Named after the Mississippi River, the state of Mississippi lies on the southern end of the United States of America and has the Gulf of Mexico to its south while the namesake river covers the state’s western border.
Regarded as the most religious state in the U.S., Mississippi is not only home to Norris Bookbinding company, the largest ‘Bible-binding’ plant in the country but it also houses an ancient Biblical manuscript, known to be the oldest book in America, within the walls of the University of Mississippi.
Did you know that the term “teddy bear” happened because of Theodore Roosevelt, who, on a hunting expediting in Sharkey County, Mississippi refused to kill a trapped bear, an event that resulted in a political cartoon which inspired the birth of the stuffed animal?
While Mississippi is frequently considered unremarkable on most ‘tourist radars,’ the state is rich in nature, history, culture, hospitality, and of course, music (Blues music was born in the Mississippi Delta).
Let us explore some of the hidden gems in Mississippi, the often underrated southern jewel of America.
1. The Mississippi River Basin Model, Jackson
Nestled between the overgrown woods in the Buddy Butts park in Jackson, Mississippi remains the abandoned Mississippi River Basin Model, the largest of its kind to have been constructed till date.
Constructed near Clinton, Mississippi the model covered an area of 200 acres and was built over a period of 23 years from 1943 to 1966, even though some of the sections of the model were put to use as early as 1949.
Started as a preventive measure by the Army Corps of Engineers against river floods, the model helped the state predict and prevent major losses that were caused by earlier floods such as the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927.
Over 1800 German and Italian POWs worked on the project, and, not only did the small-scale model help avoid great destructions but it also became a remarkable tourist destination at the time.
However, with the invention of computer modeling, the cost of managing the site became too heavy and the site was moved to Jackson, where it now lies deserted.
2. Clarksdale Crossroads, Clarksdale
Three giant blue guitars atop a pole at the intersection of Highway 61 and 49 marks the site where, reportedly, Robert Johnson, the great Blues singer, sold his soul to THE DEVIL in exchange of an illuminated career as one of the greatest blues singers of all times.
Since Mississippi is often regarded as the birthplace of Blues music, it is no surprise that the city of Clarksdale, Mississippi has given rise to many famed musicians of the said genre. One such great artist was Robert Johnson, who wasn’t all that great always.
The story has it that one day, Johnson, disheartened of his unsuccessful career, was walking along the area when a stranger offered to tune his guitar. Johnson accepted the generous offer but little did he know that the ‘stranger’ was, in fact, the Devil himself.
Whether he sold his soul knowingly or otherwise has been up for a debate ever since, what followed this ‘unsuspected encounter’ is a music career that marked Robert Johnson as the ‘greatest blues player’ of his time.
Since the event, the intersection has been decorated with three guitars and a signboard announcing it as “The Crossroads.”
3. Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, Gulfport
After the War of 1812, the US War Department planned to build a huge number of robust fortifications that would protect the nation’s coast. Ship Island, because of its location along a shipping route, was significant to the protection of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Thus, in 1847, it was declared as a military reservation for the nation, and by 1859, the construction of Fort Massachusetts began on the island.
Built between 1859 and 1866, the construction project was guided by the Army Corps of Engineers and mainly involved civilian workmen. Named in the honor of USS Massachusetts, a Union Navy steamer, the fort remained in use until 1903.
A 20-minute exchange of heavy gunfire between the Confederates and the Union soldiers in July 1861 was perhaps the only military engagement that the fort was ever involved in. Although the fort was mostly completed, harsh weather on the islands forced the military to leave it abandoned.
Today, Fort Massachusetts serves as a tourist attraction on the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
4. Windsor Ruins, Claiborne County
Built between 1859 and 1861, Windsor Mansion, covering an area of 2,600 acres belonged to Smith Coffee Daniel II, a Mississippi based cotton planter, who lived in the property with his wife, Catherine Freeland, and their children.
An exemplary illustration of magnificent architecture, the mansion was built mostly by Smith’s slaves, who worked under the supervision of David Shroder, a great architect of his time. The mansion’s design included, among other things, 29 massive columns that were crowned with iron Corinthian capitals, elaborate wrought-iron balustrades, an imposing staircase, three hallways, a rooftop cupola, and two large verandas (one each on the second and third floor).
Unfortunately, Smith passed away just a few weeks after the mansion was completed, however, his family retained possession of Windsor until 1974. Reportedly, an accidental fire in 1890 had destroyed much of the mansion, leaving only the columns, the staircase and some of the wrought-iron embellishments.
5. The Witch of Yazoo, Yazoo City
Within the grounds of Glenwood Cemetery, Yazoo City is a grave that lays surrounded by a broken chain and a tombstone broken in half. Legends claim that the original headstone had T.W. inscribed on it (perhaps, they mean ‘The Witch’).
There are several stories that attribute to the popularity of the ‘Witch of Yazoo,’ however, the most popular one involves an old woman, who lived by the banks of Yazoo River and was known to use witchcraft to lure fishermen and torture them.
One day, a sheriff chased the old woman to the swamplands, where she accidentally drowned, but, before she died, the woman cursed the town of an ill-fate which would loom over the township 20 years later as she will return to avenge her death.
The curse was forgotten over time until the unfortunate day in 1904, when a massive, inexplicable fire destroyed the whole town, including 200 residential buildings and most of the businesses.
A group of locals from the area visited the lady’s grave after the event, and much to their shock, the chains that once surrounded the gravesite were broken in two, and despite several restorations, they never seem to hold on for long.
6. Yellow Creek Nuclear Power Plant, Iuka
The site of not one but two massive investment failures by Tennessee Valley Authority (T.V.A.) and NASA, respectively, Yellow Creek Nuclear Power Plant has been considered one of the biggest managerial disasters in the business history of the United States of America. And, once you knew the story, you wouldn’t feel otherwise either.
In the late 1970s, in a sudden, reckless fit of optimism, T.V.A. decided to commission not one but 17 new nuclear power plants. Yellow Creek Nuclear Power Plant was one among them and was intended to serve as a cooling power base. Unfortunately, however, the tower was never built and the partially-completed project was forcibly canceled as the company realized their overestimation for electricity in the region.
$1.2 billion dollars later, Yellow Creek became one of eight such projects which never saw the light of day. But, wait. The story doesn’t come to an end with T.V.A.
In the 1980s, NASA decided to pick the site for another overambitious project, this time a manufacturing plant for solid rocket motors. Several years of planning and $1.5 billion dollar investment later, Congress pulled the plug on NASA’s project in 1993, leaving the residents of Iuka and its neighboring areas economically-depressed for a second time.
Although gated, you can observe the site of two epic failures from the road that surrounds the site.
7. Margaret’s Grocery and Market, Vicksburg
Situated in the heart of US Highway 61 (Yes, the one Bob Dylan wrote and sang about) stands the dilapidated ruins of Margaret’s Grocery and Market. Once considered a great representation of God and religious belief, the site has a rather heart-touching story of unfulfilled faith.
Margaret, the woman the store is named after, ran the rural grocery store with her first husband. Unfortunately, however, the husband died in a shooting. After five years of the incident, Margaret met Reverend HD Dennis and they married in 1979.
Reverend Dennis promised his wife to transform the grocery store into a place of worship and religious beliefs, and he continued to work on his promise by renovating and repainting the store so it would attract more people. The intention was to spread the word of God to as many as possible.
However, the renovation work came to a halt after a bunch of local building code inspectors asked Reverend Dennis that the project be stopped.
The couple donated the property to the Church before they passed away, but, the Church and the State haven’t been able to keep up with the maintenance of this once-beautiful architecture.
8. Birthplace of Kermit the Frog, Leland
Leland may not be known for a lot many things but it is the birthplace of two legendary icons – Jim Henson, a celebrated visionary and world-class puppeteer, and Kermit the Frog, Henson’s most famous creation.
Henson was born in 1936 in Greenville, Mississippi but he was raised in Leland where he spent most of his childhood playing amidst the flora and fauna of the surrounding swamplands. It is believed that one of his “childhood friends” may have been a frog, who inspired the artist to create Kermit the Frog, and another childhood friend, Kermit Scott, may have been the inspiration behind the muppet’s name.
Today, two small rooms at the Leland Chamber of Commerce house endless puppets and memorabilia that commemorates the work and legacy of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog. Furthermore, the museum houses several muppet facts and trivia, and an original Kermit the Frog muppet which was donated to the museum by Henson’s wife.
9. Grave of the Lady in Red, Lexington
Sometime in the year 1969, a bunch of farmers were working at the Egypt Plantation in the neighboring town of Cruger, when one of them hit a hard object buried in the ground. Further digging unveiled a coffin made of iron and glass, and inside it was the corpse of a beautiful young woman dressed in red.
Adorning an attire that looked like she may be a hundred years old, the body had been wonderfully preserved with alcohol, which made her look like she may have died and buried just a day ago.
Several attempts were made to discover who the ‘lady in red’ was and why would she be buried in an unmarked grave, however, when all efforts failed, her body was reburied in Lexington’s Old Fellow cemetery with a marker that stated “Lady in Red, Found in Egypt Plantation, 1835 – 1969.”
10. Grave of Douglas the Confederate Camel, Vicksburg
Douglas may not have been the only camel to serve the United States of America during the Civil War but he is one who was deeply loved and admired by his fellow Confederates of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Company A, also dubbed as the “Camel Regiment.”
Though no one knows for sure how Douglas came to serve the infantry, he was gifted to Colonel W.H. Moore before the well-liked dromedary camel served in the Battles of Iuka and Corinth.
Douglas was often known to break free, but, he usually did so to assert his freedom to graze and never wandered away from the regiment. Unfortunately, however, on one specific occasion, he happened to end up in a no man’s territory between the Confederates and the Union soldiers and paid the price by getting gunned down by a sharpshooter.
Although the shooter was heavily wounded by the Confederates as a way of their revenge for Douglas, the loyal and faithful camel now rests with 5,000 of his fellow soldiers within the grounds of Cedar Hill Cemetery’s Soldier’s Rest Section.
11. Rowan Oak, Oxford
Originally known as “The Bailey Place,” Rowan Oak was constructed in the 1840s by Colonel Robert Sheegog and was sold to William Faulkner, a celebrated author and Nobel prize laureate, and his wife, Estelle, in 1930.
Renamed by Faulkner as an homage to the namesake mythical tree, the two-story house wasn’t in a great condition at the time of purchase. However, the couple was in awe of the four acres of nature that surrounded their newly-purchased home. While Estelle encouraged the idea of renovating the surrounding habitation of red cedar, cypress, and magnolia trees, Faulkner refused the idea and only stuck to remodeling the house.
The couple lived at the property until Faulkner’s demise in 1962 and within that period of 32 years that the distinguished author lived at Rowan Oak, he wrote many of his classic Southern gothic tales, won a National Book Award, a Pulitzer, and a Nobel Prize for Literature.
Rowan Oak was donated to the University of Mississippi in 1972 by Faulkner’s daughter, and the site continues to welcome visitors and fans of Faulkner’s to pay homage to one of the greatest authors of all time.
12. Grave of the Gypsy Queen, Meridian
Queen Kelly Mitchell and her husband, King Emil were the leaders of the Mitchell Clan of Romany people, and together they had 14 children. The family was camped out in the bordering state of Alabama at the time, when, on January 31st, 1915, the Queen passed away from complications suffered during the birth of her 15th child.
The Romany people, as most believe, are from the northwestern region of India, and, are a traditional group of nomads who have expanded their community all around the world. Despite the scattered population, the Romany people are known to stick to their cultures and traditions, and, they share a huge respect towards their leaders.
The body of the Queen was decided to be buried at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Meridian, Mississippi and an elaborate Romany funeral service was arranged in the Queen’s honor. While several of her followers visited to pay their respects following the day of her death, about 20,000 Romany people from all over the world flocked to the city to bid a grand farewell to their Queen during the funeral service (which almost looked like a carnival).
Among the several trinkets, beads, cigarettes, and bottle of whiskeys that are offered at Queen Kelly Mitchell’s grave are the few occasional cans of Crush Orange Soda, allegedly the Queen’s beverage of choice.
13. Mammy’s Cupboard, Natchez
Once considered a representation of racial criticism, Mammy’s Cupboard is a restaurant along U.S. Route 61 which was constructed in 1940 and still continues to serve lunch and dessert to visitors.
The 28-feet tall, anachronistic brick edifice resembles the “mammy” figure that had been resurrected to fame after a similar character in the movie Gone With The Wind. A dark-skinned woman adorning a wide hoop skirt (that houses the restaurant and a gift shop within the restaurant) was seen as politically incorrect during the Civil Rights Movement, which is when the owners decided to lighten the skin tone of “mammy” to avoid such attention.
Racial discrimination or not, the restaurant’s homemade pie has been covered in the book American Pie and was featured by The Press Democrat on National Pie Day.
Enjoy the pie but check your political correctness at the door!
14. Longwood, Natchez
One man’s unfulfilled dream of building the most extravagant mansion of all times, Longwood was the lifelong desire of Dr. Haller Nutt, one among the many Mississippi riches to have emerged out of the state’s cotton plantations.
The mansion, regarded as the largest octagonal home in the nation, was designed to have 32 rooms, each with its own private balcony. Including a basement and an observatory, Longwood would have had six levels, topped with a large, elaborate onion-shaped dome.
Samuel Sloan, an architect from Philadelphia, was commissioned to work on the project. Construction started in 1860 and involved a large number of brilliant craftsmen who were hired from the same city as the architect. However, with the outbreak of Civil War in 1861, the workers fled the construction site to go back to their families and left the building undone.
With only the basement, first floor, and exterior completed, Dr. Nutt moved into Longwood with his family. The war not only prevented the completion of the mansion but also destroyed Dr. Nutt’s financial ability.
Owned by the Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club at present, the original structure remains as is (except for a spire atop the dome) and is open to visitors.
15. Simmons-Wright Company Store, Toomsuba
Constructed originally in 1885 to serve as a saw and wheat mill to the cotton farmers that worked the area, Simmons-Wright Company Store hasn’t aged a day since it was first opened about a hundred years ago (132 years, to be precise).
At the time, the store accepted cotton as a way of paying off debt and was a huge, one-room store that laid all its inventory out-in-front, grouped as per their use. However, the original building was destroyed completely in a fire in 1926, and instead, a two-story edifice was erected which still stands till date.
Not much has changed since it was first built in 1885 as the store still displays its products on shelves. Exposed hanging light bulbs illuminate the stocks of food items, antiques, hand tools, and aging shovels.
A café has been added next to the store building which commemorates the hundred years of service provided at the Simmons-Wright Company Store.
16. The Emerald Mound, Natchez
Regarded second only by Illinois’ Monks Mound, the Emerald Mound is the second largest sacred mound in the United States of America which was built as a site of worship by the Plaquemine Native American culture between 1200 and 1730 CE.
Also known as the Selsertown Site, the Mississippian period archaeological site is situated on the grounds of Natchez Trace Parkway and spans over eight acres of land. A flat top and two similar but small secondary mounds are the only leftovers that remain of this once-revered site.
Named after the Emerald Plantation that surrounded the site in the 19th century, the mound is built atop a natural hill and has a 65-feet wide summit. Research shows that there may have been at least six other similar mounds in the area but no traces remain to prove for sure.
The Emerald Mound, a National Historic Landmark since 1989, is now managed by the Parkway and is open to visitors.
17. Mississippi John Hurt Grave, Carrollton
Mississippi has a long history that is mostly intertwined with the evolution of blues music. Among the many (read: almost 200) blues musicians that were born or ever lived in the state is the legendary Mississippi John Hurt, born as John Smith Hurt, who spent most of his life working as a farmer and teaching himself how to play the guitar.
Born in Carroll County and raised in Avalon, Hurt was known to play a fast, syncopated style that was fit for dancing. His first recording was with Okeh Records, and even though he had a few popular numbers to his credit, the Great Depression resulted in a decline in the business, eventually sending Hurt into an oblivion.
In 1963, Hurt was rediscovered by Tom Hoskins, a folk musicologist, who convinced the blues singer to move to D.C. and restart where he left his career as a blues singer.
Hurt went on to record several albums after that and performed at many concerts and music events. He died in 1966 in a hospital in Grenada, Mississippi and his body was returned to his hometown, Avalon where Hurt is buried in a hilltop cemetery that is a bit difficult to locate (N 33° 38.823′ W 90° 02.095′ – in case you get lost) but worth the pilgrimage.
18. The Two-Headed Snake at Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Jackson
The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, Mississippi is the largest museum in the state and is home to several thought-provoking exhibitions. Established by Francis A. Cook in 1933, the museum was a part of the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission. Cook was also the first director at the museum which is located within the grounds of LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.
The Museum of Natural Science is known to house numerous interesting habitat exhibitions, aquariums, and nature trails that highlight the flora and fauna of the state. More than a million sample of fossils, plants, birds, reptiles, fish, and mammals are showcased at the museum.
With a mission to promote Mississippi’s biological diversity, the museum serves as an education center as well as a research facility.
Among the many other amazing exhibits that surround the two-story museum is the “The Two-Headed Snake,” a rare sighting in this part of the country, which has managed to hold the title of the museum’s “primary attraction” for a really long time.
19. U.S.S. Cairo, Vicksburg
Commissioned in 1862 as one of the seven gigantic gunboats to serve the nation, U.S.S. Cairo, designed by James B. Eads, was intended to be used for service during the American Civil War. The same year, the behemoth ironclad gunboat offered her service to a number of operations including those in Clarksville, Nashville, and Memphis.
The ‘Cairo’ continued functioning on the Mississippi River until it was formally handed over to the US Navy. In December same year, the gunboat was engaged in mine clearance on the Yazoo River when she was hit by a torpedo. As unfortunate as the incident may be, it is also marked as the first time a newly-developed torpedo technology ever brought down a boat.
Though the event led to her drowning, the Cairo was recovered in 1965, and after major restoration efforts, the remnants of the shipwreck stands under a white tent at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
20. Woodall Mountain, Iuka
Situated 807 feet above the sea level, the Woodall Mountain marks the highest point in the state of Mississippi. However, the summit is a bit more than just that. It, in fact, is the former site of a gunfight that took place during the Battle of Iuka in the American Civil War.
Formerly known as “Yow Hill,” the mountaintop was occupied by an army of 4,500 soldiers who, under the orders of Union General William Rosecrans, opened fire at the surrounding town of Iuka on September 19th, 1862. The fire was returned by the 3,200 Confederate soldiers, under General Sterling Price’s command, who were stationed in the city. Price eventually stopped firing and let Rosecrans occupy the town.
Today, the mountain area is majorly used a hunting site. Home to several communication towers, a bench, and a register, the summit is open to the public who can legally access the area via the road.