Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Morning comes earlier every day…it was sort of sprinkling on us by the time we finally got going, but it stopped before we even got to downtown Vicksburg. Although our Hampton was right across the street from the National Military Park, I had learned my lesson when I was here with my daughter Kim last summer. Just so you know, anytime something is called a “National Military” cemetery, even if it’s in the South, it’s a Union graveyard – so if you’re looking for confederate memorials, you won’t find them here. This particular cemetery is a loop drive of over 20 miles, and at a 20 mph speed limit, you’re gonna be there for a while… We passed, although we did learn something about the Illinois memorial later on. I’ll fill you in shortly.
We decided to skip breakfast this morning and have an early lunch at Rusty’s (recommended by Kim’s friend Christy, who grew up here – thanks!!) so our first stop was the Coca-Cola museum. In the summer of 1894, Vicksburg businessman Joseph Biedenharn put Coca-Cola in bottles and delivered it to rural areas near Vicksburg. This was the first time Coke was served in bottles rather than from a soda fountain. You already know the rest of the story – but the first Coca-Cola bottling franchise started right here in Mississippi! The museum provides a great timeline and description of the bottling process and how it has evolved. Best of all, it has LOTS of coke memorabilia and some really wonderful old advertisements. We loved it! It took all we had not to order a coke float at 10:30 AM, but we restrained ourselves.
From the Coke Museum, we walked down the street and decided not to go into the Doll and Toy Museum, so we headed down to the riverfront and the floodwall. The same muralist who has painted murals on the floodwall in our hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, has also painted historic scenes on the floodwall here. The above photos are both panels from the Vicksburg floodwall. I just love these murals and we always learn things while looking at them – and I love it when learning is fun! For example, I’ll bet you had no idea that 36,325 soldiers from Illinois participated in the Vicksburg campaign or that there are 1300 (!) monuments in the 1800 acre National Military Park here. The Illinois monument is considered the grandest, and it was dedicated in 1906 after being built for just under $200,000. Here are a few of my favorite murals by Robert Dafford (a native of Lafayette, LA) and his talented team, and you can see them all at http://www.riverfrontmurals.com if you’re so inclined.
We took our time wandering around the waterfront, and we were a little perplexed about the width of the river here – it’s not nearly as wide as we expected the Mississippi to be. Then after seeing the mural of the two bridges over the river, one of which I had crossed last year, I remembered that this section of the river is only a canal now. The river carved a new channel in 1876, leaving Vicksburg without a port until 1903 when the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo River into the old bed. The city has built a nice little park down at the waterfront, too, but it’s still not nearly as nice as Paducah’s riverfront!
We had finally killed enough time – it was time for our next meal!! Up the hill we went to Rusty’s Waterfront Grill, which was already starting to fill up by the time we got there, well before noon. The place was packed long before we left! I decided to eat “light” so I ordered a side salad and an appetizer portion of crawfish tails, and look what I got. YUM!! Kim had a chicken sandwich, and we both drank about a gallon of tea. Now we were ready to start our ride up the Delta on the Great River Road!
While we were leaving town, I read in one of our books about a little place we might want to stop, so we set the Garmin for Margaret’s Castle. Boy, were we in for a surprise. For just a small sample of what we saw and heard, go to http://ucmmuseum.com/rev_dennis.htm We actually got to meet Rev. Dennis, but sadly, Margaret was in the hospital and is at the end of her life. Rev. Dennis is 93 years old, but that didn’t stop him from preaching to us! He was being visited by him home health nurse when we were there (that didn’t stop him either) but he seemed glad to have company. We learned a whole new version of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel story, and we all recited the 23rd Psalm. You’ll get a general idea of Rev. Dennis’s philosophy from looking at some of the pictures of the ‘castle’ he has built. You have to admire his single-minded devotion and persistence!
Once we got on the GRR, the scenery didn’t change much. We passed cotton fields and rode along the banks of the Mississippi. The land is flat, the soil is dark, and the weather was hot. No wonder the Blues got their start down here! We just drove on, talking and singing along with the radio, until we hit Greenville, MS, and the home of the original Doe’s Eat Place. We know about Doe’s because there’s one in Paducah, but it’s likely that many of you have never heard of it. Doe’s is famous for their tamales and chili, their spaghetti sauce, awesome steaks, and our personal favorite, chocolate cobbler. Doe’s is some mighty good eating, but if you saw the original (and still open) Eat Place you might not believe me! Read all about it at http://www.doeseatplace.com/ and then get to one at your earliest convenience! But remember to get there in the evening, when it’s open!! Good thing we weren’t counting on having a meal here today…
From Greenville, we turned east and took off on the Blues Highway, headed for Greenwood and the Crystal Grill. Of course, we had to stop in at the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland (http://www.highway61blues.com/), and we were glad we did. Even though the museum is just in a storefront and the signage is straight off the copy machine, the material in the exhibits and the history in the rooms are incredible! It’s amazing how so many talented Blues musicians came from this poverty-stricken, education-poor Mississippi Delta area. We had several conversations about how and why this came about, but the proof of it all was right there in front of us, and gosh, is the music ever good! And even though Leland is also the hometown of Jim Henson (of Muppet fame), we missed the visitor’s center dedicated to him, but not for lack of trying. We drove all through the streets of Leland (there are not that many, and we have seen them all) and I narrowly escaped an attack by a Cujo-like dog (really!), and then just as we gave up and got back on the highway, we saw a giant Kermit sitting on top of a building not anywhere near where the Garmin thought it was… We didn’t go back, but you can read about it at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20070722/ai_n19388321/
It was a short, flat ride from Leland to Greenwood, whose most recent claim to fame is the arrival of the Viking Corporation (you know, upscale kitchen appliances) and the appropriately upscale Alluvian Hotel. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what we saw wasn’t it. This classy looking boutique hotel has little in common with the Delta country we’d spent the day driving through. See what you think – http://www.thealluvian.com/
We were looking forward to our meal at the Crystal Grill, which Kim’s buddy Jim had told us not to miss. We were not steered wrong! Read the review that made us hungry before we got there at http://www.roadfood.com/Restaurant/Review/2851-3194/crystal-grill We loved the dinner special – we got a salad, meat and two sides, pie, and iced tea for an impossibly low price. We both had fish and mac & cheese; I had green beans with mine, and the breads were yummy. Even though we’re not huge fans of meringue, the chocolate pie was delicious!
From Greenwood, we decided we’d make it a fairly early night and just go as far as Oxford, home of Ole Miss (hotty toddy!) so that we could stop by Graceland Too in Holly Springs on our way to Memphis and Paducah tomorrow.
We’re not singing the Blues – we’re loving it!!