit exotic game.

Lesli Peterson

Lesli Peterson

Lesli made her way to Atlanta over 20 years ago, after living in Germany, Japan and six U.S. states. She relishes the discovery of obscure, offbeat and unwonted places, and she will chat up any willing stranger to uncover a new secret locale.

After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.

Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.
Lesli Peterson

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