I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Tuesday
Jun282016

The Battlefield

 

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Directly across the road from our hotel is the Vicksburg National Military Park.  We’d read about this in a blog some time ago and after this morning’s iffy experiences, we looked forward to a contemporary and professionally designed attraction as we’ve come to expect from the National Parks Service here.

 

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First, there was a video introduction to the events.  I never for one minute lost concentration, Mary stayed awake and yes, my hero watched it all through as well Winking smile

 

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From there, we picked up our map and jumped back in our car, because we’d decided to drive the 16 mile route.  We could have download an app to follow on our phones, but with data charges considered, that wasn’t really practicable.  Another option was to buy a CD to play in the car with a commentary, or we could do as we did in Gettysburg some years ago and have a park ranger come with us in our car and give us a guided tour.  Whilst that had been a really great way to learn about the events in detail, none of us were sitting an A level History exam with a Civil War module this time, so we opted for the simplest choice: we’d follow the map and guide ourselves.

 

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There wasn’t too much traffic so we could take things at our own pace.  Fairly frequent memorials and markers were set on both sides of the single track, one way road and having stopped at the first few, we soon realised that if we were to stop at every single one, we’d be here for a week.

 

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We hadn’t gone far when there were a few spots of rain on the windscreen.  It had been 97F when we went back to the car after the presentation, and the sky had looked a little dark in places, so perhaps it wasn’t that surprising.

 

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We enjoyed spotting the various landmarks and changing landscape. doing our best to tally them with the map.

 

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Though actually, once we were close enough, everything was very clearly marked with a blue sign for the Union and red for the Confederacy.

 

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To begin with, we were driving through Union lines and yes, it was starting to rain heavily now.

 

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I was happy with the window wound down, taking photographs, whilst Mary held onto the map and read the commentary as we approached a key point along the way.

 

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Except that soon, what had been a refreshing few drops of rain became a torrential downpour and rather than get soaked, we would the windows up quickly.

 

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As it thundered and lightened, we sat it out a while and stopped the car.  There was no fun to be had driving when we couldn’t see anything.

 

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As is often the case, these things don’t last long and we were soon on our way again.

 

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We continued our tour and simply followed clear signs as we reached the furthest point.

 

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We came upon this white tent and thought that perhaps there had been an event in the park this weekend, before realising that this was the display of the USS Cairo, a Unionist Monitor ship which had been sunk by the Confederates.

 

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Whilst Mary and I didn’t really want to dodge the few raindrops that were still falling, my hero was keen to see the Cairo at closer quarters, so off he went whilst we took a short nap!

 

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Back on the trail then.

 

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Past a cemetery where rows of simple stones marked the graves of some of the 17,000 souls who lost their lives here.

 

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By this time, we were on the Confederate side.

 

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Here was General Pemberton, who finally had no choice but to order the surrender.

 

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Here was the monument to the dead of Mississippi.

 

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Local men whose families attended the dedication of the monument and who appeared in the striking photograph alongside it.

 

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And finally, here was Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, whose house and office we’d visited in Montgomery.  I always find it pleasing when a thread runs through our travels and when, eventually, loose ends come together like this.

 

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We knew we’d reached the end of the trail because lo and behold, there’s our hotel right opposite!

 

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Our day wasn’t quite over though, because Bernina was calling about seven miles up the road at Stitch and Frame.  Don’t be fooled by the plain and unassuming exterior though, because inside is a dream of a sewing store!

 

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Just a few quilting frames set up in the corner, alongside the latest Bernina commercial embroidery machine.

 

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Everything Bernina in the next room too, alongside a few reels of thread.

 

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Needless to say, there was a huge room full of fabric too, but I was simply too overwhelmed and forgot to take a photo of that.  But suffice to say, if I could have transplanted the lot to Gloucestershire, I’d have been very happy.

This evening, I chose a Mississippi speciality for dinner: catfish, hush puppy and fries.  It was delicious!

Tuesday
Jun282016

Taking sides

 

Though it has inevitably been a topic of conversation here and there, we haven’t really been 100% immersed in the outcome of last week’s referendum as much here as we would be at home.  People here are interested, though, and seem amazed (as we are) that the Brexit choice was the outcome.  All we can say is “we did our best”.  I say this because we are in Civil War country now.  A war which happened 150 years ago but which still divides the people here.  Who knows how many years divisions appearing in our own country will take to heal?

 

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Out we went this morning, into a humid 94F already, so we steamed up immediately.

 

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Acclimatised, we arrived at the Vicksburg Old Courthouse, site of the town museum.

 

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The approach was full of Civil War-related items because here in Vicksburg, it’s the Civil War which looms largest.

 

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But when we saw two small signposts, we did a double take.

 

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Oh, come on!  Surely there were not separate entrances for men and women?  Well, no, those were the signs to the public loos:  We all went straight through that front door!

 

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Inside we found a pretty old fashioned museum, unchanged from the days when glass cabinets were containers for all manner of bits and pieces and the concept of the “visitor experience”  had not really been considered.

 

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Anything and everything had been placed in a cabinet, together with an information card giving details of the donor as well.  Exhibits had been sorted into broad categories, so this was the Civil War room, for example.

 

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Oh yes, there were curiosities a plenty, such as the Minie Ball Pregnancy

 

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But there were so many things in there that at times it was hard to see the wood for the trees.

 

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That, coupled with all the information cards, meant that some cases were simply overwhelming.

 

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Upstairs told a similar tale.  Lots of interesting bits and pieces but in such quantity that it was difficult to know where to look.

 

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This meant that in some cases, the items were simply not adequately conserved.

 

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The costume room in particular was simply crammed full of treasure.

 

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I had no problem identifying who I’d take home with me though, given the chance.  This bear had been given to a small boy by Teddy Roosevelt and probably had the most breathing space of anything in the museum, actually!

 

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Just when I was thinking that they’ve probably got at least one of everything here, sure enough, there was another of those top hat baths we saw at Gaineswood the other day.

As we left the museum, we chatted about our experience.  Sure, the two gentlemen ?volunteers? had been charming and very helpful but perhaps they needed some support in cleaning, sorting and reducing the number of things on display?  But if the Old Courthouse had fallen short of what we’d expect from a 21st century museum experience, then our next destination was to plumb further depths.

 

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Our next stop was the Old Depot, formerly the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Depot which was now advertised as another museum of Vicksburg.

 

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As soon as we opened the door, we were greeted by “Where y’all from?” and were given a breakdown of what was on show here.  Having paid our $5 each admission, we were recommended to see the visual presentation about the Civil War which would inform our visit and explain the battlefield diorama too.  A young man was summoned to show us to the location and to switch the thing on – we sat on folding chairs in and around the diorama and watched what turned out to be a slide show on the TV high on the wall.  It lasted 30 minutes, during which time Mary tried not to fall asleep, I compiled a shopping list and my hero – of course – watched every bit.

 

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Having watched the whole show, we looked around the diorama and the assortment of model boats, took a brief look at a couple of model railways before making a swift exit.  This had been a really amateurish affair and once again a little curation wouldn’t go amiss. 

 

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By this time, it was almost lunchtime and Vicksburg had sprung to life.  The leafy Main street was bustling with traffic and was much as we’d expected Natchez to be yesterday.

 

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We spotted The Mad Baker and popped inside for a cool drink and a bite to eat after which we went on to visit the main visitor attraction of Vicksburg; the battlefield itself and another National Park triumph.

Meet me in the next post and I’ll tell you about it.

Monday
Jun272016

Along the Natchez Parkway

 

You know, everything has been so good so far, at some point there was bound to be disappointment!

 

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We left Jackson early this morning, before breakfast, because we wanted to spend most of the day in Natchez, reputedly the most beautiful Antebellum town in the region.  Several people had said that we “must see” it and as there was a National Scenic Drive on the way there, our expectations were high.

 

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As we left Jackson, we reflected on what was the most un-capital like of state capitals, but acknowledged that we’d enjoyed our stay here, the people had been simply lovely and the food delicious.  We were glad we’d spent time here.

 

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Feeling peckish, we pulled into a Waffle House, scene of happy breakfasts from earlier road trips, most particularly in Kentucky, a couple of years ago.  The friendly crew there were working hard, calling to one another in their broad Mississippi accents but there were one or two dodgy looking characters about.  Never mind – our breakfast was good!

 

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Out on the open road again, we didn’t have far to go before the Parkway entrance.

 

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I had the map but the satnav knew the way.

 

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The Natchez Trace starts way up north in Nashville TN and finishes in Natchez, MS so we were joining it to drive the last stage.  I’d not come across the term “Trace” before and was curious about its origin.

 

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OK, so we had 82 miles to drive along it and looked forward to a scenic drive.

 

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Except that for most of the way, both sides of the road were tree-lined and there was no view whatsoever. 

 

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From time to time there was an information post and we stopped at some, including this one at Lower Choctaw Boundary. 

 

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Both boards made for interesting reading.

 

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We were indeed driving along an old, old route.  How many people had passed this way, I wondered?

 

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For a short time the view opened up and we drove through cornfields, but before long, we were back amongst the trees. 

 

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We were glad of another exhibit and a chance to stretch our legs.  We were the only car on the road for most of the time too, so those 82 miles were starting to drag a bit.

 

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Of course, we wanted to see what lay behind us and were curious about the old route, but where was it?

 

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We reached the conclusion it was this grassy, tree covered pathway leading through the forest, but might have been mistaken!

 

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Before long, we were in Natchez and headed straight for the Visitor Centre.

 

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There on the wall was a “Great River Road” sign, part of the same route we travelled last year as we drove from Little Rock to Chicago.  It’s always fun to come across such things in unexpected places!

 

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We were glad to arrive here, feeling a little disappointed by the “scenic drive” and maybe it was this disappointment which affected our experience here.  For the first time, the Mississippi magic wasn’t there.  The staff member who offered us advice simply handed over the leaflet and made two recommendations – no social extension, none of that delightfully charming chitchat that we’ve become used to here and I took refuge in the National Parks store at the end of the exhibit.

 

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Here, I had an interesting and enjoyable conversation with a 1st grade teacher and was delighted to come across a kit for a “Pine Needle Basket”.  I had no intention of buying the kit really, but years ago I was asked for advice about how to make a traditional pine needle basket (or rather, how to judge such a thing in a county show) and I had to admit, I had no idea.  After all this time, I now see what a pine needle basket looks like!  Hooray!

 

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Natchez is all about Antebellum Mansions, so off we set to the first recommendation we’d been given: Stanton Hall.  Our first surprise was the $19 per person ticket price.  Wow…  But there was a guided tour, and this had come highly recommended, so there we were, on the 12 noon tour.

 

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We rolled up to the front door as instructed a good five minutes early, only to find the door locked closed and the tour already started!  Excuse me…   The door was opened and we were slightly grudgingly welcomed to the group.  The tour was interesting, the house lovely – but 30 minutes later the tour was over – someone had to leave early and so the guide made sure we finished in time.  Hmmm.

No photographs inside either.  Double hmmm.

 

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Now feeling a bit grumpy about Natchez, this antebellum gem, we wanted to go down to the river to see if any steamboats were tied up there, since they feature large in publicity images of the town.  Needless to say, today there were none, but we enjoyed gazing over the Mississippi towards Louisiana and watching the huge barge struggle to motor upstream against the current.

What to do now, then?  We couldn’t decide whether we’d had enough of Natchez and ought to quit whilst we were behind, or…

 

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go and see another Mansion?!

 

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We knew we’d made the right decision when Barney, the National Parks Ranger showed up and began his performance.  Because yes, this was indeed more than just a guided tour!

 

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The house was great, too.  Similar in style to Stanton Hall, it was Barney’s lively commentary which made the difference.

 

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The floors here were covered in painted oilcloths, beautifully preserved.

 

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There were interesting features like this punkah (or shoo fly), too.

 

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Upstairs, there were interesting wallpapers; this one had been chosen for a newly married couple’s bedroom

 

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and this one for little sister’s room next door.  I’m not sure I’d have chosen either, but as wallpaper designs, they were pretty stunning.

We were glad we’d decided to finish our Natchez visit with a look around Melrose with Barney.  Once again, the National Parks turn up trumps!  But it was time to go: Sorry Natchez, we just couldn’t see what the fuss was about. 

 

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So back we drove in a northerly direction, heading to Vicksburg for a couple of nights.

 

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It’s been another hot day – 95F – but I’m hoping we don’t have to check the veracity of this claim whilst we are here.  The Civil War Trail tomorrow will probably provide all the excitement we need Winking smile

Sunday
Jun262016

Saturday in Jackson

 

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Not much doing.  As you can tell, we didn’t choose our hotel room for the view (unless you’re a train spotter, in which case there is almost continuous entertainment out there, complete with sound effects!)

 

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As usual, we’d planned to visit the State Capitol but came unstuck when we realised it’s closed on weekends, so we needed a quick change of plan.  Downtown didn’t seem to provide many distractions (with the odd exception, above, so we were left with the Old State Capitol building, now a museum.

I can’t say we were ever so enthusiastic, but with little else on offer, there we were.

 

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Even though we knew it was closed, we wanted to go and take a look at the “real thing”, sitting in an elevated position not too far from our hotel.

 

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Sitting in front of the building was a post Civil War monument to the Women of the Confederacy.  Each side offered a sentimental dedication to Our Mothers, Our Sisters, Our Daughters and to Our Wives.  That to “Our Sisters” is as follows:

Their smiles inspired hope; their tender hands soothed the pangs of pain; their prayers encouraged faith in god; and when the dragon of war closed its fangs of poison and death, they like guardian angels, entwined their hands in their brothers arms, encouraged them to overcome the losses of war and to conquer the evils in its wake, adopting as their motto: “Lest We Forget” 

The other dedications and further information can be found here.

 

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Meanwhile, men wearing green striped trousers were closing off the street we had just driven up.  The question “why?” loomed large (about the green striped trousers too).

 

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On to the Old State Capitol then, set across the road from a row of houses which could have been found in any small town.  But this is the State Capital?  Jackson does not fit the usual description!

 

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From the steps we could see our hotel, no longer the grand King Edward but a Hilton Garden Inn

 

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Just inside the door of the museum, we got a flavour of what lie inside; a modern, well designed, accessible visitor experience.  Things began to look a little more promising.

 

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Inside, the building had been restored to it’s former glory.  Simple in comparison with the more elaborate replacement Capitol building, it was striking, nevertheless.

 

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From there, we set out to explore the exhibits.  First stop, the Keeper of the Capitol’s office.  She – for it was a woman who held this post – was responsible for the everyday security and maintenance of the building and as she had to lock and unlock every day, she had special dispensation to sleep there.

 

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The next exhibit required us to scan our entry tickets.  We’d be assigned a role and be able to read about how our person would be affected by events.

 

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Woohoo!  I struck lucky!

 

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I was served well by the 1817 constitution and my wealth and status were protected.

 

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Others didn’t fare so well, sadly.

 

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Next stop, the Governor’s office.  Here he was, getting on with his work in fine surroundings.

 

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Next door, there was a flavour of next year’s bi-centennial celebrations for Mississippi, when a new Museum will open and provide a worthy home for this precious symbol of the state.

 

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I was interested to read of the conservation of this very fragile textile and felt pleased that it has been kept in relatively good shape considering its heritage.

 

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It was hard to photograph a small fragment, but I managed a single star without too much reflection from the protective glass.

 

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On the next floor was a series of portraits of the Mississippi Hall of Fame.  Mostly “male and pale” as one might expect…  Still, I liked the way the portraits had been displayed.

 

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The neighbouring room had been set up as the Supreme Court and here, we were invited to sit up to the desk of the Appellent or the Respondent, to choose a case to argue and to recreate a slice of legal history.  There were five cases from which to choose.

 

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We chose Case 1, Trotter v. McCall and Mary stepped up to the podium to read the case for the Appellent.

 

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The decision was outlined and  the case upheld.  What a great way for youngsters to explore the legal system!

 

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From up here on the top floor, we could get a better view of the dome and the intricate mouldings.

 

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The lantern was also adorned with a design I could only see as “M” for Mississippi.  You know how it is, once you’ve “seen” a pattern?

 

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As we already knew, the Right to Vote is a huge issue here and in Mississippi it was no different from elsewhere.

 

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We scanned our tickets again to see if we had the right to vote.  I struck lucky yet again but Mary didn’t Sad smile

 

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The last display we visited made note of a variety of events including the State Fair, which had taken place in this very building on several occasions.  I had to take photographs of these exhibits, bearing in mind the workshops I’ve been doing and the preponderance of jars of jam and pickle in those exhibits!

 

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Because where the WI is concerned, there is inevitably at least one jar of jam!

We’d more or less done with the Old State Capitol by now and believe it or not, it was lunchtime!  We’d underestimated how interesting and well put together the exhibition inside would be and I think all of us left the richer for having visited.

 

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Stepping outside, we encountered a beautiful bride, having her wedding photographs taken.  What a gorgeous dress and how lovely she looked. We chatted with her proud Mum, about the wedding and about the referendum result yesterday.  Just like everyone else we’ve spoken to in the last day or two, she referred to the upcoming US election and hoped that the electorate would learn from our mistake.

 

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With an afternoon to spare and a few items still on my shopping list, we ventured out into the shopping territory.  Tuesday Morning has been on my list for a while, as a source of well priced papercraft items.  It didn’t disappoint and once again, a charming young assistant began a conversation with me as I paid for my purchases.  Oh, how she’d love to visit London, she told me.  How lucky I was to be able to travel and to see the world.  I agreed, and offered my encouragement to her, because really, there is no better way to learn.

 

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Another couple of stores later, in which we had similar conversations with such friendly and charming people who showed genuine interest in what had brought us to Jackson and who shared how much they loved our accent!  Of course, this was all spoken in the broadest of Mississippi accent but no matter – the young woman who told me I spoke just “like Nanny McPhee” made me smile!

 

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Tonight, we chose to return to the Iron Horse Grill and had another great meal.  Jackson is a funny old place really, but I’m so pleased we came!

Saturday
Jun252016

A day for contemplation

 

As we went to bed last night, the results of the referendum were coming in and it didn’t look as though it was going the way we hoped.  When I woke and took a quick look at my tablet at 4am, the die was cast.  The results were in and the outcome was most certainly not what we voted for.  I didn’t sleep much more and by breakfast time both of us were feeling despondent.

 

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We were ready to hit the road though and with Mary’s good humour to ease us from our gloom, we set out along the Old Selma Road to follow the route of the march we’d read so much about yesterday.

 

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At least we’d had a vote and been able to use it. 

 

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Before long, we were in the Visitor Centre reading about those who fought so hard to achieve that valuable status.  Yet again, we read new details of the story and learned a little more about the struggle.

 

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I’m sorry for the poor photo, but imagine having to answer a series of questions like this in order to register to vote.  Shocking, isn’t it?  I didn’t take a photo of the instructions for registration, which included the opening times of the office (every second Monday unless it was some person’s day off…between some uncertain hours too)   It was quite clear that as many barriers were put in place to prevent anyone actually succeeding.

 

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Here was that iconic photograph of the encounter on the bridge in Selma with John Lewis amongst others and the police, about to push forward.  There was a video of the encounter, shocking in its brutality, together with a few first hand accounts of the day known as Bloody Sunday.

 

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What was new to us was the story of the Tent City.  After the march, many of the black workers returned to find themselves unemployed and, since they usually lived in homes provided by their employer, homeless too.  This Visitor Centre had been built on land formerly occupied by the Tent city, where people lived for up to two years after that march, until they found alternative means.

 

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From here, we drove further along the highway to Selma itself.

 

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After a little struggle and one or two attempts, I snapped a photo of the Historic Route sign too.

 

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Before long we were in Selma, where there was one last visitor centre.  Was there yet more to learn?

 

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It was situated right by the bridgethe bridge upon which the Bloody Sunday events unfolded and where earlier this year a commemorative event marked the 51st anniversary of the march.

 

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We were the only visitors to the centre this morning and our arrival prompted the three youngsters on duty to spring into action and offer a warm welcome. 

 

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Though it was interesting, by now we were feeling a little Selma-ed out.  It was time to move on.  Move on we did, past package stores (anyone know what those are?  I’ll leave the answer at the foot of this post!) and suburban retail parks before we were back on the tree lined, rural roads again.

 

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Our next stop was Demopolis where we’d identified an Antebellum Mansion to visit.  Gaineswood is a stunning example of its kind, though arriving at an unmanned gate and strolling across the grass in search of the front door, we felt like intruders!

 

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Actually, we’d approached by the wrong entrance, but never mind, we found our way in and were greeted warmly by Paige, who was about to begin a tour of the house with another couple.  We tagged along!

 

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The house had been built as a small home by General Whitworth and subsequently extended and embellished until it reached the sizeable and elegant proportions as it stands today.  The General appeared to have a wealth of skills and seems to have excelled at everything he turned his hand to and in touring his home, we learned as much about the man as we did about the house.

 

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Paige was an excellent guide too and kept it all interesting and to the point.

 

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Here was the curiosity of the day, in the General’s wife’s bathroom.  It’s a “hat bath” and would have been used by stepping into the middle and sitting on the towel covered seat (soap in the little niche created by the flannel there) and then stand to have a jug of water poured over by whoever was in attendance.  I could only imagine sitting on that towel and finding the whole thing tipped up leaving me flat on my back in an uncompromising position, because there was no support for that rim at all!

 

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Upstairs were family bedrooms and for all this appeared to be a large and spacious home, all five daughters had to share this room (and these two beds).

 

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Next door was a small workroom with sewing machine, loom and spinning wheels.  The girls were probably kept busy.

 

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As we left the house, Paige pointed out a design feature on the wall and stairs.  A wave pattern created by the General symbolised eternal life and the negative space, a horn of plenty.  The General hoped for eternal abundance, it seemed, and judging from what we saw here, he and his family were more than satisfied.

 

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With little choice for a bite to eat in this part of deepest Alabama, we had to settle for gourmet… Winking smile

 

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The rest of the drive to Jackson was straightforward and when my hero says the driving isn’t difficult, you’ll know what he means.

 

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We stopped just inside Mississippi to visit the welcome centre and pick up a brochure or two.  Chatting with the friendly staff, who immediately offered us coffee, we noted the warmth and Southern charm yet again.  Delightful!

Oh, and our first visit to Mississippi so logging up our US State #45!  Ker-ching!

 

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So here we are in Jackson for a couple of nights, where the Iron Horse Grill came highly recommended and fulfilled our every expectation!  We’ve slipped up in not realising the Mississippi State Capitol is closed at the weekend so can’t add that one to our collection, but we will surely find some fun somewhere.

Oh, and the soundtrack?   This of course!

 

(ooops!  nearly forgot the answer to the Package Store question.  Here, a Package Store is what we would call a beer-off, an off-licence or a liquor store.  We’d not heard the term until we arrived in this part of the world)