The historic “Solomon Luckie” streetlamp that is currently displayed in Underground Atlanta is moving to Buckhead.
The Atlanta City Council voted unanimously June 5 to sell the gas-fueled lamp for a token amount to the Atlanta History Center, where it will accompany many new exhibits, including the “Battle of Atlanta” cyclorama painting.
“To me, this is an iconic artifact to Atlanta,” said Gordon Jones, the center’s senior military historian. “It has many stories to tell.”
The streetlamp is named for an African American barber who was killed when an artillery shell fired during the Union Army’s shelling of Atlanta in 1864 ricocheted off the streetlamp and struck him. He was carried by bystanders to a hospital, where his leg was amputated, but he did not survive more than a few hours, according to Franklin Garrett’s book “Atlanta and Environs.”
Luckie, one of the few black entrepreneurs in Atlanta at the time, ran a barbershop in the Atlanta Hotel, which was near the current site of Underground Atlanta. The hole left by artillery shell remains on the streetlamp. Downtown’s Luckie Street is named after the barber.
Jones said the city contacted the center in October 2015 about selling the lamp in preparation for the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta.
The property was officially transferred to a South Carolina developer March 31 and the city has 120 days to remove any property, such as the streetlamp, that is not part of the sale. The sale specifically excluded any items of historical or cultural significance to the city, according to the ordinance.
The streetlamp was valued by the city at less than $500, which allowed the city under state law to sell or donate it without advertisement for accepting other bids. The Atlanta History Center purchased the streetlamp from the city for $10, according to the legislation.
The lamp was first lit along with 49 others on Christmas Day in 1855. It was originally located at the corner of Alabama and Whitehall (now Peachtree) streets, and was moved several times before its installation in Underground.
The streetlamp will provide a lens into African American life in Atlanta during the Civil War, Jones said. It will stand near the painting depicting the Civil War battle.
“The exhibitions will speak to both what white and black Atlanta experienced at the time,” Jones said.
It will also be surrounded by several artifacts that have never been displayed to the public, including an original photograph of Solomon Luckie and his wife, Jones said.
“Getting the streetlamp gives us the ability to connect artifacts that haven’t been connected before,” he said.
The Atlanta History Center will also be able to provide context and history to the lamp, as the only plaques on the streetlamp now are about the Confederacy. It was proclaimed the “Eternal Flame of the Confederacy” during the 1939 “Gone with the Wind” movie premiere celebrations in Atlanta.
Similarly, the cyclorama was painted in the North to celebrate the Union victory, Jones said, but was later altered to make Confederate troops appear more heroic.
“The two historical pieces provide a great story on how an artifact changes identity depending on who is controlling it,” Jones said.
The “Battle of Atlanta” painting and the historic locomotive “Texas” are other famous artifacts of Atlanta’s Civil War era that came to a new home in the Atlanta History Center this year. Unlike the streetlamp, they are both leased by the city to the history center. The “Texas” exhibit is expected to open in the fall of 2017.
The streetlamp will be installed in the hall that will house the “Battle of Atlanta” painting, which is expected to open in the fall of 2018. The streetlamp remains lit in Underground for now, but will make the move to Buckhead sometime this summer.