On February 15, Atlanta Track Club unveiled a tribute that’s 20 feet wide, 20 feet long, 8 feet high and 50 years deep.
Exactly one month before registration opens for the milestone running of the AJC Peachtree Road Race, “50 Years of the Peachtree presented by PNC Bank” opened to the public at Lenox Square, adjacent to the start line of the race. The traveling exhibit will be open there until March 12 before, fittingly, moving on down Peachtree to its next stop.
Breaking a ceremonial finish-line tape at the opening in place of the usual ribbon cutting was 88-year-old Bill Thorn, the only runner to complete every Peachtree.
Among the highlights of the exhibit are rarely displayed artifacts, including the first winner’s trophy, a pair of racing sneakers worn during that inaugural race in 1970 and the first known finisher’s T-shirt – all against a backdrop that features a milestone moment from each year of the event.
“I like the original finish line tape,” replied Rich Kenah, executive director of Atlanta Track Club and race director of the Peachtree, when asked about his favorite thing. “So much has changed about this race in so many ways – from its size to its impact on the city to its technology – but we still use a finish-line tape today.”
For the first eight years of the race, the "tape" was merely a strip of crepe paper; Craig Virgin became the first winner to break a traditional tape -- the one on display for visitors -- with his first Peachtree win, in 1979.
Also featured in the exhibit are the biographies of five people chosen as “icons” of the race: Thorn; Tim Singleton, the race founder; Jeff Galloway and Gayle Barron, winners of the inaugural race; and Julia Emmons, who retired in 2006 after serving as the Club’s executive director and Peachtree race director for 22 years.
“It’s fun to go through it and realize what we’ve all been through together,” said Emmons, who attended the opening after using her background as a librarian to help the current Club staff organize and catalog its history as the exhibit was prepared.
Tying the whole thing together is an artifact that bridges the era from the photo darkroom to Instagram: an 8-foot-by 7-foot, three-dimensional “selfie sign” of the 50th Running logo.
The idea for the project sprang up last summer among the Peachtree 50 Committee, even before the 49th running of the race. Knowing that they wanted to tell the Peachtree’s history in a way that would let “everyday Atlantans see, feel, touch and share it,” said Kenah, they decided on a roving exhibit that would allow the Club to tell the story of the one-day event “beyond the boundaries of the start and finish lines, and beyond the Fourth of July.”
Discussions began with PNC Bank about how to bring the project to life as Janet Monk, special projects manager and unofficial historian of the Club, guided the marketing team in selecting the 49 highlights, one from each year, by delving into old Club newsletters, back issues of Wingfoot Magazine and boxes of yellowed AJC clips.
In November, the exhibit began to literally take shape when the Club’s director of marketing, Jay Holder, met with Doug Abramowski, president of Hightech Signs, met and toured the runner’s expo of the TCS New York City Marathon, gathering ideas and inspiration about how the exhibit’s physical space should be configured and arranged. As Warren Travers, director of grassroots marketing, designed the 49-year timeline, Abramowski and his team went to work on the acrylic-topped pedestals that would be needed to display memorabilia and the special cases required for hanging the historic collection of T-shirts.
The hardest part, said Abramowski, was to devise security measures to protect the priceless pieces of Peachtree history. Special screws and fasteners were deployed “in ways that we’d never combined security elements before,” he said.
“It was a really cool project for us,” said Abramowksi, a marathoner and triathlete before injuries intervened. He traveled from his firm’s headquarters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, about two weeks ago for a dry run with staff members erecting the exhibit in Atlanta Track Club’s warehouse. (“About three hours into the six-hour set-up, I realized they were better at installing it than I was,” he quipped.)
At 10:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, after Lenox Square closed for the evening, a team of seven Club staff members began assembling the pieces. In the dark.
“Lenox Square has been a gracious partner in hosting the exhibit,” said Kenah, “but we forgot to ask them to keep the lights on.”
After the March 12 closing at Lenox Square, the process will be repeated in reverse, with the exhibit disassembled and packed into custom-designed storage containers before being shuttled to Atlantic Station, where it will be reassembled in time for Publix Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K Race Number Pickup March 14-16. Then it’s off to Ponce City Market, where it will be open to the public from March 18-31. Updates on the exhibit’s times and locations will be available by following Atlanta Track Club and the AJC Peachtree Road Race on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
As the exhibit travels around the city, visitors will learn the name of the last Atlanta resident to win the Peachtree, and be reminded that a future president was once the race’s official starter. They will relive “The Battle of Atlanta” and roll their eyes at a double-entendre headline in Playboy magazine. They will leave knowing far more about the largest road race in the U.S. and largest 10K in the world than they knew when they arrived.
But they still won’t know everything about a race that, over the course of its 49 years, has had more finishers than any road race in history.
“There’s no way to truly represent 50 years of Peachtree in one place,” said Kenah. “In any given year, we’ve got 60,000 stories.”