Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Going to Jackson (Mississippi)

The Good Girls, aka Judy Wells and I, continued down south on the Natchez Trace Parkway from Tupelo. We were heading toward Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. With fading strains of Elvis playing in our heads, we picked up a new song, one from Johnny Cash.

I’m going to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around
 Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson
 Look out Jackson town

Look out indeed, Jackson sits just 10 miles off the Trace and makes a perfect place for an overnight stop. So, we left the calm ease of driving the two-lane parkway and entered high-speed interstate traffic, carefully merging with the oncoming vehicles.

We arrived for lunch at Cultivation Food Hall. The center part of a newly renovated area called The District at Eastover. The food hall surprised and delighted us, a first of its kind in Mississippi. This food hall showcases local, chef-inspired boutique restaurants instead of chain restaurants like those in the mall food courts. We were told it acts as an incubator to help jumpstart the local restaurants and their chefs. Super idea!

Cultivation Food Hall

We strolled around enticed by many dishes, but finally chose the station called the Poké Stop. I ordered a custom deconstructed sushi roll, served in a poké bowl. My dish included chunks of salmon combined with Hawaiian and Japanese accents giving it a colorful flair. It tasted fresh and delicious, and the portion size exceeded what I could eat. We both loved the concept and this food hall.

A deconstructed sushi roll from Poke Bowl.

Afterward, we headed for the combined Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. The award-winning Civil Rights Museum, dedicated in December 2017, has become a highlighted stop on the Civil Rights Trail. I’d explored it shortly after it opened, but the place was very crowded. I looked forward to returning and getting a better look.

Good thing we gave ourselves the entire afternoon. The two attractions jointly cover 200,000 square feet and include 22,000 artifacts. As recommended, we started on the history side and found the 1800-1900s era the most interesting. Kids and grandkids will like all the interactive exhibits.

Loved this display near the entrance to the Museum of Mississippi History.

Exhibit about the cotton gin in the Museum of Mississippi History. 

The Civil Rights Museum

Then, we crossed over to the state-of-the-art Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which presents compelling and painful stories. We found eight interactive galleries with striking images and displays. Seven of the galleries encircle a central space, highlighted by a sculpture called “This Little Light of Mine.” You move from the darkened galleries into the light as you work your way around the museum. The sculpture becomes brightest when the music of the Movement swells, about every 15 minutes. (The recordings were made by the Freedom Singers, reminding us of Rutha Harris whom we met and heard sing when we toured Albany in Georgia.) I found myself pulled in by the clapping, swaying and singing. This spot is genuinely uplifting, a good thing because there’s no sugarcoating of these stories. The museum tells poignant, often tearful tales.

This Little Light of Mine Sculpture. 

A lynching tree inscribed with names bears witness to the 600 Mississippians hung in the state. Other displays include Ku Klux Klan robes, shackles, and the rifle that killed Medgar Evans. Plus, there are many informative videos set within small spaces - - for example, the back of a police wagon or a jail cell.
Ku Klux Klan robes in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. 

The story of the Emmet Till case, narrated by Oprah Winfrey, reveals the riveting tale of a 14-year old boy beaten, shot, and then thrown in a river for whistling at a white woman shop owner.

Historic photo in Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

Civil and human rights remain at the center of political and social discussion today. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum highlights stories that Americans can’t and shouldn’t forget, certainly not on a trip through the state. We were glad we included this stop on our tour.

Dining in Jackson

For dinner, we headed to Babalu, a restaurant named after the signature song of the television character Ricky Ricardo, played by Desi Arnez, on I Love Lucy. The Latin-inspired menu features tapas and tacos instead of typical southern fare. We tried their signature fresh guacamole made tableside along with the house margarita: The Baba Rita. Our review: terrific!!

Table-side preparation of Guacamole. 

Breakfast at Brent’s Drugs the next morning turned out to be a real treat. It’s an old-fashion pharmacy/soda fountain that takes you back to childhood days. The place opened in 1946 and feels and looks like a time capsule complete with real soda jerks. No surprise, many scenes in the movie The Help were filmed there.

Brent's Drugs in Jackson, Mississippi. 

Brent’s remains popular with all ages, and we heard that many extended families like to dine at “grandma’s old place.” Also, many children have birthday parties at Brendt’s. It wasn’t our birthday, but we decided to have a breakfast dessert- a black and white milkshake. Yummy.

Sharing a Shake!

A soda jerk prepares our shake. 

Hidden in the rear of Brent’s lies The Apothecary -- the most atmospheric speakeasy-style bar ever. We wish we’d known about this earlier. Apparently, the locals like keeping it a secret.

The Apothecary at Brent's.

The Mississippi State Capitol
Mississippi State Capitol Building

In my opinion, state capitols are always worth a visit. They burst with grandeur and symbolic art. Judy and I quickly popped in for a self- tour using the visitor brochure as our guide. We loved the rotunda and both chambers, though not in session. We thought it fun to see author John Grisham’s photo on the wall (1983-90) when he was representative of the State Senate.

Looking up at the Capitol Done. 

As we headed out of Jackson, we both remarked that the city was much more modern and fun than we expected. It is indeed a City with Soul. Glad I gave it a second chance.

Before re-entering the Natchez Trace Parkway, we stopped at the Mississippi Crafts Center in Ridgeland. The exterior presents a dull concrete look, but inside we found fine artisan arts and crafts. Plenty of gift ideas and items for the home. Worth a stop if you are that kind of thing.

Mississippi Crafts Center

Next stop Vicksburg.

A big thank you to the folks at Visit Jackson for hosting us.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Stopping Along the Natchez Trace Parkway

Plans for a Good Girls road trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway evolved over time as we worked with the wonderful group from VisitMississippi.org. We would drive the route, stopping to explore and stay in nearby cities. We hoped to discover American history, country music, and indulge in southern cuisine. While others enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping on the Trace, we chose less adventurous, but more comfortable boomer-style activities.

Natchez Trace Map

The National Park Service manages the 444-mile Parkway, so to me it seems like a very long, but narrow National Park. The landscape encompasses historical markers, trails, campgrounds, and bodies of water. You’ll find no billboards, trucks, hotels or gas stations on the two-lane road - how nice. The speed limit remains at 55 mph, making it feel like a Sunday drive on a rural country road.

Driving along the beautiful Natchez Trace

If you don't know about the  fascinating history of the Natchez Trace, please read our previous post here: Following History's Tracks http://goodgirlsinthebadlands.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-natchez-trace-following-historys.html

The high embankments and poor roads along the old Trace. 

Parkway Headquarters in Tupelo

Natchez Trace Visitor Center

After our stay in Tupelo, we headed to the Parkway Headquarters looking forward to watching the introductory film at the Visitor Center. However, a group of predominately dulcimer players had gathered for a brief concert, so the ranger set up the movie on a small TV near the exhibits. As always, the National Park Service does a good job with their presentations, this one, of course, explores the trail’s past. We highly recommend the stop.

The official Trace map (available at the center or online) denotes numerous historical markers, all designed as areas for drivers to pull off and park. We found it humorous that everything marked on the map's right was actually on the left hand side, and vice versa. We stopped frequently to read the signage and occasionally found something interesting enough to get us out of the car.

Natchez Trace Parkway Map

For example, at the Chickasaw Village site, homeland to the tribe, we looked at artist renderings of a fort and walked a short interpretive trail. Plans to reconstruct the fort and village have not reached fruition, but would make a wonderful added attraction. The tribe was one of many forced to relocate to Oklahoma in the 1800s.

At another marker, we took a five minute walk to reach old Confederate graves with stone markers. We discovered a group of motorcyclists putting flags on the gravesites.

Curious, we read some intriguing tales about the Witch Dance stop, so pulled in. Legend claims the bare, scorched patches in the grasses  were caused by the dances of witches. We didn’t see any, so did our own dance.  Ghosthunters may wish to investigate for paranormal activity.

Witch Dance Sign, typical signage found along the Natchez Trace. 

We walked along the remains of the Old Trace in several places.

A Walk along the Old Natchez Trace Path. 

The French Camp settlement dates back to 1810, when Louis LeFleur and his Choctaw wife opened a tavern and inn on the property. LeFleur’s son would go onto become a Choctaw chief and Mississippi State Senator. We wanted to tour the historic buildings including the Colonel James Drane House, the LeFlore Carriage House, Black Smith Shop, and report on the four-room Bed and Breakfast, but everything was closed. Would make a marvelous overnight stop, however, if you planned ahead.

French Camp - might be open for lunch. 

The name Kosciusz, Mississippi (Kahz-Choos-ko) intriguied us, so we stopped at Kosciusz Information Center  that included a small museum about the Polish General.  According to the sign, his military genius and engineering played a vital role in the success of our Revolutionary War. Restrooms are available here.

General Tadeusz Kosciusz
Pretty soon,  we saw the exit for Jackson, we took it. We would return to the Parkway the next day. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Evolution of Elvis in Tupelo

Having seen the rise, demise and living legend of the King in Memphis, we headed Southeast to Tupelo, Mississippi, to experience the birthplace and early life of young Elvis.

A welcoming greeting in Tupelo. 

Our first stop was Elvis's favorite first stop after school, Johnnie's Drive-In. We arrived before noon but already the booths were filling up.

A group of female fans had taken over the "Elvis booth," and even as we were leaving after lunch showed no sign of relinquishing it.

We slid into another one and ordered a Doughburger, the poor Southerner's answer to more mouths than meat to feed them. I had never tried one and Johnnie's is one of the few spots left serving the fried mix of flour and hamburger meat. Let's just say I should have followed Elvis's example and ordered a regular cheeseburger and an RC Cola.

It was easy to picture him as a grade schooler sitting in that booth by the wall reading a Captain Marvel Jr. comic book.

There are those who say that the inspiration for the lightning bolt, hairstyle and capes Elvis favored came from that poor young cripple who could turn into the world's strongest boy. There is an equal number who say otherwise, but it is heartwarming to imagine a poor little boy with limited prospects finding inspiration and hope in a comic book character with whom he could identify.

Tupelo Visitors Center
(photo courtesy of Visit Tupelo)

Elvis was born here. 
To see just how limited those opportunities appeared, we drove to where his first home and first church have been moved: the Elvis Presley Birthplace Park.

"Elvis at 13" in the Elvis Presley Birthplace Park.

The Elvis Presley Birthplace memorial complex with visitors' center and museum sets both amid lovely trees and landscaping, but the two-room shotgun house must have been bleak in its original location. Vernon Presley borrowed $185 from his employer for the materials, but was unable to keep up the payments and the family had to move two years after moving in.

On the hill behind the memorial center is an impressive tribute to the boy who had ambitions and the man who realized them.

Elvis made his first public appearance at the age of 10 in the Mississippi-Alabama Fair Dairy Show. He sang the Red Foley ballad "Old Shep" and won 5th place.

For his 11th birthday Elvis wanted to spend the money he had earned doing errands and chores for people on a .22-caliber rifle or a bicycle he saw in the window when his mother Gladys took him down to Tupelo Hardware.

Tupelo Hardware
A prominent three-story building on downtown's Main Street, it had everything a mechanic, farmer, handyman, housewife or even an 11-year-old could want. The clerk,  Forrest Bobo, knew that Gladys hated guns and the bicycle was pricey, so he handed Elvis a guitar. "How about this?" he asked, pulling up a wooden box  behind the showcase and letting Elvis play with it.

Tupelo Hardware still has an array of guitars.
Elvis didn't have enough money for the guitar or the rifle, but Gladys said if he chose the guitar she would pay the difference. No one's fool, Elvis looked at Gladys and said, "That's alright, Momma," and left with the guitar.

Prints and pictures of Elvis and, like this one, "The Magic Moment," are hung on shelves filled with more typical hardware fare.

It was a beginner model Kay and cost $7.75 plus 2 % tax. Much later, Joe Perry of Aerosmith bought a guitar here, too, as have other admirers of the entertainer 11-year-old Elvis became.

One can do Elvis all day long in Tupelo from murals

to delightful painted six-foot tall guitars all over town.

We were particularly fond of a meadery and several restaurants.

Our first night we found, finally, the much recommended Blue Canoe. It does not disappoint either. Picture a corrugated structure adorned inside with neon and painted signs with a bandstand at one end for nightly live music,  a bar at the other. Casual and fun, its food is Southern with an exclamation point.

My Pork and Greens entree arrived looking as good as it tasted: pulled pork and collard greens atop silky cheese grits with a red vinegar sauce and cornbread. Heaven. Debi was equally pleased with hers.

Pork and Greens

Dessert. Connie's Blueberry Doughnut Bread Pudding, which we shared, was a knockout, too.

To be honest, we weren't sure we wanted to go to the first meadery in Mississippi, but we quickly decided we did once inside and  talking to owner of Queen's Reward Jeri Carter.

It is easy to see why this has become a popular spot in town. A combination of a savvy entrepreneur and the consummate Southern hostess, Jeri makes everyone feel welcome.

 In addition to the array of small-batch, well balanced mead to be tasted by adults,visitors are encouraged to bring picnics, pets and kids to relax and play games outside on the expansive grounds. On weekends, food trucks and music might be added.

Relax or play games outside.

We capped our final evening at Forklift Restaurant, a popular upscale neighborhood eatery. A nice piece of salmon and veggies was just the thing.

We were in for an unexpected treat our last morning in Tupelo. Our hostess, Jennie Bradford Curlee, of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, insisted we could not go without brunch at King Chicken Fillin' Station.  

We arrived early. As we looked around, we did not hold out much hope of a fine meal as it was, in fact, a filling station, gas pumps and all, plus an Elvis theme. 

Mural at the Filling Station

Inside it was basic brightened by painted ceiling tiles starring chickens, 


 and Elvis.

The brunch menu consisted of the darnedest concoctions we had ever encountered with fried chicken, eggs and biscuits as the basis for most. With some trepidation, I ordered Love Me Tender: an open-faced honey butter biscuit, fried chicken, smoked bacon, sausage gravy, white cheddar cheese and fried egg. Debi chose A Hot Mess: open-faced honey butter biscuit, sausage, smoked bacon, fried egg, peppers and onions, sausage gravy, roasted jalapeno hot sauce, white cheddar cheese.
A Hot Mess
Love Me Tender
The verdict: delicious.

All Elvis fans and those driving the Natchez Trace Parkway should consider an overnight stop in Tupelo.