In the fall and winter of 2017 I conducted two lengthy videotaped interviews with long-time Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon. The following is the first of a series of excerpts from those interviews that I plan to publish on this blog over the next few weeks. The illustrations appearing here were mostly provided by Mayor Bacon.
William Marchione: This is Bill Marchione and I am interviewing the long-term mayor of the City of Smyrna, Max Bacon, who has held that position for the past 32 years.
Max Bacon: I have to stop and think. I got elected in ’85, and this is ’17, so yes, it’s been 32 years; and six year before that on the Council, so it should be rounded out to nearly 40 years.
But it never was a plan.
WM: One of the questions I wanted to ask, and I’ll jump to it right off the bat. Did you ever consider running for another office?
MB: You know, I never did, although I was approached several times by different individuals about whether I was interested in running for the State Senate, House of Representatives, County Chairman (Cobb County Commission Chairman). I always felt like I had the best job I could ever want, being mayor of my home town, the place where I grew up and have lived to this day. I wasn’t going to use being mayor as a stepping stone. I always tell people I’m going to be here until I figure out what this is all about, and I’m still trying to figure it out! (laughs).
WM: Let’s begin with some family history. Turning first to the Bacon Family. How many generations of Bacons have lived in Smyrna?
Max Bacon’s paternal grandparents, Robert H. Bacon and Nina Turner Bacon
MB: Well, I guess I’m the third generation. My father was born in Oglethorpe County, near Athens. That’s where my grandfather, Robert H. Bacon, Sr. lived, and then he moved his family down here. My grandfather worked for the railroad. So they moved here, out on Roswell Street, but I never remember them living on Roswell Street. When I was growing up my grandparents lived up on Sandtown Road in Marietta.
The house on Roswell Street near the Smyrna Railroad Depot where Max Bacon’s grandparents lived when they first moved to Smyrna
We lived in the house on Bank Street, which daddy built in 1947. I don’t have any memories of the house on Roswell Street other than knowing where it was. My grandmother, Nina Turner Bacon, died when I was two years old. I can remember her holding my hand. She was a woman of short stature. Then my grandfather remarried to Sara Camp. He lived to be 87 years of age. So I guess there have been three generations of Bacons in Cobb County and Smyrna.
WM: Do you know the year they came to Smyrna?
MB: Not sure.
[WM: According to Pete Wood’s book, The Paper Boy, the mayor’s grandparents moved to Smyrna in 1923].
WM: I’ve seen pictures of the house that they occupied on Roswell Street; a very poor picture that appears in Pete Wood’s book, The Paper Boy.
MB: And I want to say that after they left it was a boarding house. You know, my grandfather worked for the railroad. They didn’t have any money. As a matter of fact I don’t know any of the Bacons who have had a lot of money. I remember him as just being retired, living up on Sandtown Road. He had a garden. I remember I’d go up to see him. They didn’t have a TV when I stayed with him. I think they may have had a radio, but no TV. That was in the sixties.
WM: Now your mother, as I recall, hailed from South Carolina. Her family name was Moseley.
Dorothy Moseley, the mayor’s mother, as a young woman
MB: Yes. She was one of seven children. Her mother died at a very young age. Mother was nine years old when her mother died, so I never knew my grandmother. My grandfather I knew very well. They lived in Myrtle Beach. He died at 80, I think, having had a stroke or a heart attack. And he remarried a lady named Kate Dawson. She was our “Grandma Kate.” She was the only grandma I ever really knew. I remember her because my grandparents moved to Vinings. I had an aunt that lived there. She was the post mistress of Vinings. And I had an uncle named Billy. Billy and Carmen, they lived in Vinings. And where the Vinings Inn is now, he ran a grocery store named Moseley Grocery. That’s how mother and daddy met. They met in 1936 in Vinings. Mother’s best friend was Virginia Duckett, who eventually married Max Parnell. They were good friends and daddy and Max Parnell were good friends. Mother would visit down there during the summers.
Max Parnell and Virginia Duckett Parnell, about 1942
My dad was a pretty attractive guy. I’m not saying that just because he was my dad. He was tall, 6 foot 1, had curly blond hair. I think she was smitten by him right off the bat. I read some letters that she wrote about him, but they were just friends. I read a lot of things about my mother and her friends. They had boyfriends and girlfriends, but they would go out in large groups. Mother was going to nursing school up at Toumey Hospital and she’d come down to Vinings on the weekends and visit Ginny (Virginia Duckett) who was her best friend. But mom and dad didn’t have a serious courtship until after the war. That’s when he got serious.
Arthur Bacon was Captain of the Marietta High Football Team in 1939 and was voted “Mr. Marietta” by his graduating class
WM: Your father was a war hero.
MB: That’s right.
WM: How influential a figure was your dad in your upbringing?
MB: My dad was my hero. I never even thought he was going to die, even when he got sick. He was just too big. There wasn’t anything that could bring him down. He wasn’t a real affectionate guy, but I knew that he cared about me. He also told me what to do until the day he died. “Your going to buy this house.” “You’re going to but this car.” And I did pretty much what he told me.
Max and playmates outside the Bacon house on Bank Street in the mid- 1950s.
And I was scared of my dad. I got some whippings that I deserved. I remember one time I went to a friend’s house. You had to have permission to go anywhere. This was back when Smyrna was a small town and I was probably eleven years old and went to one of my friend’s houses to play ball or something. I thought I could get home before my mother got home, and I didn’t, and she said “Where have you been?” and I said so-and-so’s house, and she said, “You didn’t have permission.” And she said “You’re going to have to suffer the consequences.” And when my dad came home he whipped me with a belt. I had a basketball game that night. He whipped me so hard that I had welts on the back of my legs and my sister had to put makeup on me. That was the way it was back then. You don’t go anywhere without telling them. They were very protective of us, even though most families didn’t keep their doors locked. Smyrna was small, but they were very protective. I’m not saying that they were unreasonable. So I got a good whipping for it, but I never did it again.
I would say that my dad, although he never talked about the war, he was a heck of an athlete. He was “Mr. Marietta High” and captain of the football team, and I would ask him, “Daddy, were you good at sports, and he’s say “Hell, yea, the best 22 year old senior on the team!” He was 22 years old. This was during the Depression and he had to quit work to attend school. Smyrna didn’t have a football team, Marietta did. So they gave him a scholarship to attend Marietta High School. He and Max Parnell rode the trolley up to Marietta every day. They had to buy daddy clothes. He had a pair of overalls, and that was it. So they dressed him up because he was such a good athlete. So I was always just mesmerized with my dad.
When I got into politics, I went to him for advice, and I had helped him in previous campaigns, stuffing doors and so forth. And he said to me, “Well I’ll tell you, your not going to win your first election.” And he also said, “If you can’t be tough, don’t get into this game.”
WM: But you did win.
Max Bacon as a newly elected Smyrna City Council Member, about 1980
MB: I did. I was running against a good guy named Bill Darby, who was on the council, when my dad was mayor the first time, and when my dad told me I wasn’t going to win, it devastated me a little bit. But I just put more effort in; knocked on every door in the ward, and I remember when I won, getting 78 percent of the vote, I met my dad at the house.
This was back in the days when they had long tables. There were all paper ballots, no machines, and when I got home he said, “How’d you do.” I said, “I won! I got 618 votes to 240 something for Darby,” and he said, “Why did you have to beat him so bad!” “Well why did you tell me I wasn’t going to win?”
He was a big inspiration. The closest that my dad and I were as far as I’m concerned was when he came back and ran for mayor the second time six years later, and he and I served together for four years, and then he died in office. I really enjoyed that time. He was very, very careful not to show me any favoritism and there were two occasions, when we only had six Council members at a meeting and it was a 3 to 3 tie on some issue that I’d brought up, and he voted against me both times. Mother got mad at him. I didn’t get mad though.
He influenced me a lot. His sense of humor was great. But I’m really more like my mamma. But dad was a great guy, though he was rough and gruff. He went through the Depression and World War II. Got captured by the Germans in the D-Day Invasion. He didn’t show much emotion or affection. I really think I’m more like my mother.
Arthur Bacon, a decorated World War II war hero also served during the Korean Conflict
WM: Do you think that if he had been alive when you were serving as mayor that he would have expected you to follow his directions?
MB: He told some folks how proud he was of me for just being on the Council, but he never told me that. And it was at a time when there was some bickering going on and he was trying to the members of the Council to work together. I wish he would have been alive long enough to see some of the things we’re doing. We
When we started the revitalization of the downtown we had to condemn some property, which was probably the most difficult thing I ever had to do. I didn’t like the idea of taking people’s property against their will, but we would never have redeveloped the area had we not moved forward and done that. I think my dad would have been proud of that.
WM: Are you talking about the houses on Sunset Avenue?
MB: Yes. And some of them were rental houses. There were probably three that were owner occupied. We tried the best we could to work out something with the owners. In all there were thirteen cases in which the court approved the value that we set on the property, and in some cases the court awarded less than what we said a property was worth, and people had to give us money back. I didn’t get any satisfaction out of that, but as you look back now, we would not be where we are had it not been for those land takings, but I’m going to tell you in ’91 and ’92, people were not real happy. They were pretty upset!
WM: I recently put on my historical blog about a hundred photographs of the old downtown. It was in pretty sad shape.
A row of small, cramped downtown storefronts on the west side of Atlanta Road
MB: If you had out of town guests, and they asked, “Where is downtown Smyrna?” you would take them any place but the old downtown. It had all the overhead lines and the buildings were dilapidated. There was no parking in the downtown. That didn’t help businesses. Smyrna needed a new heart. Probably out of anybody who has served in office in the last 40 years I had more of a connection to the old downtown. I grew up on Bank Street. I walked up to the drug store. I got my hair cut there. I had more connection than anybody.
WM: A group of us recently went through all the old newspapers (the old Smyrna Herald and Smyrna Neighbor). We found a photograph there of you and Jim Toleson, when the two of you belonged to an organization called “Save Old Smyrna”.
In 1980 Max Bacon helped to organize a group that called itself SOS (Save Old Smyrna) to try to rehabilitate and save the old downtown
MB: Also Jim Hawkins. That would have been my first year on the Council, about 1980, and everybody thought I was going to do what my dad told me to do. So three of us started that SOS. Some called it S0S (the last S being a bad word). But that was sort of the beginning of trying to save downtown Smyrna. Like I said, there was no parking. The buildings were in terrible shape. There was nothing of historical value. When we walked the downtown with Mike Sizemore (the architect of the Downtown Redevelopment Project) with all of the elected officials, and we were asked “What do you want to save?” we told him frankly that there was nothing of historical value to save! When they widened Atlanta Road everything on the eastern side was going to be wiped out. There was no parking on that side and on the other side the buildings were in terrible shape. There was nothing that was on the Historical Register. So we said, “Just save some of these trees.” And as I look back, I honestly don’t know that there was anything down there that I regret having lost. I’m glad that we brought Aunt Fanny’s Cabin into the downtown.
I’m really excited about the Reed House. I was down there last week. It’s finished on the inside. It’s going to be quite something.
WM: It’s an architectural gem.
MB: It is, and I look at that, and I look at Brawner Hall. I’m extremely proud of savings those properties from the bulldozer. The Reed House and the assemblage of these other three properties, they’d be another hundred town homes there, I looked at trying to save some of these things, even the green space out here (north of Village Green) that was initially planned for condos on top and retail on the bottom. And you know we need to save some of the green space. Things have changed and its very difficult to get retail, you’ve got so much on line now—Amazon, ebay, and all this other stuff. We’re finding it harder and harder to get retail to come out here.
WM: Getting back to your family history. You were born in 1948. How many siblings did you have, and where do you stand in the order of children?
Max and his brother and sisters, in a photo taken about 1956
MB: I’ve got an older sister, Linda, now Linda Keeney. She was born in ’47. She still lives here. She just retired as principal of King Springs Elementary School, then I come next, born in ’48 and grew up here, really never had to move from here. Then I’ve got a brother, David, who lives in Kennesaw. He has his own business, Bacon Specialty Advertising, and a younger sister, Jenny Ruth, that lives here now. She’s a housewife. Her husband was in the car business and they lived in Huntsville, New Orleans, Knoxville, and now she’s back home. Linda left and went to Greensville, North Carolina, and then she divorced and they moved back home. I’m the one that stayed put, never moved anywhere else. Plus my job kept me local.
Max Bacon as a postal worker in the late 1960s
I went to work for the postal service in 1966, cause my daddy told me to go to work there. He told me to go take the test and the interview, and I said “But I don’t want to work for the post office.” That wasn’t even on the radar.
WM: I wanted to be sure to ask that question about your brother and sisters because your sister Linda, when my book on Smyrna came out in 2013, chided me jokingly for having talked about you and your mom and dad in the book, but left your brother and sisters out.
MB: You know what I’d like to say about my sister, Linda. My sister was a great educator. She did such an outstanding job at King Springs Elementary School. She had a passion for the schools. She probably worked three years longer than she needed to.
WM: She was very highly regarded.
MB: Yes, and that school is the best elementary school in the county. My brother moved because he wanted to send his kids to Harrison High School in Kennesaw and also wanted to be close to his wife’s mother. But we’re close. Mother was the glue that held us all together. She was the one that I think we’re all sort of like. Daddy’s been dead since ’85, so that’s 32 years. It was all about mother and the Moseleys.
WM: What did your father do for a living after the war?
MB: When he came back he and his brother, and I’m not sure in what order, owned Smyrna Cleaners. Robert, was his brother, and Robert ran the cleaning operation, and daddy handled the deliveries. Then for a period of time, I remember my dad worked for the post office as a mail carrier. But he couldn’t get along with the postmaster. The postmaster was named Zelan Wills. He couldn’t get along with Zelan and Zelan said he was going to fire him, and daddy said “You can’t fire me, I quit!” And so daddy came home early. And mother said, “What are you doing home?” And daddy said, “I quit the post office.” And mother said, “But I’m pregnant with another baby.”
Then he worked for Smyrna Building Supplies, which was located just over the railroad tracks on the right (on East Spring Street), I think there’s a landscape company there now. He worked there. But during the time that I remember him he was delivering mail. I remember because on one occasion he put me in the back of his car. You couldn’t take a three year old on his mail route, which was down off of Atlanta Road, so he let me out at a store and he asked the owners if they could watch me for a couple or three hours, and they said yes.
He worked there, but then he was in real estate. He worked for Poston Realty. He worked there and he sold houses in new subdivisions. He sold a lot of houses in Smyrna, but I can remember when he didn’t have a closing and he’d come home and say, “We didn’t close” and he’d have to go borrow money.
My mother was a nurse and she was really the consistent breadwinner of the family. It was probably the saddest time of my life when real estate got really bad and I was working at the post office and I was 17 years old and he came there and applied for a job and he said, “I have to do something to get some money.” He had a hernia or something and it really hurt me that he had to do that. He was a proud man. He was also the manager of the American Legion post.
At the end of his life he was very successful in real estate. But mother was the one, she was a private duty nurse, and people would hire her, like if you’re having a serious operation. She worked the eleven to seven shift every night. And I remember my mother, she would be dressed in these white gowns and hat. Daddy would fix us breakfast every morning cause he’s get up at 4 o’clock because he was a military guy. He’d get up at 4 o’clock and put breakfast in the oven and then we’d get up about 6 or 7, and the food would get cold, dry toast and all, but it was okay. He did that every morning. My daddy always read the entire newspaper and then he’d smoke a cigarette and then he’d go to work. And then when mother got home we’d get ready to go to school. And when we got home she was usually still asleep. Every night she’s fixed us a meal, and then she’s go to Kennestone.