DALTON, Ga. — Chicken sandwiches and waffle fries crossing a fast-food counter were overlooked Wendesday as a group of middle-schoolers staged an unannounced public performance of Edgar Allen Poe's poem, "Annabel Lee."
Some Chick-fil-A patrons looked puzzled. Some smiled. Others took photos and video as a few Dalton Middle School students interrupted lunch by rising on their chairs to profess their love for a maiden who "lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me."
As the poem progressed, other students stood to join the description of the beautiful Annabel Lee. By the end of the sixth stanza - and Annabel Lee's death - the pop-up middle-schoolers held the attention of everyone in the restaurant.
Unwitting diners included Jordan Rochstetler, of Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., who had stopped at the Chick-fil-A on his way to Atlanta, not at all expecting to hear of a maiden who was the envy of angels.
He cast a knowing smile as the recital commenced.
"It's a flash mob," Rochstetler whispered to a confused friend.
The performance was the brainchild of teacher Susan Ward, who had taught Poe for years before suggesting a flash mob to this class. Some of the Internet-inspired events involve strangers descending upon a given place at a given time for a predetermined stunt. Others involve elaborate, prerehearsed performances. The students' piece had been practiced.
Ward said she proposed a flash mob for the middle school's media center, but her enthusiastic students insisted on more public places. They hit a Zaxby's restaurant on Tuesday.
“People clap for them, some people record it. The students love it," said Ward. "Now the kids are thinking, ‘Where are we going next?’"
Seventh-grader Samantha Tabares said the public's reaction to Poe varies.
"Some people kept on talking and laughed and were rude. Some people think it’s just a joke," she said. "But a lot of people enjoyed it. I really did.”
Rochstetler was among the fans of the performance of the poem, one of the last written by Poe before his death in 1849.
“I think it’s a really great idea for kids to do this," he said. "I really enjoyed it. Wonderful idea. Great idea.”
Details for this story were reported by The Daily Citizen in Dalton, Ga.