The Spence is located in Midtown Atlanta, near the corner of Fifth and Spring. Executive Chef Richard Blais is so well know I don’t have to tell you about him (or his latest book). The Spence is part of the Concentrics Restaurant group that includes Parish (Inman Park) and Two Urban Licks among other great ATL eateries. With a pedigree like this, the restaurant is bound to be a hit, and of course it is. My day job is in Midtown Atlanta and I needed to take a client out for lunch. I don’t have an expense account so it needed to be both impressive ….. and affordable. The Spence fits the bill perfectly! We were close enough to walk, but they do have valet parking if you need to drive there. Though the menu is wonderful, we both went for the day’s specials:
I only wish I’d had room for dessert!
BTW, “Spence” is an archic term for the buttler’s pantry or larder (from late Middle English: shortening of Old French despense)
It’s no secret that P’cheen is one of my favorite restaurants on the planet. Not only is the food great, but the folks who work there are wonderful. It was a special event this week to show off their new remodel (more space, open concept and definitely a more comfortable and inviting) and their new menu (better than ever, focusing on small plates so you can try more than one item and share with friends. Or not!).
Sure it can be hard walking uphill with all your gear on your back. Yup, sometimes it rains. No, there won’t be a shower and the running water is a stream. But it’s so breathtaking. Here are a few photos from my trip last weekend along the Appalachian Trail.
Today I’d like to start an occasional series, exploring the history of my adopted home town. As an Ambassador for the Historic Oakland Cemetery, this is the perfect place to use as our history Rosetta stone!
Let’s start with the Historic Oakland Cemetery itself. By the mid 1800’s the city of Atlanta outgrew its downtown municipal cemetery. Six acres of farmland on the edge of town were purchased to take its place. Later, in response to increased population brought by the railroad and the need to lay 7,000 Civic War soldiers to rest, additional land was purchases to bring Oakland Cemetery to its present 48 acres.
Located just five blocks east of the State Capital, it is the city’s oldest landmark in continuous use and was placed on the Register of Historic Places in 1976. Atlanta’s most historic cemetery is the permanent home of over 70,000 of its most prosperous citizens as well as its most destitute. Originally called Atlanta or City Cemetery, Oakland was renamed in 1872 because of the many oak trees on the property. The Water Oaks at the entrance to Oakland are what is left of a grand line. At the end of their life cycle, these trees will not be replaced due to their destructive root system. Oakland Cemetery evolved during the Victorian era and is a superb example of the rural garden cemetery, a style highly fashionable at the time. Such burial grounds are rare and are distinguished by magnificent mausoleums, elaborate monuments and a park like settings.
My plan is to focus on the residents of Oakland, using their lives to tell the history of the ATL. But let’s start with an architectural feature: The Bell Tower. This Romanesque building was built in 1899. The first floor was originally a chapel and an office for the cemetery’s sexton, who lived on the second floor. The basement was used as a vault for storing coffins awaiting burial. Today the sexton’s office and the Visitor Center and Museum Shop are on the first floor. Historic Oakland Foundation’s offices and public meeting space are on the second floor.
In the summer of 1864, on high ground north of where the Bell Tower now stands, was a two-story farmhouse owned by one of the Hurt brothers. It served as headquarters for Confederate commander John B. Hood during the Battle of Atlanta, which was fought to the east of the cemetery on July 22. The Bell Tower was built on the site of a farmhouse owned by James E. Williams, who would later be mayor of Atlanta. Atop the tower is a bell that was formerly used to signal for workers to gather. It’s also said that the bell would ring during each burial. It rang just a few times for a child, a few more for a woman, but over a dozen times for an adult male. This story could be apocryphal, but it’s said that the bell would scare off the devil and that a grown man would need more help with this task than a child.
In 2008, a new master plan was completed to help guide the future of the site, while respecting its heritage. However, on March 14, 2008, Oakland Cemetery was hit by a devastating tornado. Centuries-old trees were toppled, monuments were shattered and roads were completely blocked. Miraculously, the Bell Tower and staff inside were spared. In the days following the storm, volunteers descended upon the cemetery, removing more than 70 dump truck loads of debris from the approximately 150 damaged or destroyed trees.
Since that time, Historic Oakland staff has worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to secure funding to restore the cemetery and repair the damage, engaging consultants, volunteers, and local, state, and Federal government agencies, to rehabilitate the site. While there is still much to be done, the still-active cemetery has once again opened to visitors as a public park and heritage tourism destination, and welcoming hundreds of school groups every year.
Memorial Day is celebrated on the final Monday in May. It’s easy to think, based on the way we act, that it just a three day weekend to officially open the pool, drink beer, throw some burgers on the grill and watch the Indy 500. Lest we forget, Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it started after the American Civil War to commemorate both the Union and Confederate soldiers who perished.
In my mind, there is a single film associated with Memorial Day. As a child, The Bridge Over the River Kwaiwould play on one of the two stations we were able to get on the television. My father, who truly loved TV, would always watch. If you’ve not seen it, The Bridge over the River Kwai is a 1957 British-American World War II film directed by David Lean, starring Alec Guinness and William Holden, and based on the 1952 French novel by Pierre Boulle.
As a child, it never occurred to me that that the film was based on a real event. It was just a story. Nor did I know that I would one day walk across that very bridge.
This past February, I visited Thailand. I signed up for a day trip out of my base city of Bangkok and I honestly didn’t know what I was signing up for. I was focused on the part of the tour where I could ride an elephant and didn’t pay attention to the rest. But the highlight turned out to be a stop at the Kanchanaburi WWII Cemetery. This cemetery, the largest of three, is the final resting place for about 7,000 prisoners of war who died building the Burma-Siam Railway.
After entering the Second World War in December 1941, Japanese forces quickly overran most of South East Asia. In 1942, in order to find a shorter and more secure line of supply between Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (now Thailand) the Japanese decided to use prisoners of war and civilian labor to build a railway to existing railheads at Thanbyuzyat in the west and Ban Pong in the east. Two forces, one based in Siam and one in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line, meeting at Konkuita in October 1943. The project cost the lives of approximately 15,000 prisoners of war, mostly from the UK, Australia and New Zealand as a result of sickness, malnutrition, exhaustion and mistreatment. The dead who could be recovered—and many could not be—were laid to rest in one of these three cemeteries. The land on which this cemetery stands is a gift of the Thai people for the perpetual resting place for the sailors, soldiers and air personnel who died. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the Kanchanaburi Cemetery and similar memorials in 150 countries. The Army Graves Services transferred remains from camp burial grounds and solitary sites all along the southern half of the railway and from other sites in Thailand.
The experience was moving beyond words. It brings to life the phrase, “Gone, but not forgotten.”
This cemetery is located near former Kanburi Prisoner of War base camp through which most prisoners passed. This building is now the “JEATH” War Museum, depicting the horrors of building this railroad in the steamy temperatures and dense tropical forest with little food and less medical attention. It’s not the most informative museum I’ve seen, nor the best organized, but it brutally depicted what went on in the camps. I walked through the displays horror-stuck, realizing that I probably wouldn’t have made it through the experience. I’d have been one of the bodies thrown in the river and forgotten.
The museum backs up against the river and there, on the patio, I saw for the first time the real bridge over the River Kwai (locally called the Kwae Noi River), bridge #277, on the former Burma-Siam Railway. This bridge was bombed by American forces, which helped to stop the progress of the Japanese. (Though it wasn’t as simple nor as final as the film would lead you to believe)
A man on the tour with me, from the UK, said that his Uncle had been a prisoner of war here and helped to build the railroad. He was liberated by the US and sent back home, but his ship was sunk on the way. He was rescued, but by the Japanese, making him a prisoner of war once again. He was taken to Nagasaki to work in a factory. He survived the atomic bomb and the US managed to rescue him again, but kept shuffling him about, first to hospital in Hawaii, then California, then even spent some time in New York. It was almost 2 years after the end of WWII before he made it home. His family had thought him dead. By then no one wanted to talk about the war so he didn’t share his experiences in full. He died 5 years later because his body was so worn out, but managed to marry and father 4 children before his death. He was only in his early 40’s when he died. A member of his same group, Alistair Urquhart, lived much longer. He wrote a book called The Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific. I really must get this book.
But in the meantime, I’m going to watch The Bridge over the River Kwai on Netflix.