Orly Air Crash of 1962
On June 3, 1962, many of Atlanta's civic and cultural leaders were returning from a museum tour of Europe sponsored by the Atlanta Art Association when their chartered Boeing 707 crashed upon takeoff at Orly Field near Paris, France. Of the 122 passengers that died, 106 were Atlantans (eight crew members also died; two stewardesses sitting in the tail section survived). In an instant the core of Atlanta's arts community was gone. Thirty-three children and young adults lost both parents in the crash. Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. traveled to Paris to assist with the recovery efforts.
Artists Helen Clark Seydel and Louise Taylor Turner perished on the flight, as did twenty-six-year-old W. David Cogland, a commercial artist who taught art therapy to mental health patients at the Central State Hospital in Milledgeville and who was among the youngest on the flight. Also traveling were the president of the Atlanta Art Association, Del Paige, and association members Anne Merritt, Lydia Black, and Ruth McMillan (who organized the trip). Atlanta businessman Roby Robinson and his wife, Louise, perished.
Expressions of grief and sympathy flowed into Atlanta from around the world. Within days of the crash, memorial gifts benefiting the Atlanta Art Association were established; $15 million was raised for the establishment of a memorial cultural center, which was to include a new home for the visual and performing arts in the city.
Founded in 1905, the Atlanta Art Association had acquired the Peachtree Street home of Mrs. Joseph Madison High in 1926 and other property, including the adjacent home of Edgar P. McBurney. New galleries were constructed on the site in 1955. In 1959 the association acquired the eighteenth-century Thornton House in Union Point, which was moved to their Atlanta property and restored as a house museum. The Atlanta Arts Association Women's Committee had established a successful tearoom, gift shop, and gallery in the former McBurney coach house.
After the Orly disaster the Atlanta Art Association evolved into the Atlanta Arts Alliance, which would eventually administer the High Museum of Art, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Alliance Theatre, the 14th Street Playhouse, and the Atlanta College of Art. Builders broke ground for the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center on June 3, 1966. The center was opened to the public in 1968, when a casting of Auguste Rodin's The Shade (L'Ombre) was presented by the French government to the city of Atlanta, in memory of those who died at Orly. The campus of the Atlanta Arts Alliance has continued to evolve, and the Memorial Arts Building is now situated amid other buildings at the Woodruff Arts Center campus. The building remains a vibrant memorial to those who devoted their energies to the betterment of humanity through art achievement in Atlanta and beyond.