For those of you who are coming in late, My Own True Love and I went on an adventure this fall: three weeks on the Great River Road. We spent two days in Memphis, three days in New Orleans, and then drove north along the Mississippi without a schedule,* stopping at anything that caught our imaginations. We didn’t last the full three weeks.** And we only got as far north as Vicksburg because we made lots of stops–between us we are interested in just about everything.***
Even moving slowly, there were plenty of things we missed, most notably:
- Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (Obviously we need to go back to Memphis)
- Historical markers. We always stop for historical markers. We will happily go out of our way to track down a marker that is off the road. We’ve even been known to back up down a road (traffic permitting) to read a marker that I was too slow to identify. But we are not quite crazy enough to stop on a busy divided road to read markers situated on the median. (And for the record, Louisiana, I think it’s just plain mean to put markers where no reasonable history buff can read them.)
- Cotton plantation mansions. We drove along the hundred-mile section of road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known as Plantation Alley. We spent two days in Natchez and one in St. Francisville, both of which depend to some degree on plantation mansion tourism. But no matter how many antebellum mansions presented themselves for our viewing pleasure, something else always caught our attention, including a working cotton plantation and the story of how St. Francisville turned itself into a plantation-based tourist destination. I guess we just aren’t mansion people.
- The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience. We were prepared to drive out of our way to visit this museum. At almost every stop we got hints of the role played by Jewish communities in the development of the antebellum South–not a story covered in American history classes for the most part. We wanted to know more. Unfortunately for us, the museum is in the process of relocating. We said it then and we say it now: phooey.
Oddly enough, sometimes the fact that we had no schedule caused us to miss things. There were several museums that we would have loved to visit that were closed on the days when we were nearby:
- The Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum in Patterson Louisiana. (That’s us. No interest in antebellum mansions, but actively curious about the history of cypress logging.)
- The Republic of West Florida Museum in Jackson, Louisiana. (Yep, you read that correctly. It’s a blog post for another day, but here’s the quick version: West Florida, which at its height included much of what is now Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, became a diplomatic football between Britain, France, Spain, and eventually the United States at the end of the eighteenth century. In 1810, a small section of what is now the state of Louisiana rebelled against Spanish rule and proclaimed itself the independent Republic of West Florida, complete with a single-starred flag.)
- The Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi River Museum in Vicksburg
For the most part, the things we failed to see were simply missed opportunities. The Fort Jackson historic site was no longer there.
After three days in New Orleans, we drove south down the delta toward Venice, Louisiana–the southernmost town on the Mississippi. We planned to stop at Fort Jackson, built at the recommendation of Andrew Jackson**** with the purpose of defending against hostile access to the Mississippi. When the American Civil War began, the Confederacy seized Fort Jackson, expecting that the stronghold would prevent the Union navy from sailing north up the river. That didn’t exactly work out. Farragut’s Western Gulf Blockading Squadron took the fort in April, 1862 after a ten-day siege, a critical step in the Union gaining control of the Mississippi.
In 1960, the long-abandoned fort was designated a national historical monument and Plaquemines Parish restored the site and opened a small museum there. In 2005, the site was badly damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Without the funds restore the site, both it and the museum remain closed. A small loss in the scope of the disaster, but a loss nonetheless.
(To those of you who have commented on the scarcity of blog posts resulting from this trip, all I can say is “Don’t touch that dial!”.)
*I hear gasps of amazement from those of you who know me outside the Margins. Yes, it is possible for me to function without a schedule.
**I believe some of you had bets riding on this.
***College football being a notable exception. Though I must admit that all the “Geaux Tigers” signs we saw while driving through LSU territory produced a brief, atavistic “Go Hawgs” response in this transplanted hillbilly.
****Gee, who do you think they named it after?