My dad, Charles Salter, took that photograph 32 years ago as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The column was called the “Georgia Rambler.” He’d travel the state looking for colorful people and places, often stories with a historical bent. One of his best sources was the late Everett Beal, a fishing buddy of his who worked as a pharmacist in Griffin, Ga. One day, Everett showed my dad his prized possession, a leather-bound book of recipes that had once belonged to a pharmacist named John Pemberton. The John Pemberton who created the original syrup to make Coke.
“Coco Cola Improved” was scrawled by hand on page 188, above a list of ingredients. My dad asked Everett if he thought it was the original formula for Coke. “I believe it is,” Everett told him.
Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, my dad showed a photo of the recipe to Coke and asked them the same question. “We don’t as a company comment on or confirm or deny any information you present to us about the formula for Coca-Cola,” my Dad quoted a spokesman saying.
You would think a column blowing the lid off Coke’s big secret would be front-page news in its home-town paper. A column with a photo of the recipe. But on February 18, 1979, “Is It Real Thing in Old Book?” ran inside the local news section, on 2B. And that was that. Remember, this was pre-Internet. This was even pre-cable news. CNN wouldn’t launch for another year. So the Coke column remained a favorite story my dad would recount, and he’d bring out that old photo of the recipe book cradled in Everett Beal’s weathered hands.