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The Orly Plane Crash Remembered

Most Americans can recall exactly where they were when JFK was shot and when the Challenger exploded. Likewise, most Atlantans from a certain generation remember the Orly plane crash with the same significance.

I grew up hearing stories about the magnitude of loss on that Sunday morning, June 3, 1962, when 122 members of the Atlanta Arts Association perished in a plane crash during take off from the Orly Airfield in Paris. These were Atlanta’s most passionate civic leaders who together embarked on an art tour through Europe designed to enhance both their love of art and their commitment to making Atlanta better, smarter and more esthetic.

For a girl who grew up reading books about orphans like Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden, hearing the stories of the dozens of Atlanta children left parent-less following the Orly crash was wrenching. Many questioned whether or not the arts and civic community could move forward.

But Atlanta has a long history of stepping out of dark shadows, as it arguably did from the Civil War, slavery and segregation. The European trip, which was intended to galvanize the arts community into supporting a larger and more significant commitment to fine art, did just that out of the ashes. Just as Atlanta has long-aligned herself to a Phoenix rising from the ashes, so too did the spirit of these art lovers.

Following the fatal crash there was an outpouring of support from all over the world. Significant dollars were donated in memory of those who died and the result was the Memorial Arts Center, which today is Atlanta’s world class Woodruff Arts Center.

Below you can view GPB’s Senior News Editor, Rickey Bevington reflecting here on the loss of her Grandmother and her Great Grandmother, both of whom died in the Orly crash.

To learn more, watch The Day Atlanta Stood Still, on Wednesday, May 30, at 7 p.m. or watch online.