The Atlanta metro area braced for what could have been a weekend of mayhem as an estimated 300,000 people descended on the streets for events ranging from pro sports games to the Dogwood Festival to the FIRST Robotics Competition to the much ballyhooed return of Freaknik.
But as it turned out, the scariest thing out there wasn’t traffic snarls, heavy crowds or lawbreaking partygoers -- it was zombies; bloody but congenial zombies from the Zombie Pub Crawl in Virginia-Highland.
"They were all grinning and they walk by Belly General Store, and kids just freaked and screamed and ran around the corner yelling, ‘Mom, there are zombies,"' said Chuck Vanderberg, 40, who lives in the neighborhood. The crowd, however, wasn't so bad, and traffic was flowing pretty well, he said.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Sunday he was pleased with the way police managed the large crowds that flocked to the city this weekend, despite complaints from some Freaknik revelers that the police presence put a damper on the partying.
"It went as well as it could had gone with 300,000 people coming into the city," the mayor said.
Reed, who attended the 74th annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival in Piedmont Park, said the additional police presence was necessary because no one was sure how many people were coming for Freaknik and the city wanted to be prepared.
"If you were in a situation that you were unprepared and something catastrophic had happened, that is certainly not a place that I would want to be in," said Reed, who added that police talked beforehand about being courteous to visitors. "We did not have police staging in a manner that was overly aggressive."
The Dogwood Festival and the SweetWater 420 Fest in Candler Park were city-sanctioned events, while two versions of the fabled Freaknik street party were not.
Though the crowd didn't come close to levels of Freakniks past, which reached 200,000 at one point, anyone looking for fun of the freaky sort was quickly checked by officers patrolling hot spot locations such as Underground Atlanta, the Atrium in Stone Mountain, and College Park, where there was some traffic congestion from cruising cars. Police dispersed crowds at Underground by 11 p.m. Saturday with only one reported arrest after a man struck a police officer in the back of the head. Police said the man would be charged with battery. Some business owners and would-be revelers said the heavy police presence was hurting the event.
“I agree with what the people are saying. I know some of it to be true, but at the end of the day, we still accomplished every goal we set forth to do,” said Davinci Barcelo, 26, event coordinator of iFreaknik, the Freaknik for a new generation, which included a foam and pool party at the Atrium on Saturday.
Barcelo said he hopes in the future, the city will support events like his. "If it doesn't happen in Atlanta, that's fine. I'll take it to a place that will welcome it because I don't want my patrons to be harassed," said Barcelo, predicting that in two years, iFreaknik would be bigger than the Dogwood Festival.
Getting the city's support will require quite a bit of coordination on Barcelo's part. Brian Hill, executive director of the Dogwood Festival, said they had worked for several months with the city, police and the community in preparation for what was coming.
This year's festival went off without a hitch, he said. The only thing that threatened the easy ride was the state Department of Transportation's scheduled construction on the Downtown Connector, which also would have been a hassle for Hawks and Braves fans headed to games over the weekend. Fortunately, the DOT called it off for the weekend.
"That did a lot for everybody," Hill said. "If the connector was being paved with all these people coming, it would have been very difficult."
As part of their eco-friendly efforts, festival coordinators encouraged attendees to take MARTA. They ran shuttles from the Midtown and Arts Center stations, adding more shuttle runs than they had last year, Hill said.
In the end, there was only one really big surprise in Atlanta this weekend.
"The weather," said Hill. "After this miserable winter, the weather has been wonderful."
Staff writer Eric Stirgus contributed to this article.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com