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The Bookmark

a book review by Larry G. Johnson

December 5,1957 is the day that will live in infamy for the city of Villa Rica, Georgia. On that crisp morning about an hour before noon, a horrific explosion ripped apart a section of the business district, killing twelve, injuring a couple dozen more, and leaving indelible holes in the lives of those too numerous to count.

While memories of that fateful day have been handed down through a couple of generations, no one had ever chronicled the events for the historical record that is until now. Elaine. Bailey undertook the arduous task of sifting through the mountains of records, and also painstakingly revisiting reminiscences of survivors. She has published the findings in a monumental book entitled, Explosion in Villa Rica. The author describes her efforts as comparable to that of putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Only all the pieces are not there, and some don’t fit. Nevertheless, Bailey has painted an awe­ inspiring portrait of ordinary citizens going about their· daily lives, but then getting caught up in extraordinary circumstances that made headlines all over the world.

The story is not retold as though it happened in a vacuum. The author does a credible job of setting the stage, of putting the times in perspective. She then meticulously reconstructs the events leading up to, during, and immediately following the massive explosion.

But Bailey does not approach the subject matter from the viewpoint of a reporter just getting the facts. She rather makes it about the people who were involved. Her depictions are not those of a sensationalist trying to make a name for herself but are rendered with the compassion of a family member, still feeling the pain.

The book also deals with the aftermath, the healing, the rebuilding, and the lawsuits that tried to access blame. Bailey makes note of two very substantial changes that came about as a result of this, tragedy. The entire fledgling natural gas industry went back to the drawing boards and rewrote safety manuals. And the notion of civil defense preparedness took on a whole new significance, the department established in Villa Rica becoming a model for others to follow.

Explosion in Villa Rica is well documented and thoroughly indexed. Photographs are strategically placed throughout giving critical visuals of the scene and situation. The obituaries of the victims are included, as are quotations from news stories that covered the event.

The book is not only a keepsake for those whose lives will never be the same, but it now takes its place alongside other crucial documentaries recording the rich history of Carroll County.

12/27/09 pg.12