I realize Piedmont Park is in Midtown, and Sidney Lanier was from Macon and as far as I know didn’t reside in Buckhead, Vinings or Sandy Springs during his lifetime, which spanned from 1842 to 1881. A relative of the person who donated the funds for the monument, however, is among Buckhead and Atlanta’s finest. His quest to find the most important piece of the monument is what makes this mystery a fit for this column.
Rodney Cook requires no introduction, but I will give a few details on one of Buckhead’s most interesting residents. Rodney is the scion of a politically and civically active family whose roots go back to the creation of Atlanta (and of our country). As a student at The Lovett School, he organized rallies to save the Fox Theatre, astonishing considering what most of us were focused on in high school. His friendship with Charles, Prince of Wales resulted in the Olympics Monument on Peachtree Road at Pershing Point, given by the prince to commemorate the 1996 Olympic Games. Rodney is also the visionary behind the Millennium Gate Museum, the classically styled monumental arch in the center of 17th Street near Atlantic Station.
Rodney’s great-great aunt, Sue Harper Mims, donated the funds for the monument honoring one of Georgia’s most notable sons, poet and musician Sidney Lanier. Her husband Livingston Mims served as the 37th mayor of Atlanta. Completed in 1914, the monument featured a handsome bronze bust of Lanier, who gave the world iconic poems including “The Marshes of Glynn.”
As happens with these things, students at nearby Georgia Tech are suspected of constantly stealing the bust from the monument even though it was bolted in place. Leave it to a bunch of future engineers to get around such minor impediments. Every few years the bust would go missing but would be returned virtually unharmed. In the mid-’80s the bust disappeared seemingly for good. The classical monument remained but there was an empty space where Lanier’s likeness should have been, something few people noticed.
One person who did was Rodney, who also is the founder and president of the National Monuments Foundation and has just written a book titled “Atlanta’s Parks and Monuments.” He investigated what happened to the bust, researching, asking questions that the city of Atlanta couldn’t answer. The answer was known to a few people, though.
His search eventually led to Lanier’s alma mater, Oglethorpe University, where the bust had been taken for safe keeping and to celebrate the school’s 150th anniversary 28 years ago. It turns out Cook wasn’t the only one looking for it. Both the Atlanta Preservation Center and the Piedmont Park Conservatory had been tracking it as well.
Last year, the restored statue was returned much to the delight of Sue Harper Mims’ great-great nephew. The mystery solved, the next task is ensuring that it remains there for the rest of time.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at email@example.com.