The Coffee Shop – The Coca Cola carillon at Stone Mountain, GA

The Coffee Shop is an open thread-style discussion forum for human interest news of the day.

The Coca Cola company had a special carillon built especially for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. The instrument has a staggering 762 bells. However, the bells are not the usual “bell shape.” They are tubular bells, which to me is reminiscent of the theme music, Tubular Bells, Mike Oldfield composed for The Exorcist.

This is probably the largest and certainly the heaviest musical instrument in this country.  After the World’s Fair, Coca Cola donated the carillon to the state of Georgia. After all, Coke is a Georgia based company, having started there.  John Pemberton, a Confederate Colonel, was wounded in the civil war. Due to his wounds, he became addicted to morphine, and was looking for a medication to help him get off the morphine. Pemberton was the proprietor of Pemberton’s Eagle Drug and Chemical House, a drugstore in Columbus, Georgia. He came up with what he called at first, French Wine Coca. However strong prohibition laws were in place at the time, so he created a non-alcoholic version. He believed that carbonated soda was a healthful drink, so his first drinks were carbonated instead of alcoholic. On May 8, 1886, it was sold for the first time at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.  The first bottling of Coca-Cola occurred five years later, in 1891, at the Biedenharn Candy Company in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

I should note that I have had a drink of original Coca Cola at Biedenharn’s original plant in Vicksburg. It was made by the same machine used back then. They give you a tiny paper cup of the drink. It tastes like Coke, more or less, but is flatter and has almost no fizz compared to modern Coke.

Years ago, someone gave me a very rare Sample & Lake original Coke bottle from the Sample & Lake Bottling Company in Jackson, MS. It does not look anything like the curvy bottle that came later. It is a thick greenish glass with straight sides.  And it still has part of the original lead stopper inside. You read that right. The stopper was lead. When it was pulled, the lower part breaks off when the seal is broken, the bottom plug part falling into the bottle.

I am rather fond of that old bottle. Seems that Mr. Sample and Mr. Lake were only in business together for six months, and very few bottles bearing both names were made. When Sample went on alone after the partnership broke up, he made a lot of bottles, so while rare, they are not as rare as a Sample & Lake bottle.

Back to the Coca Cola carillon. Georgia and Coke officials had to decide on where to put the carillon so it could be enjoyed by as many people as possible. They also wanted it to be in a location conducive to peace and quiet, free of city and traffic noises. They settled on Stone Mountain State Park. Near Atlanta, visited by thousands of tourists, but still a charming and quiet place. There is a lake some distance from the Stone Mountain granite monolith with its excursion train circling the base.

The landscape architects placed the carillon on a spit of land projecting into the lake, so it can be seen and heard easily from almost anywhere around the lake. It is not only one of the world’s great musical instruments, it is also a beautiful sculpture standing 13 stories tall, totally unlike the usual bell tower we think of when thinking of a carillon.

The carillon has been played by Ms. Mabel Sharp since the instrument’s premier concert in 1974. There are frequent performances, and a schedule is posted. One can purchase recordings of her carillon concerts at the gift shop. Her best selling album is probably the one of Christmas carols.

Ms. Sharp plays daily. On her rare days off, the concerts are done electronically by songs she has pre-programmed. She says the secret of her unbroken record is that if she feels sick, she takes about five aspirin and goes to the console.

It is 380 feet from her console to the amplifying tower. They are connected by underground wiring. She points out that it is not only a complex instrument, it is a potentially dangerous one. The notes of the brass tubular “bells” are created when electric hammers strike them. However, in order to be heard a mile away, the soft chime of the bells must be amplified by a massive array of high fidelity speakers. As she likes to point out, “I am pushing more than 8,000 watts.”

All the kids with their boom box cars and trucks driving past my house should slink off in a thick cloud of fail.

This video shows scenes around the lake as Ms. Mabel Sharp plays the biggest, baddest, and most dangerous musical instrument in the country.

Here she plays Unchained Melody:


This is an open thread. There are several hosts, each host being responsible for picking a “theme of the day” and starting the discussion. However, there is no hard and fast rule about staying on topic, especially if you have a personal story burning a hole in your pocket trying to escape.

Coffee cup

This is an Open Thread. Grab your cup, pull up a chair, sit a spell and share what’s on your mind today.

About Chuck Stanley

Dr. Charlton (Chuck) Stanley is a board certified forensic psychologist, with interests in aviation psychology, peace officer selection and training, ethics and communication skills.
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11 Responses to The Coffee Shop – The Coca Cola carillon at Stone Mountain, GA

  1. Good morning, Chuck. Wonderful post!!! The only carillon I am familiar with is at UW Madison — it’s 80-some feet tall and was built in the 1930’s. Here, the carillonist is high up inside the thing, playing the theme from “Game of Thrones”:

    Check your second vid 🙂

  2. I was able to check this off my bucket list years ago. It was before Brandi came into our lives. Letha and I were attending a professional association convention in Atlanta. We took advantage of a break in the presentations to make a side trip over to Stone Mountain. Hearing and seeing the great carillon we had only read about was a wonderful treat.

    I bought a couple of albums of Ms. Sharp’s carillon music at the gift shop. One is love songs and the other Christmas carols. They are vinyl records, because that was just before CDs came out.

  3. JoF, just realized my mistake and fixed it. Thanks.

  4. wordcloud9 says:

    The carillon on my college campus was a puny wimp compared to this one at Stone Mountain – and hats off to Mabel Sharp! – thanks for sharing Chuck.

  5. ghotiphaze says:

    It seems few people know what a Carillon is. Our cemetery has a fair nice one. Working there is where I what it was. When people asked for directions to a plot, it was natural to use the carillon as a landmark. But,since nobody knew what it was, we’d have to explain that tall skinny thing sticking out above the trees.
    I don’t recall hearing it in the last several years, though. Maintenance may be too high for my town.

  6. ghotiphaze says:

    where I “found out” what it was.
    Dang gorilla fingers, kindle keyboard, and ADD(led) brain make for a perfect storm of nonsense.

  7. LOL, ghotiphase. 🙂 I am only familiar with carillons from having seen and heard one on campus. It’s a shame your carillon isn’t playing, but if in disrepair I imagine it would cost a fortune to put back in order.

  8. pete says:

    I lived in Stone Mtn in the early to mid 90’s, my daughter had been telling me about the ding-dong tubes near where her and grandma fed the ducks. The day I went they weren’t playing the carillon so we just rented a canoe and paddled around. The laser light show on the side of the mountain is pretty good too. Just remember to take hearing protection for the little ones, the fireworks are very loud.

  9. Chuck Stanley, what is the political slant of Flowers For Socrates? No set persuasion? Left? Right? Middle of the road?

  10. Jeff,
    FFS has no particular political slant. Writers from all viewpoints are encouraged to express opinions. However, one might expect to be challenged to defend a position; that is the nature of debate. The names on the masthead come from various political viewpoints and parties. As for me, whether I am a liberal or conservative depends on the question asked. I doubt anyone fits neatly into a single pigeonhole. There is one hard and fast position regarding me. I am a reality based scientist, so have no time for unfounded conspiracy theories and denial of established scientific data. Gene’s eight simple rules spell it out pretty well. Gene and I both have a thing about logical fallacies. Some of the most fun we have had on this and other blogs is dissecting errors in logic by the willfully ignorant.

    If you have not done so, I do recommend reading Gene’s series of articles on Propaganda. I have told him he needs to assemble those essays into a book.

  11. Chuck Stanley, I know that within all political persuasions that not everyone will have a single uniform view about one issue or another. Politically, I would classify myself as a Constitutionalist/ libertarian kind of guy. A Constitutionalist in the sense that I believe that the U.S. government should operate within the confines of the U.S. Constitution, a libertarian in the sense that as long as I am not disrupting the orderliness and harmony in society that I should be able to live my life in peace. What are our thoughts about tax reform? Same sex marriage? Education? The drug war? On tax reform, I prefer a flat tax or a consumption tax. I fully support same sex marriage. My view on education is that it should be left to the states. As far as the drug war is concerned, that is a colossal waste of time and financial resources.

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