Thanksgiving in Vicksburg/Pilgrimage to Greenville
For nearly three months I have not ventured beyond 100 miles of New Orleans, so taking a trip somewhere not looking like a bomb went off or somewhere not choking to death with evacuee-related traffic (i.e. Baton Rouge or Houma) sounded appealing for the Thanksgiving holiday. Less than a four hour drive from New Orleans, Vicksburg fit the bill for what was needed. All of the touristy things were done in Vicksburg--the Vicksburg National Military Park (I scoffed at my father for buying the drive tour CD at the Visitor's Center, but it was actually a damn good accompaniment to driving the battlefield), the private Vicksburg Battlefield Museum in a building built to resemble a Civil War-era Ironclad ship that more looks like it should be an adult book/video store, the re-assembled USS Cairo (an ironclad ship sunk during the Civil War salvaged from the Yazoo River), and of course the all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving casino buffet--soft serve ice cream and sprinkles included. (The Illinois Memorial at the VNMP is seen in the picture above.)
The subject of New Orleans did come up with several people I had contact with over the weekend. A man from Kansas told me: "No offense--but I am against spending a single dime on that city in its current location. Move everything up to higher ground." And then a guy from Atlanta argued with me that "Bourbon Street had at least three feet of water--I saw it on the TV." Both of these illustrate what we are up against. The first guy (and he was cordial and polite) had a complete indifference to the city's uniqueness or culture or contributions to the world and was completely ignorant towards New Orleans' geopolitical importance on a global scale because of its location. The second guy, more disturbing than the first in my opinion, was just flat out misinformed or misinterpreted what he saw "on the TV" or was collectively describing New Orleans as Bourbon Street. Whatever it was--ouch. Of course the national coverage of this whole KTMB thing was/is just pathetic--its no wonder why outsiders could be so clueless. I did however get a few "if we can spend all of that money in Iraq, why can't we spend it on our own soil" responses from others as well . . .
The book RISING TIDE: THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI FLOOD OF 1927 AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA tells the story of the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 from the perspective of New Orleans and Greenville, Mississippi. The book was a big hit when it came out in the late 1990s, and interest in it has again peaked given the recent flooding of New Orleans. I personally have seen author John Barry on television numerous times since August and he has become the resident flood history expert trotted out on national cable news. I had never been to Greenville, and its location 90 miles from Vicksburg was too close to not visit. With my copy of RISING TIDE in hand (of which I've recently re-read certain chapters), we made the pilgrimage to Greenville. On the way up there however, we crossed the River at Vicksburg and drove on the Louisiana/Arkansas side to get to Greenville. In Lake Providence, Louisiana, we stopped at the local tourist information center located in an old Victorian house on the edge of town. There we met the stereotypical nice old lady who works at the local tourist information center who showed us vintage photos of the town including the steamboats at its landing before the "new" (post-1927) levees were built. On the oxbow lake--from which the town gets its name--across from the visitor's center is a boardwalk that provided great views of the lake and the masses of autumn-colored cypress trees. My wife bought a cookbook put out by a local church so now we can fix enchiladas Lake Providence-style. Lake Providence was a pleasant surprise.
We continued north through the cotton fields into Arkansas, passing through the Town of Eudora, and then back across the Mississippi River into Mississippi and the City of Greenville. After a brief stop at the Mississippi Welcome Center where I was questioned if I "was actually going back to New Orleans to live," we drove into Downtown Greenville. The Downtown is relatively intact with many of its older buildings remaining, but like many towns of its size in 21st century United States, many buildings sit unused or certainly they could be described as underutilized. We ate lunch at Shotgun House BBQ on Central Street and the owner of the restaurant told us stories from the 1927 Flood passed down from family who lived through it. Unfortunately, the few museums located Downtown were all closed--so that was a disappointment. However, as we drove along Main Street from Downtown to the grander residential areas of the city, we happened upon the McCormick Book Inn--an independent bookseller similar to Octavia Books or Maple Street Books or Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans. Because of the impressive list of authors hailing from the city, Greenville has been acknowledged as Mississippi's literary center and logically the bookstore did not disappoint. The back room of the McCormick Book Inn houses a fantastic collection of photos and newspaper clippings, etc. of museum quality and presentation which I have no doubt eclipses or is equal to any other collection regarding Greenville and the 1927 Flood that might exist anywhere. Furthermore, the conversation I had with the store's owner regarding the 1927 Flood, Greenville, New Orleans, and RISING TIDE alone made the trip worthwhile. In the beginning of our conversation, he asked me point blank, in an incredulous tone why I was in Greenville--and I replied "I think it was to talk to you . . . " One thing I was interested in was how deep the water got at Greenville and I was told that on average the water was about four feet deep (in some places depending on the topography, a bit deeper).
After exploring some areas of Greenville recommended at the bookstore and a quick visit to the Town of Leland (boyhood home of Jim Henson), we got onto US 61 and headed back down to Vicksburg. It was a fantastic day-trip that exceeded my expectations.