Jun 23, 2022 - News

Remember when... the city battled "spooners"?

Illustration of an instant photo of the Atlanta skyline.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Welcome to Remember When, a semi-regular Throwback Thursday feature where we revisit the largely forgotten strange, uplifting, pivotal or baffling moments from Atlanta’s history.

Throughout the 20th century, Atlanta officials battled a menace afflicting the youth. "Spooning," "necking," "parking." Call it whatever you wish.

  • One city official, John A. White, saw the importance of making sure people could practice this pastime safely.

Flashback: In 1915, six months or so after a young out-of-town couple was arrested for after hours spooning, J. Oscar Cochran, the head of the parks department, "proved himself a lover of lovers" when he announced plans for new swings in Piedmont Park.

  • "I want plenty of benches and swings in the parks for spooners, and I want the young men and young ladies of Atlanta to take advantage of the attractiveness of our parks," Cochran is quoted as saying in a January 1915 edition of the Atlanta Constitution.

Yes, but: The following year, the parks commission assigned a "special detail of guards" to Piedmont Park in the afternoon to curb an “epidemic” of children’s nurses making acquaintances — or even worse, "spooning" — with men, according to the Macon News.

Parking war: Fast forward to October 1954, when White, a member of the Board of Aldermen (the precursor to the Atlanta City Council) defended an ordinance he introduced the previous year permitting people to park at night in city green spaces — provided they don’t break any laws.

  • White scoffed at the Atlanta Baptist Association's three-person strike force aimed at repealing the ordinance, saying "spooning teenagers were 'better off in the park, under police supervision, than they would be on a lonely country road.'"

They persisted, and the following February the Baptists teamed up with the Methodists and the PTA to call for tighter restrictions, the Atlanta Constitution reported. It's unclear whether they found common ground.

  • In the 1970s, parking and spooning were so prolific that the Atlanta Constitution ran a half-page story on the phenomenon. By then, a person could see as many as 30 cars parked in Piedmont Park. The paper gave proper credit to White for his efforts long, long ago.

Of note: Officials in the 1960s harassed LGBTQ+ people who visited Piedmont Park. In a 1966 special series about "Atlanta's Lonely 'Gay' World," a reporter noted that plainclothes detectives would park their cars, walk into the park, and "make themselves available to homosexuals."

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