Drink it in, in Atlanta Museum: A huge collection of memorabilia and minutiae is aimed at teaching the world to sing about Coca-Cola.

July 14, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- You haven't lived until you've heard the Moody Blues, in a stunningly bad 1967 radio commercial, sing: "Things go bet-ter with Coca-Cola, things go bet-ter with Coke " They sound like a bad garage band on Seconal, although they don't sound any worse than Glen Campbell-belt youngsters and Hispanic youngsters and Asian youngsters and Native American youngsters and Eskimo youngsters -- a Rainbow Coalition of freshly scrubbed, dewy-eyed, adolescent pitchmen on a hilltop in Italy -- holding up Coke bottles as if they were flaming torches and singing: "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in per-fect har-mo-neyyyy "

I know this because I have seen such things in the World of Coca-Cola, the popular museum and tourist attraction hard by the Underground (Atlanta's equivalent of Harborplace, but instead of being on the water it is underground) that bills itself as "a tribute to a unique product and the consumers who have made it the world's favorite soft drink."

The Coke empire has its headquarters in Atlanta, and the World of Coca-Cola is a can't-miss hit for anyone who has ever wondered: What would it be like to have the world's largest collection of Coke memorabilia and minutiae in one garish, three-story building -- complete with a gift shop offering thousands of items such as mugs, Teddy bears, key chains, sweat shirts, music boxes, umbrellas, etc., all tastefully emblazoned with the Coke logo?

Only in the World of Coca-Cola can you see the first can of Coke to travel into space aboard the 1985 shuttle Challenger, or come across this Zen-like, 1975 observation by the now-dead Andy Warhol: "You know, the president drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke. All the Cokes are the same, and all the Cokes are good."

Ohhhh-K. Coke modestly bills itself as "the world's most widely-recognized consumer product." And after you've toured this place, there's absolutely no chance of turning to anyone a few weeks down the road and asking: "What was that place we visited in Atlanta, the Pepsi museum?'

Our tour begins as we plunk down $4.50 for a general admission ticket and take the yellow elevator to the third floor, where we come face to face with a huge, glass-enclosed, assembly-line-like display.

Bottling sculpture

Our brochure tells us this is "The Bottling Fantasy a kinetic sculpture that blends reality and illusion to illustrate the bottling process and create the fanciful sights and sounds of an imaginary bottling plant."

After, ahem, drinking this in, we move to the displays of early bottling equipment and exhibits of Coke artifacts and Coke history, where we come across this gem: "The first glass of Coca-Cola was sold in Atlanta at Jacob's Pharmacy in 1886. The druggist, according to legend, accidentally mixed Coca-Cola syrup with soda water rather than plain water, thus creating a delicious new beverage."

In another part of the third floor, there's an old-time soda fountain with an old-fashioned soda jerk behind the counter answering questions about how early Cokes were prepared.

"You'll feel just like folks did back when they met in soda shops like this to chat with friends," the brochure says. And I guess I did -- at least until the guy next to me whipped out his cellular phone, punched a few numbers and barked: "Marge, did you say Phil was gonna meet us at the hotel?"

From here, we enter the Coke movie theater to view a "10 minute celebration of life and Coca-Cola around the globe." First, though, our attention is directed toward an electronic display showing the number of soft drinks served by the company since 1886.

The ever-changing number was 4,871,335,246,760 when I looked it, although the brochure notes breathlessly that it increases at a rate of "over seven thousand five hundred per second!"

The second floor has displays that trace Coke's advertising from roughly 1950 to the present via pitchmen as disparate as sweaty Pittsburgh Steeler "Mean" Joe Greene, eerie video clone Max Headroom, Paul Newman and Snoopy of "Peanuts" fame.

You can watch classic Coke commercials featuring Ray Charles, country singers and the aforementioned "We Are the World" coalition of teen-age Coke zealots. Then it's time to move briskly to a phone bank and listen to Coke radio jingles sung by the Everly Brothers, Aretha Franklin and Roy Orbison, who sounds as if he had a shot glass lodged in his trachea at the time.

Magic drinks

From here, your tour takes you to Club Coca-Cola, "the world's most spectacular soda fountain." This is a dazzling display of neon and sound effects where soft drinks bubbling in clear glass cylinders appear to shoot magically through the air before landing in your plastic cup to be tasted.

I was pretty thirsty from all the walking and downed a Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite like a man who'd been locked in the trunk of a car for a week.

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