Friday, April 04, 2008


After breakfast at the Blue & White restaurant in Tunica, we made about the best decision of our trip--to head south on Highway 61 instead of getting back on I-55 and driving straight to New Orleans. I'd always wanted to visit Vicksburg and this seemed like a good time. Our bellies full and smelling vaguely of fresh baked biscuits, bacon and gravy, we set out on a picture-perfect morning.

I remember hearing someone say once that the only thing central Illinois was good for was landing airplanes on; meaning it's flat and boring. Well, I don't think Illinois flat can begin to compare to Mississippi Delta flat. Tunica was once described by Jesse Jackson as "America's Ethiopia" because of its poverty; now thanks to the miracle of casino gambling, they have really nice roads and new schools.

We drove south on Highway 61, past unplanted cotton fields and shotgun shacks and old collapsed barns. The town of Clarksdale, site of the famous crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to become a better musician, is about 40 miles south of Tunica. Clarksdale, already poverty-stricken, was ravaged further when crack cocaine became popular in the 80's and early 90's. There's now a delta blues museum there, and Morgan Freeman owns a juke joint nearby.

Just before hitting Vicksburg we turned onto "old" Highway 61, the business route that went directly into town. A few minutes later, I saw this ahead to my right:

It was big, and it was colorful, and we were just barely able to make out some bible quotes as we drove past. I pulled over and turned the car around so we could get a closer look:

We had arrived at the Home of the Double-Headed Eagle! We got out and started to read some of the signs, which seemed full of love and openness. "God don't have no white church, and he don't have no black church" and "bless us all" were some of the first ones we noticed. I didn't see anything on there about hell, or punishment. Just message after message of God's love, and calls to worship and praise.

I noticed an older lady walk out of the front a few moments after we arrived, and I walked over to ask her if it was ok for us to look around. She had come out to get her mail, which was in a rural delivery box on the other side of 61; I got her mail for her and we started talking. It turns out we were lucky enough to meet Margaret R. Dennis, whose former grocery store had been converted into this theological roadside attraction. Her husband, the Rev. H.D. Dennis, created this over a period of several years. The Rev. Dennis was out at the moment, but we were lucky to get to talk to Margaret for quite a while.

She'd recently turned 93 years old, and loves meeting people who stop to look around. She told us about the Reverend, and about the church she attends down the hill behind her house. MizBubs and the girls went inside with her while I took some more pictures outside.

The inside of the old grocery store is jam-packed with religious items, quotes, artwork, found objects, newspaper and magazine clippings and decorations. We chatted a while longer, promised to write when we got home, and then said goodbye.

We all felt so uplifted and good when we left there. It's hard to explain just what a good experience it was stopping and meeting Mrs. Dennis.

We drove through downtown Vicksburg, which was pretty charming, and made our way east of town to Vicksburg National Military Park. I wanted to just stop by the visitor center and maybe drive around a little. I don't know much about the battle of Vicksburg, and in the national memory it tends to be overshadowed by the battle of Gettysburg (Gettysburg was fought on the first three days of July 1863, and Vicksburg fell to union troops on July 4th). Vicksburg was under siege for nearly 2 months, and by the end of the campaign it was a barren and battered place:

Soldiers on both sides dug extensive networks of trenches and dugouts, and many civilians ended up essentially living in dugout shelters themselves to avoid artillery fire. Now the park is one of the greenest places I've seen in a while, and it was good to see families and joggers out strolling the grounds.

While at first it was our intention to drive through, I thought it would be a good idea to get out and walk a little.
I have a thing about battlefields. I step onto the ground of a battlefield and I start feeling the ghosts almost immediately. I tend to choke up easily in these places. We found a series of trenches that were occupied by soldiers from Illinois, and we got out there.

Before the campaign turned into a siege, Grant tried to overcome the Confederates in a series of direct assaults on their fortifications. It did not go well. In one case, Union troops made it through withering fire, right to the base of the Confederate fortification, only to find out that the ladders they'd been given were not tall enough to scale the walls.

To me it's a powerful feeling to stand in a place, looking out across those trenches and redoubts, and then just close my eyes for a while. I am awed by the bravery of anyone who goes to war. I am still powerfully moved and humbled by reading accounts of men stepping up out of their safe shelters and then marching or running headlong toward men who wanted to kill them.

After the park was dedicated, individual states were authorized to come in with historians and set up monuments in the areas their soldiers fought and fell. The overall effect of the park at Vicksburg is that of a beautifully rolling, green and pastoral cemetery.

Speaking of monuments, I have something here for my readers in Wisconsin. This is the Wisconsin monument:

Wisconsin soldiers fought bravely at Vicksburg. Wisconsin readers will note with pride that this monument does not bear any mention of the rampant necrophilia, alcohol abuse or ren-faire related violence that has since become so common in the Badger State.

Finally, we stopped by the USS Cairo, an ironclad gunboat that was salvaged from the Yazoo river and is now on display at the park. I never pictured ironclads as being that big. The Cairo was the first ship ever to be sunk by an electrically-fired torpedo.

We finally left the park, got back on the interstate, and continued to head south to New Orleans.


Grant Miller said...

Cool pictures. You don't see places like the in the NW suburbs, huh?

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Great post. Thanks for bringing us along on your trip. Althought next time when I tell you I need to stop to use the restroom, I mean it!

The Idea Of Progress said...


The Home of the Double Headed Eagle has been added to my list of things to see.

But what does it say about Jews on the outside? (top left corner of the third photo)

Dale said...

These posts are really incredible Bubs, so well written it makes me want to hear you audio blog them.

SkylersDad said...

I agree with Dale, you tell a wonderful story sir!

Bubs said...

skylersdad, dale, thanks. You don't want to hear my annoying nasal voice, trust me.

TIOP, there was something about "no Jews, no gentiles" saying we were all God's children, and a few other lines about Jews and gentiles worshipping together. It was all very kind.

Doctor MVM, duly noted. My kids told me the same thing. Girls don't like using the empty coffee can.

Grant Miller, no kidding. I wonder what the reaction would be if I set up a similar monument in my yard?