Atlanta Blast Leaves Big Hole in a Small Town


Inside Fallon's Hot Dog & Ice Cream Parlor on Sunday--the only store in town with a giant double-dip cone painted on its window--there were stale cigarettes and tired sniffles.

The plants that owner Alice Hawthorne insisted be moved over to the front window were dusty. A beer bottle stood on a table in a place that does not sell beer.

Curtis Kennedy, Hawthorne's business partner, could not decide whether to open or close. So he did neither, sitting away the afternoon in the dark, looking at the full ashtray, pushing around the bottle.

Inside American Legion Post 512 on Sunday, there was a table decorated in grief. On it rested a folded American flag, two shoes, and a frame containing the headline announcing that their former junior vice commander had been the one person killed directly by a bomb at the Olympics. Beyond the display, there were a dozen people shuffling around a large room preparing for a bingo game. An overhead television showed the Olympics. The screen was filled with snow, but nobody moved to fix it.

Inside Alice Hawthorne's well-kept house amid the tall pines of Juniper Drive on Sunday, there was more of the unthinkable.

While husband John was rushing 180 miles north to Atlanta to retrieve the body of his wife, burglars had broken through one of the front picture windows and taken an undetermined amount of loot.

That window was now covered with a huge wooden board. Just steps away was a cute wooden duck.

If the terrorists who bombed Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday morning wanted to poison the rich soil in which this country is rooted, in killing Alice Hawthorne they succeeded.

"This is a sick world," Kennedy said. "A sick, sick world."


Huddled against the storm in Atlanta on Sunday, immediate family members of the late Alice Hawthorne were upset.

They felt Olympic officials were almost bragging that only one life was lost as a direct result of the pipe bomb that injured 111 others in the park on Saturday morning.

"To me, they minimized or gave the impression that, 'We have only lost one life, so what's the big deal?' " John Hawthorne told reporters.

A trip to her south Georgia hometown of 78,000 Sunday uncovered what many have missed.

That every life is a big deal to someone.

Her impulsive Atlanta visit was typical of Alice Hawthorne, who at 44 still looked at miles of desolate plains surrounding her world and saw gold.

She thought of daughter Fallon's 14th birthday, and saw the Olympics.

She didn't have tickets to any of the events. She wasn't a high roller with a fancy hotel room.

She was a sales representative for an Albany cable TV company.

She was part-owner of a hot dog and ice cream store named after her daughter, but it sat in a weathered strip mall dominated by three beauty parlors.


She used to be in the Air Force, but was now content as an American Legion committee member.

She was a campaign manager for one of a zillion candidates for the Georgia House of Representatives.

She was famous in her westside Albany neighborhood, unknown 10 miles away.

And there was only one part of the Olympic schedule that immediately concerned her:

Jack Mack and the Heart Attack would be playing in a free concert on Friday night.

How Fallon loved Jack Mack.

"So she walks into the ice cream store on Wednesday--Fallon's actual birthday--and asks me what I thought about her taking Fallon to Atlanta," recalled partner Kennedy. "I said, 'She'd be thrilled.'

"Then Alice says, 'Well, I've got to make sure we can catch that show.' "

At 2 a.m. Saturday, with a wedding awaiting him later that morning, Kennedy awoke to hear the strains of Jack Mack on his television.

Still unaware of the bombing, he sat up in bed and shouted, "When's the funeral? When's the funeral?"

"Settle down," said his girlfriend. "We're going to a wedding, not a funeral. Go back to bed."

So he turned off the TV--which unknown to him was showing replays of the bombing--and fell asleep.

At 9 a.m., standing in Fallon's, preparing to pick up the soul food that would make for the sort of big-volume day that Alice loved, he received The Call.

For the next several hours, throughout the lower-middle-class neighborhoods and home-grown businesses that dot her favorite section of Albany like mismatched Legos, many received the same call.

Many could not believe it--not because Alice Hawthorne was unbelievable, but because she was so real.

Lois Crumbley, an elderly homemaker, drove down to Fallon's to see if it was true and broke down when she learned it was.

"I remember the time I went into the cable TV company, and Alice recognized me, and jumped up from her desk, and insisted on waiting on me," she said. "I needed a new remote control. And she said, 'I got one for you right here.' "

Lugenia Mimbs, a tailor and fellow member of the American Legion, needed to hear the news twice.

"I remember talking to her just last week; we were going through the discount clothes bin at T.J. Maxx, and we were laughing and having a great time," she said.

Bennie Mae Davis, a homemaker and longtime friend from the Legion, still doesn't believe it.

"You know, she used to make me the best salads at Fallon's," Davis said. "Then when Curtis took over, he didn't make them so good. I complained, so Alice made sure that my salad was always special."

The trip to the bathroom in the back hallway of her restaurant is cluttered with old boxes and utensils. But the bathroom itself is immaculate.

Her neighborhood is spotted with homes that have seemingly faded in the heat. But her blue-and-white ranch home still sparkles.

And ask anyone about that American Legion Super Bowl cake last year.

"I worked with her on the Super Bowl committee, and I figured as long as we had enough food and spirits. . . ," recalled Jeremiah Paschal of the Legion. "But she reminded me that we needed atmosphere. And can you believe that our cake had goal posts and the colors of the two teams?

"People saying, 'Who would have thought of that? Goalposts!' "

This is a woman whose death, according to husband John, was not even immediately recognized by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Hawthorne said as of Sunday afternoon, nobody on that committee had spoken to him.


"To be perfectly blunt, I cannot understand why they haven't," he said. "I am not sure what is so pressing that could not allow them a few minutes to either make a phone call or something."

In a later news conference, A.D. Frazier, ACOG chief operating officer, said: "Is that the case? I'm sorry, I didn't know that to be true, and I'm glad to have that brought to my attention, if so."

That's too bad, because they could have talked about that Miss Black America Albany Pageant that Alice Hawthorne organized a couple of years ago. Or the Chamber of Commerce meetings she attended.

Or how about that jukebox in the back of her restaurant? Sure, it has "Electric Boogie" by Marcia Griffith for the kids.

But it also has "Christmas Song" by Donna Summer for those like her.

This spirit will be carried on by Fallon, the youngest of Hawthorne's two daughters, who remains hospitalized with deep cuts in her arms and hands.

Fallon spoke to Curtis Kennedy by phone Sunday, and darned if she didn't sound just like her mother.

"She said, 'Hey, Curt, what's up?' " he recalled. "I said, 'That's Mr. Curt to you.' Soon we were both laughing.' "

Kennedy paused, and rubbed his eyes. The narrow room, briefly lighted up with her memory, was heavy again.

"When I think about it, I cry . . . because I can't strike back," he said. "Who are they that did this? What are they after? Why?"

Over at American Legion Post 512, retired Petty Officer Marshall Bailey looked out over the modest bingo game and wondered the same thing.

"Of all the people they could have killed, they took just one person. Just one single person. Just one," he said. "And Alice had to be that one? Alice? Why her?"

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World