A Close Encounter in Gautier

Mississippi prides itself as the Hospitality State, and indeed our arms are open to tourists of every ilk from every quarter of the globe, yet at least two fellow citizens have been brought to the outer limits of conviviality. On an October evening in 1973, Gautier resident Charles Hickson and his buddy Calvin Parker were fishing on the Pascagoula River when they heard a screeching sound behind them. “It was like air or steam or something escaping from a pipe,” Hickson said. Turning around, they saw “some kind of craft, probably 30 or 40 feet long.” They were then approached by “three things, they weren’t human beings. I know now they were robots. They had something like elephant skin, very wrinkled. These things came to us and took a hold of me, and one took a hold of Calvin. We went into that beam of light and they carried us aboard that craft.”

Charles and Calvin were submitted to the intimate scrutiny of the aliens for a half hour. “Something came out of a wall, like a big eye. It came up in front of me, it went under me, and it came up my back side. The next time I saw it, it came over my head in front of me. Then they turned me around and carried me right back out where they picked me up.” In the blink of an eye, the UFO was gone, and the men were left pondering what had happened. “I thought it might be some type of threat to the country. We talked it over and decided we would go the sheriff’s department,” Hickson said. Both men passed lie detector tests and were questioned under hypnosis. Investigators are on record as claiming that their story never wavered. When interviewed by WLOX reporter Patrice Clark 35 years later, Hickson said, “I am not trying to force anybody to believe anything. I just simply tell them what happened to Calvin and me, and they make up their own minds if they want to believe it or not. There are objects that come from other worlds out there, and those worlds are . . . I have no idea.”

The evidence of Hickson and Parker’s abduction was crucial in the establishment of the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, an institution that conceivably could play a critical role in the security not only of our nation, but of our world itself, which might ultimately constitute Mississippi’s greatest contribution to mankind next to Elvis.

Vicksburg’s Second Surrender

My bête noir in the Archives reading room is a great soul who on occasion graces me with a sniff and slight curl of his lip when I tell him what I’m researching, indicating that my efforts are mere puppy-dribble in the field of serious scholarship, and I should go home and not bother the genealogists. “Oh, I’ve been hearing that since I was a child,” he said when I asked about Vicksburg not celebrating the Fourth of July after surrendering to Grant until “surrendering” to Eisenhower some ninety years later.

What he meant was that the purported myth is antediluvian chestnut, overworked, overdone and uninteresting. I on the other hand found it intriguing not for the supreme irony of Vicksburg, a city in rebellion against the United States surrendering on that nation’s Day of Independence from Great Britain, but because the situation offers some insight into Southern patriotism. When did patriotism become reestablished in Southern culture? How long was it after the Civil War and Reconstruction that Southerners came to identify with, support and yes perhaps even love the United States of America?

The fact is that Vicksburg did surrender to Grant on July 4, 1863. The city’s citizens and defenders were simply exhausted to the point of desperation by a siege that had lasted forty-seven days, and Pemberton, commanding general of the Confederate forces—himself a native of Pennsylvania—hoped for sympathetic terms from Grant by surrendering on Independence Day (Grant paroled the captured military, not because of the date, but because he never imagined in their dejected state that any would ever fight again; some, however, did). Thereafter for eighty-two years, until July 4, 1945, a scarce two months after Allied troops under Eisenhower accepted the surrender of the Axis forces in Europe, the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi held no public observance of Independence Day, and even then there were cries of “Sacrilege!” from older residents, and by all accounts the celebration was a muted affair. The following year some attempt was made to make the July 4th celebration more overt, but even then opposition was offered by those who clung to the memory of that summer morning in 1863 when the hungry, weary city garrison of 30,000 laid down its arms and the city silently watched as Grant’s Army of the Tennessee  occupied a city draped not in bunting but in mourning.

Two years later in 1947 quite a different situation presented when General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and current chief of staff of the U.S. Army, accepted invitations from Senator James Eastland, Representative John Bell Williams and Governor Fielding Wright of Mississippi to make the Fourth of July address in Vicksburg. It’s conceivable that Eastland, Fielding and Wright extended the invitation in hopes of luring Eisenhower to run on the Democratic ticket, though it’s more likely that the three simply intended to make political hay out of the general’s visit. Ike, on the other hand, a committed scholar of military history, was eager to see the military park, which for the record had been established in 1899.

To be sure, Ike had likely been apprised of the holiday’s history in the city, but he was also already treading political waters. Later that month, on July 11, President Truman offered to run as Ike’s running mate on the Democratic ticket if Douglas MacArthur won the Republican nomination, but Eisenhower was still struggling to stay above politics, as had William T. Sherman had upon learning that he was being considered as a possible Republican candidate for the presidential election of 1884. (Sherman declined, saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”) Eisenhower had not announced any party affiliation and cited Army regulation 600-10.18.i forbidding partisan political activity by serving officers. Eisenhower eventually defeated Robert Taft for the Republication nomination in 1952 and won in a landslide that excluded the Solid South. His running-mate Richard Nixon was to flip that thirty years later.

It must be said that Southern patriotism was certainly well-established long before Ike came to Vicksburg in 1947. Florence King states that the rest of the nation was surprised at the numbers of Southerners who flocked to recruiting stations during the Spanish-American War (1898), but then Havana is on our doorstep, as was dramatically brought back home in October, 1962. Spanish-American vet Teddy Roosevelt—whose mother was a Georgia belle—built the biggest navy in the world and expanded U.S. influence over the globe, and the South was a strong participant in the various chauvinistic, jingoistic isolationist movements that swept the country in the periods leading up to the two world wars. But it wasn’t until after the Allied victory in World War II, and the return of Southern G.I.s from far-flung corners of the earth, that patriotism became solidly entrenched in the Southern Zeitgeist. Vicksburg’s surrender to Eisenhower stands as a watershed for that mindset, which is still solidly entrenched today.

So it was that on July 4, 1947, the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, instead of laying down its arms, opened them for another U.S. general. An estimated 50,000 people attended the festivities, which included picnic lunches spread in public parks, plenty of florid speeches, miles of bunting and fireworks over the broad waters of the Mississippi River. The celebration also included a solemn noon-day salute to honor the memory of the Confederate casualties of the siege; the city had forgiven, but not forgotten.

A History of Belhaven: Part 2, The Early Years (1900-1925)

This is the second in a series of articles on the Belhaven neighborhood by Bill and Nan Harvey supplemented by links to more detailed stories published earlier in Jesse Yancy’s Mississippi Sideboard. In this part we discuss the first developments in the neighborhood which include early homes, residents, streets and institutions.

The area that became the Belhaven neighborhood began around 1900 with small residential developments along North State Street.  Gradually the growth pattern spread north and east as open land was subdivided and homes constructed. More than 20 subdivisions were platted north of Fortification to the future Riverside Drive and east of State Street to the modern day I-55.

The first subdivision in the district, the North Park Addition platted on April 17, 1900 by owners George W. Carlisle, et. al., included the southwest corner of what was to become the Belhaven neighborhood east from North State to Kenwood and north from Fortification to Poplar. Today only a small portion east of Jefferson Street remains in the Belhaven Historic District. The next subdivision,  North Belleview,  which platted in January 1905 by Hollingsworth and Magruder,  is a rectangular subdivision north of present day Belhaven Street to Euclid and east to Edgewood to Peachtree.

Additional information on Belhaven development can be obtained from Hinds County plat maps and the narrative application by the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation to the U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service for the designation of the Belhaven area as a historic district.

The first houses in our neighborhood, the J.N. Flowers-Max McLauren home at 1505 N. State and the Swearington-Smith home at 1501 were built in 1904. The Mims-Dreyfus Home at 1530 North State was added in 1905. Early construction centered around the new Millsaps College which opened on its present site in 1890. The 1700 block of North State, Park Ave. and portions of Oakwood Street were part of this early development which was outside the city limits whose northern boundary was Manship Street.  Two prominent homes in the early development of our neighborhood  are the Fairview at 734 Fairview Street and the Kennington Mansion at 1020 Carlisle.

The Fairview, a colonial revival mansion, built in 1908 by Cyrus Warren, a local lumberman, now serves as a bread and breakfast inn owned and operated by Peter and Tamar Sharp.  It was for many years the home of the D.C. Simmons family and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

The Kennington Mansion was originally built in 1912 by Jackson businessman R.E. Kennington. It was named for an estate in England of similar neo classical revival style. The original mansion fronted Kenwood Place but falling prey to Yazoo clay was demolished and rebuilt facing Carlisle in 1934. The Kennington family grounds were composed of 23 acres, a nine-hole golf course, greenhouses, barns and stables. There was a lake east of the main structure whose bottom was in the approximate location of the intersection of Fortification and Whitworth Streets.

Early in the 20th century Rev. Bryan Simmons, a Baptist minister, told of a fight that occurred in Jackson near the Illinois Central Railroad depot on Capitol Street. One of the combatants was shot and critically wounded. Among those who came to the scene was a young doctor with a small local practice established in 1905. His name was Harley Roseborough Shands. Dr. Shands realized emergency surgery was necessary.  Since there was no local hospital in which to take him Dr. Shands successfully treated the gunshot victim at his small office on Capitol Street. Dr. Shands brought the first microscope to Jackson used in a medical practice.

In September 1905, another doctor reported a case in south Jackson that he thought might be yellow fever. Crowds gathered on Capitol Street to await the verdict of Dr. Shands’ microscope. When the words came “No yellow fever”, the crowds cheered and “there was much handshaking, backslapping, laughter and rejoicing.”  Dr. Shands knew of another Tulane medical graduate whose father had served for many years as pastor of Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church. This older physician was Dr. John Farrar Hunter who in addition to practicing medicine operated the J.F. Hunter & Company drug store at the corner of Capitol and State Streets. Recognizing the need for more professional medical care in the city, the two doctors established the Hunter and Shands clinic in 1907.

In 1908, the two physicians bought a house and lot at the southeast corner of North State and Manship Streets, known as the Echols property and transformed the eight room residence into a small but well equipped medical facility. Prior to this, the only services which could be even loosely called hospitals were a handful of local sanitariums and a few private residences of licensed physicians where emergency appendectomies were sometimes performed on kitchen tables. Doctors made house calls in those days and relied a great deal on nurses.

It was obvious that Jackson needed a larger facility for treating the critically ill. The realization of this need was shared by the Rev. W.F. Yarbrough, pastor of the first Baptist Church who had come to visit a patient in the Hunter and Shands Clinic. Through Rev. Yarborough, doctors Shands and Hunter offered their small facility to the Mississippi Baptists after several other denominations had turned it down. At a meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in the fall of 1909, Rev, Yarbrough offered a resolution  that the Convention “look with favor on the offer of property valued at $5,000 in the City of Jackson for hospital purposes and that a committee be appointed to study the proposal.” Drs. Hunter and Shands offered their property as a gift with only their $5,000 in equipment investment to be compensated. On December 16, 1910 the hospital committee met with the two physicians and accepted its offer which was finalized in a letter dated October 12, 1910. The committee took charge on January 1, 1911 and the Mississippi Baptist Hospital came into being.

As Christian evangelist Robert H. Schuller (1926-2015), once said, “Today’s accomplishments were yesterday’s impossibilities.” One of yesterday’s impossibilities became today’s Mississippi Baptist Medical Center. Through the vision, generosity and determination of three early Jackson citizens the city’s first real hospital was established in our neighborhood a little over 100 years ago. It was Belhaven’s first great institution and a significant modern  supporter of our fine neighborhood foundation.

Jackson’s expansion north and eastward continued sporadically through the teens and early twenties of the 20th century. Many of the newer streets were outside the city and bore different names than those we know today. Early streets were named by developers, prominent citizens or for families who owned land along their borders. Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps of the period give us a window to view where we might have lived when the neighborhood was young.

There were streets and avenues and places and circles some at different times on a single thoroughfare. Original street names often changed when brought into the city or when someone realized there were duplications that could be confusing. For example, at one time in 1925 there were three Park Avenues. State Street, named for that “great street” in Chicago, has always borne that name but some of its intersecting street names would not be recognizable today.  Poplar Boulevard from State to Kenwood was Wells Street, Pinehurst Place was Harper, Fairview, named for Mr. Warren’s home, went only to Edgewood and the eastern two blocks were Morehead Ave. Oakwood was Mims Place.   As you move eastward Kenwood was one of those Parks, as was Edgewood and a portion of Peachtree. Greymont was Sullivan Street, Linden Place from Poplar to Pinehurst was Opper (Upper?) Drive, Pine was Jefferson extended, the first block of Marshall was Taylor, portions of Manship were Persimmon, Laurel was Willow and Riverside was the Pumphouse Road.

Belhaven Street was not one of the earliest streets entering State but was constructed shortly after the college relocated to Peachtree in 1911. Rose Hill was originally designed to be a circle. It was to be bisected by Springbrook and once entered St. Ann between the 1100 and 1200 blocks. It was never fully built as the railroad reneged on its agreement to deed the land to the city and Rose Hill’s circle was never completed.

Riverside Drive did not come into the city until 1930, but prior to that was known as the Pumphouse Road. According to Belhaven resident Muller Addkison, the gravel road followed Riverside’s overlay but turned and extended southward from the water plant along the Pearl River and on to Devil’s Elbow beach. A few cars, horses and foot traffic could be seen on a Sunday afternoon along the riverside and young men would take the College girls riding along the banks. Annual floods, a new highway and time itself took out the road and left just the river and a few bankside fishermen as monuments to its existence. It’s gone now, a victim of progress.

A  development that stood out was Gillespie Place, particularly its first block off State Street. Gillespie Place marked the southern end of the Gillespie Farm which consisted of land purchased shortly after the Civil War by Capt. William Marion Gillaspie (Gillespie) (1823-1893). Capt. Gillespie came to the Jackson area from Purdy County, Tennessee. He was a school teacher, had knowledge of pharmacy and was associated with Planters Insurance Company.

Captain Gillespie purchased 40 acres of meadows and woods for $840 which became the Gillespie Farm.  His home near State Street was secluded in a wooded area where only the gables could be seen from the road. The rough outline of this property today would start at Gillespie Place, run north to Arlington and east to the center of today’s 700 blocks. Mrs. Charlotte Charles said that the eastern terminus of the farm was her house and lot at 762 Gillespie.

After the Captain’s death the old Gillespie Place home burned.  It is said that the he left a fortune in silver buried on the grounds of his homestead and thus the land became the target of a number of treasure hunters bearing shovels and harboring high hopes. But that is just a legend and by definition a legend is interesting and historical but not verifiable. Or is it?

The Gillespie Farm was subdivided into lots and sold with the first home at 749 Gillespie Place built in 1910 (Carnahan House). The Captain’s widow, Mrs. William Gillespie, daughters Frances Gillespie Carnahan and Mary Gillespie Pierce joined with several other developers in disposing of the farmland after his death. Architectural styles on the block are craftsman, colonial and Tudor revival. Even today, the block resembles a window into the New Orleans Garden District. Seta  Alexander Sancton, a former resident of 720 Gillespie Place, wrote The World from Gillespie Place (1987), an interesting and entertaining book about her block containing stories of her growing up on the Place near North State. Copies may be obtained at local Jackson libraries.

In 1916 Jackson had seven elementary schools. These were Poindexter on Robinson (Jackson’s first elementary school), George on Roach St. (Duttoville school), Poindexter on W. Capitol, Davis on N. Congress, Galloway on Bailey Ave., Jim Hill on Lynch St. and Smith Robertson on Bloom St. There was no school north of Fortification and east of State to serve Jackson’s fastest growing neighborhood.

According to Department of Education board minutes for August 21, 1916, a resolution was passed naming the new school at the corner of N. State and Pinehurst Place for Col. J.L. Power (1834-1901). While not a school man, Col. Power served on several boards and committees that provided administration to Jackson’s early school system. Col. Power distinguished himself in the 1st Artillery Regiment, Company A of the Confederate Army. After the war he worked in the publishing business and helped establish the Mississippi Standard which later merged with the Clarion Ledger. For 27 years he was superintendent of the First Presbyterian Sunday School and was a ruling elder in that church. He was Grand Secretary of all Mississippi Masons from 1869 until his death.

The first Power School building had an entrance facing State Street but a later expansion placed the primary access at 709 Pinehurst directly south of today’s First Presbyterian Church. Land for the school was acquired from J.T. Harper (11/17/15), W. Carnahan (02/11/15) and F.L. Mayes (10/29/15). The two story brick schoolhouse was designed by N.W. Overstreet and Hays Towns and was completed in time for its first classes on September 18, 1916, at a cost of $30,000.  The original school building contained five classrooms. Power’s first teachers were first grade, Miss Emma Green; second and third grade, Miss Mable Bridges; fourth grade, Miss Ruth Reed; fifth and sixth grade, Miss Jim Hailey; and seventh grade, Miss Marcia Gibbs who served as the school’s first principal. Memories of some of the early students at old Power may be seen and shared in the link to this section.

Over the next 30 years the first Power School suffered from a problem many of us in our neighborhood endure today – Yazoo clay. The building became unstable in the early 1950’s and was closed in 1954.  However, a new Power School was being constructed at 1120 Riverside Drive and today serves as an incubator for some of Jackson’s most gifted students.

Belhaven College endured many struggles in its early years just to survive. We have mentioned its beginnings with the acquisition of Col. Jones Hamilton’s property by Dr. Louis Fitzhugh in 1894 and its destruction by fire the following year. The school was rebuilt on the same grounds and Mrs. J.R. Preston, wife of its second president, remembers in a mid-20th century address details of the first campus in Belhaven Heights.

“It comes vividly before me, the grounds of ten acres, most of which was in the campus, the rest in pasture for Jersey cows where in the spring they stood knee deep in clover. I can still see the campus naturally adorned with the native trees, oak, elm, hackberry and a few magnolias with a row of pink crepe myrtle for the southern boundary. Still to be seen from the south as one drives down Belleview (now Bellevue), were the rockeries (rock gardens) adding a formal touch and there was a basketball field nearby. A quaint landmark was the style by which pedestrians gained access to the board walk leading directly to the dormitory. This climb by day was breath-taking and by night more than spooky.”

A second devastating fire destroyed the school in October 1910 and the Boyd (Belleview) site was abandoned. Construction began immediately on today’s present  Peachtree campus on and the school was renamed the Belhaven Collegiate and Industrial Institute on July 25, 1911.

We come now to the end of Belhaven’s early years, years of innovation, growth and a pioneering spirit. There is little doubt that our neighborhood would prosper and continue its progress toward a special place in our city. Our next section, the middle years, will continue this progress. There will be a seasoning of our namesake college, the state’s first air conditioned supermarket, the little filling station that became a refuge, the day a king  came to visit, a subdivision within a subdivision, a new park, our most famous resident and much more. Two events occurred in 1925 that would set this stage: the city limits were expanded northward to Euclid and eastward to Peachtree and C.W. Welty would sell his home on N. Congress and move his family to 1119 Pinehurst. Mr. Welty had a 16-year-old daughter named Eudora.

 

Levee Press: The Delta Imprimatur

“For reasons best known to ourselves,” Hodding Carter, Ben Wasson and Kenneth Haxton decided “one low-water night some time back” to organize “still another addition to the multiplicity of publishing houses whose directors dream of an America that will some day read instead of write.” Their brainchild, Levee Press, ranks among those small publishing enterprises—the Woolfs’ Hogarth and the Webbs’ Loujon, for instance—that are distinguished by the quality of their production. Though its output was miniscule by any standards—only four publications in roughly that many years totaling somewhat less than 3000 copies (2635 “official” count)—Levee Press imprints command a significant price among an elite of discerning bibliophiles because the names of the four authors—Foote, Welty, Faulkner and Percy—resonate in the state, the region and the world. Had Levee Press maintained production at such a level of quality, the Greenville publishing house could very well in time have become one of the premiere imprints in the nation, but indifference, dissent, certainly some combination of the two—melded to bring an end to it.

In the late 1940s, during the “golden age” of Mississippi literature, the output was phenomenal, with Welty and Faulkner as cynosures in a stellar flurry of belles lettres including works from Carter himself, who had commandeered the Greenville Delta Democrat-Times—as he had the Hammond Daily Courier—into a newspaper of integrity and distinction, an achievement acknowledged by the Pulitzer jury that awarded him the prize for editorial writing in 1946. Hodding was at the peak of his career; his reputation as a capable spokesman for a progressive South was solidly entrenched across the nation. Ben Wasson, who had worked in New York theater with Leland Hayward and acted as Faulkner’s first literary agent, wrote on the arts and as a literary critic for the newspaper. Kenneth Haxton, a composer and husband of National Book Award nominee Josephine Ayers Haxton, who wrote under the surname Ellen Douglas, worked full-time at his family’s department store, Nelms and Blum’s (his mother was a Blum), where he had installed a bookstore. Carter also had young Shelby Foote working for him at the Delta Democrat-Times then, and while Hodding can dryly drawl about the enterprising intentions of him and his cronies in their cups, it was Foote who came up with the idea to publish a book using the resources of the Delta Democrat-Times.

Shelby Foote grew up in Greenville alongside his fraternal friend Walker Percy under the patriarchal wing of planter/poet William Alexander Percy. Foote, like Walker, had literary ambitions which in time both realized, but in early 1947, Foote had just turned 30, had only one major work in progress (Tournament), and his expenses were mounting. Apparently quite on his own initiative, he decided to print and publish his own work with the limited resources of the Delta Democrat-Times print shop. Since his enterprise just happened to mesh with their own previous plans to publish books in the hub of the Delta, Ben Wasson, representing Hodding Carter and Kenneth Haxton, asked Foote if he would add the name “Levee Press” to the pamphlet they had heard he was planning to print. “We gonna call it the Levee Press,” Wasson said, nodding out the window at the earthworks against the river.

From within the Tournament manuscript, Foote excised the grim story of Abraham Wisten, the tragic story of an ambitious Jewish immigrant, entitled it The Merchant of Bristol and hired co-worker Bill Yarborough to typeset and print 260 copies of the 20-page novella on June 2, 1947. Foote stapled them together himself and—with considerable pluck—signed,  numbered and marketed his work in the book section of Nelms and Blum’s at $1.50 a copy. More than one wit remarked that just as much would buy a good dress shirt, and sales were predictably disappointing, not only perhaps because of Foote’s perceived pretentions but more likely because as a publication, The Merchant of Bristol is nothing more than a pamphlet, reminiscent of the blue essay books used for university examinations. Wisten’s tragedy was reprinted in Foote’s first work of fiction, Tournament, in 1949.

Writing in the Commercial Appeal on July 6, 1947, columnist Paul Flowers announced, “Freshest literary venture in the South today is the Levee Press at Greenville, Miss. (there’s always something going on among the literati of Washington County.) The Levee Press is the idea of a group of writers, for the perpetuation of stories, essays, and other literary material which may not have enough general interest for publication on a national scale, but too good to be forgotten… Shelby Foote broke the ice with a short story, published in pamphlet form, and 250 copies, each one numbered and autographed, went out to persons who had subscribed. The project is non-profit and there’s no incentive except to keep alive bits of writing which ought to live. More small volumes will be coming from the Levee Press. It will not be commercial, and no one connected with it is looking for material gain (except Foote, of course: JY) However, most, if not all of its insiders are welling manuscripts in the open market, but they will publish at home, just for collector’s items some of the pieces nearest their hearts.” Flowers doubtless received this description of the Levee Press’s objectives from Hodding Carter himself by way of promotion, and perhaps this is an echo of the “reasons best known to ourselves” that he referred to some six years later in Where Main Street Meets the River, where he claimed—again, after the fact—that the purpose of the Levee Press was to “publish limited, signed editions of new, relatively short books—“novella” sounds better—by established Southern writers.”

With the publication of A Curtain of Green (1941) and The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943), Welty had garnered three O. Henry awards and a Guggenheim fellowship, which made her a clear candidate for publication with the Levee Press. Wasson “brazenly” asked Welty if she would permit the new publishing firm to issue one of her manuscripts as a book and had told her the plans for the new press. In Count no ‘Count, Wasson recounts, “The great and gracious lady replied that she approved of such a venture, that Mississippi needed a limited editions press, and that, as it happened, she did have a manuscript. It was a novella, Music from Spain.” In December, 1946, Welty traveled to San Francisco to visit her friend and ofttime paramour John Robinson, rented her own apartment there in January and between then and March wrote a lengthy story, “Music from Spain”. The story stands at somewhat of a distance from the body of Welty’s oeuvre because it is set outside of Mississippi, in San Francisco, its narrative is stream-of-consciousness and it is distinctly erotic—indeed, homoerotic— a daring element in a work for publication in Greenville, Mississippi in the late 1940s. After contacting Welty’s agent, Diarmuid Russell, Carter and company contracted Welty for 750 copies was agreed to give her 25 per cent of the $2.50 price—Wasson claims $4—in exchange for non-exclusive rights to “Music from Spain”.

When Ben Wasson proposed that Levee Press “do a Faulkner”, the other two laughed. Even though Faulkner in 1946 was one of three finalists for the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award (second to Rhea Galati), he was by most other standards the single most important Southern American writer of his day, but Wesson had a card up his sleeve. Not only had he been Faulkner’s agent when Faulkner was struggling to publish Flags in the Dust, but it was Wesson who for fifty dollars a week pared down Faulkner’s novel for the demands of Harcourt, Brace. For two weeks, while Faulkner sat nearby writing The Sound and the Fury, Wasson cut almost a fourth of the book, and Harcourt, Brace published the truncated version on January 31, 1929, as Sartoris. Some might say that Ben Wesson was calling in a debt, but for whatever reason, in late February, 1948, Wesson traveled with Carter to Oxford for an evening at Rowan Oak. Faulkner, “at-first-reticent”, gradually warmed his visitors, who left with an original manuscript, a “horse race piece” Faulkner suggested they call “A Long Dangling Clause from a Work in Progress.”

On March 1, Faulkner reported his commitment to his agent, Robert K. Haas: “Hodding Carter and an old friend of Mine, Ben Wasson, have what they call the Levee Press, at Greenville, Miss. Three times a year they get out an issue, which is sort of a colophon thing: a single story or article, limited number. I am letting them have the section of the big mss. Which Ober offered to Partisan Review and was declined. It will resemble a special edition pamphlet, bound of course, signed by me, to sell at $2.50. I get 25%. This is all right with Random House, isn’t it? The section is about 80-100 pages typescript. They will call it Section (of from) Work in Progress. I think. I want to do it mainly to confound the people who say nothing good out of Miss. The Press is less than a year old, is already getting known even though in slightly precious circles, like Yale reviews etc. Its foundation is Carter’s Greenville daily newspaper. His name is familiar to you, probably: lecturer, liberal, champion of Negro injustice though no radical, no communist despite Bilbo and Rankin.”

So it was with these commitments an announcement was made in the Commercial Appeal on May 2, 1948: “The Levee Press probably will be doing some celebrating about that time also (2nd week in May with publication of Cohn’s Where I Was Born and Raised), announcing books by Eudora Welty and William Faulkner, to be issued by the Greenville house. That won’t hurt the Levee Press, either, starting off with a pair of names such as Welty and Faulkner, for those are two writers highly esteemed in the English speaking world. The Levee Press may turn into an important venture in the American publishing world. It got off to a modest beginning about a year ago with a short story by Shelby Foote.”

For the Welty book, Carter stepped up his game considerably. Always the consummate newspaperman, he purchased a Jansen type plate that he had admired in certain Knopf publications. With no local bindery available, he contracted that job to a publishing company in Texas Dickens. Carter also hired local artist Elizabeth Calvert to design the colophon, a stylized “L” bracketing a river steamer, which was ensconced beneath those of Welty and Faulkner (Percy died in 1943). Ken Haxton designed and drew the Picassoesque/art deco guitar for the terra-cotta cover and chose for each of the seven section headings musical motifs from the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz, Recuerdos de viaje, “En la Alhambra”.  Writing in The New York Times Book Review in 1949, Charles Poore called the volume a “handsome example of bookmaking”. Music from Spain was incorporated into Welty’s third collection of short stories, Golden Apples, published by Harcourt, Brace in 1949. Welty’s 25 per cent of the $2.50 take was the price of literary notoriety in Mississippi at the time, but on the current market a (quality) copy of Music from Spain published by the Levee Press sells for $1000, a distinguished association copy, inscribed and signed by Eudora Welty, to authors Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon: “To Caroline + Allen/ with love/ from Eudora”.)

Though Levee Press’s relationship with Eudora Welty is undocumented, Faulkner’s exchanges are unsurprisingly high-profile, with vibrant accounts provided by both Carter, in Where Main Street Meets the River and Wasson, in Count no ‘Count, given that the author was awarded the Nobel Prize during the publishing process. Carter, Wasson and Haxton shortened the title of the Faulkner manuscript to Notes on a Horsethief. “It was good,” Carter claimed, “even though a few readers have since complained that they never before had read thirty thousand words divided into only three sentences.”  Again, Levee Press extended its resources for Notes on a Horsethief. Elizabeth Calvert’s flowing, linear artwork for the rich, Sherwood green cover and the endpapers, described by Jean Stein as “horses in flight”, are striking and dramatic. Horsethief is arguably Levee Press’s highest achievement both in terms of art and letters.

Notes on a Horsethief was printed on November 4, 1950, and the following January, on the 23rd, Estelle Faulkner phoned Carter, telling him that her husband had decided that there was no sense in unpacking the nine hundred and fifty books he had received the month before for signing only to ship them right back, and he had put the unopened crate in his station wagon early that morning and was on his way to Greenville.  Carter alerted Wasson, who “smuggled” Faulkner into Hodding’s office at the Delta Democrat-Times, sent out for the crate of books, and an ad hoc assembly line was organized with Wasson opening the books for a signature, Faulkner—standing, in a half-crouch—signing and numbering them and a young woman from the bindery took it from him to blot the signatures and replace them in the box. Carter sent out to Al’s Café for beer. “Hospitality dictated that I do something for a man who had driven one hundred and twenty miles just to stand in my office and sign his name to copies of a book for which he could have received far more than our limited edition’s twenty-five percent royalty could bring him at six dollars a copy,” Carter wrote, recording “for the factual-minded” that Faulkner’s ration of signed books to beers turned out that day and the next morning to be “sixty volumes of Faulkner to one bottle of Budweiser.”

Notes on a Horse Thief was published scarcely a month before Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize Stockholm’s City Hall on December 10, 1950. The nine hundred copies sold out quickly, and soon copies were selling for as high as $25 in. Irving Howe, reviewing this “privately printed and fabulously pieced story” in The Nation, said it was “a bad piece of writing,” but Charles Poore in the New York Times Book Review, called it “at once a brilliantly told story of a manhunt and a subtly woven allegory on man’s fate.” Notes later became a section in Faulkner’s much-belated Pulitzer winner, A Fable, with gracious thanks from the author to Levee Press for permission to reproduce the material.

Choosing the next work to be published proved problematic; Carter, Wasson and Caxton intimated later that it had been their intention to publish Mississippi writers exclusively, but in the end it just turned out that way. In fact, Carter was considering publishing a book of poems by James Gould Fletcher of Arkansas that had been turned down by his New York publisher, but at the last minute the decided to print them after all. Wasson wrote to Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and Robert Penn Warren, but none had a manuscript of suitable length ready for publication. Writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, who Gertrude Stein had appointed her literary executor, sent some unpublished works by her, but the three principals of Levee Press found them so mystifying that they returned them, regretfully, to a subsequently indignant Van Vechten. Unknown writers (including Greenville son Howard Mitcham jly) submitted hundreds of manuscripts, but none of them seemed good enough.

The shadow of William Alexander Percy looms large in Greenville, and Carter, Wasson and Haxton all knew the man well and admired him immensely. Percy died in 1942, and Knopf published The Collected Poems of William Alexander Percy in 1943, with a second edition the following year. Yet Ann Stokes, who claimed to have worked with Percy in editing the poems for the collection, claimed that she had variant forms of some of the published poems that should be printed, and insisted with no small degree of persistence that Hodding Carter publish these poems as well. Carter felt some degree of obligation to Stokes, who sold him the land on which he had built his new Feliciana house. Ben Wasson thought publishing Percy’s poetry was redundant and the book would not sell, and Carter, while engaged in a lengthy and complicated correspondence with Alfred Knopf, whose company held the copyright to the Percy poems, actually went so far as to ask Knopf to deny him permission to reprint the poems, Knopf consented, giving Carter no excuse to refuse Stokes’ nagging.

Of Silence and of Stars, with a forward by Carter, edited by Anne Stokes, decorations by Elizabeth Calvert, was issued in mid-1953, the title taken from the poem “Home” (“I have a need of silence and of stars…”). It is a handsome volume, with a deep blue cover featuring a sketch of herons somewhat similar but not as striking as the horses on the Faulkner cover, and the end papers are illustrated with drawings of cypress in a bayou. A note on the dedication page is a quote from Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech. Stokes dated each poem and divided them into three groups: those written before 1915, those written between 1915 and 1920 and those completed after Percy’s World War I experiences. Six hundred and fifty copies were printed, and while each copy was numbered, of course they are unsigned.

Although Ben Haxton placed “The Levee Press” on the title page of his 1997 work The Undiscovered Country as a tribute to the spirit of the enterprise he shared with Carter and Wasson, Of Silence and of Stars proved to be the last book issued by Levee Press. Carter toyed with the idea of publishing “lost literature” of the South, particularly a stirring antebellum courtroom plea that Natchez lawyer Sargent S. Prentiss made in a Kentucky court to save the lives of three Mississippi planters involved in a bloody brawl while attending a wedding, this idea never came to fruition, and after failing to get a manuscript from Tennessee Williams, the Levee Press passed out of existence. Carter, Wasson and Haxton all had other, more pressing involvements, and Wasson, evidently the principal behind the publishing venture, clearly lost interest after the Percy work was foisted on the press. Still, the output of the Levee Press is a high-water mark in the publishing history of Mississippi and a notable achievement that’s likely never to be duplicated in this state or any other.

 

Pocahontas Garlic

My friend Buddy owns a place in the tiny hamlet of Pocahontas, Mississippi, which is distinguished by archaeological sites of the Plaquemine Mississippian culture dating from 800 to 1300 CE as well as a more recent tee-pee that someone erected in a somewhat misguided–albeit somehow charming–homage to the community’s Powhatan namesake.

Buddy is a handyman, one of the hardest-working people I know, a man who does what he has to do–put up drywall, repair roofs, paint apartments–to keep his land safe, his home in shape and his family fed, the kind of guy who works all day, comes home, has a couple of beers most likely gets laid more often than not and gets up to do the same thing again the next day. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever known, and he’s always bringing me stuff from his garden, tons of tomatoes, okra and peppers in season, odds and ends like herbs and knotty apples, holly and smilax at other times. Some years ago, in the late summer, he brought me a bundle of fresh garlic that I dried. The bulbs and cloves were large and mild, resembling most what I have come to know as elephant garlic.

A friend who is better-versed in such matters than me said it’s actually a kind of leek, adding that I was lucky to get a pass-along of it from someone who lives in the country nearby. Buddy tells me that he has to thin his out twice a year, that it spreads all over the place and he swears that it keeps him and his wife healthy. Buddy’s pushing 70 now, shows no signs of letting up, and I’ve got the prettiest patch of Pocahontas you’d ever hope to see coming up this year.

Engel on Welty

Jackson native Lehman Engel (1910-82) was a composer and conductor of Broadway musicals, television and film. Engel worked as musical director for the St. Louis Municipal Opera for a number of years before moving to New York to conduct on Broadway. He won 6 Tony Awards, and was nominated for 4 more.  Engel wrote among other works The American Musical Theatre: A Consideration, the first book to discuss in detail the writing of a Broadway musical, the elements that went into it, and the art of adapting plays into musicals. In his autobiography, This Bright Day, Engel provides this endearing profile of his friendship with Eudora.

It’s strange how people in a small town know each other, speak in passing and not really know one another at all. Although I had met Eudora Welty in Jackson before either of us went away to school, it was not until several years later in New York, when a group of Jacksonians were there each simultaneously pursuing various schoolings, that we had first real contacts. Eudora was at Columbia along with Dolly Wells and Frank Lyell, who had first introduced me to Eudora in the Livingstone Park Lake. I was at Julliard. We changed to meet here and there. I think it was at Norma and Herschell Brickell’s (also from Jackson) where all of us, including Nash Burger, whose father used to play cards with my father, often went.

Each summer all of us went home to swelter, and there the threads grew stronger. There were about five such summers before I began staying on in New York, with work to occupy and to pay me. But at home, Frank, Eudora, Hubert Creekmore, and I used to meet at Eudora’s, and we formed the Night-Blooming Cereus Club, the total membership of which sat up to see the glorious white flower with the yellow feathery center bloom. The morning after, it looked like a swan with a broken neck. Those summers are jumbled together in my memory. During on of them Eudora did some letter-writing for me. Perhaps it was at another time that she took many snapshots. Several of them are among the best any photographer ever took of me. I have one of Eudora, we really invented “camp”, sitting in a tree, a Spanish shawl around her shoulders and on her face an uncharacteristic expression of world-be disdain.

With the passing of time, many things happened to us separately, and we seized every opportunity to communicate and to be together. On my visits to see my family perhaps twice a year—and more often in my parents’ failing days—Eudora was, as she is today, always available whenever it is possible for me to get away from family and family friends. To insure our being together to talk without interruption, she usually picks me up in her car—never a fancy one—and takes me for a ride just anywhere away from everybody else. At her house or mine while my mother was still alive, or at any of my cousins’, Eudora always enjoyed her bourbon and I my scotch.

She has endured a great deal. Her father died many years ago, but her mother lingered in poor health for some years. When finally it became necessary for Eudora to put her in a nursing home in Yazoo City, more than an hour’s drive from Jackson, Eudora drove to see her nearly every day. During those days she developed the habit of starting her work at 5 a.m. so tht she could spend several hours of writing without interruption. She still retains that habit. Very shortly before her mother died, Eudora’s two brothers—both married and each living in his own house—died within days of each other. I have seldom heard her refer to any of this, and what suffering she experienced she kept as her very own.

She is selfless, simple, timid, unworldly, and dedicated to her work. She has had every possible honor and success heaped on her, but nothing has ever changed her lifestyle or her nature. She lives in Jackson—the only place where she feels comfortable—travels when it is necessary only on trains (if possible), and speaks so quietly as to be often in audible. She lives in her parents’ house, which is very nice and devoid of any fanciness. It has two stories made of dark-red-to-purple bricks, and Eudora lives as she prefers—alone. The front yard has large pine trees and the house is surrounded by japonicas (camellias) of all kinds and colors. Behind the house there is a lovely garden containing more camellias and gardenias. The garden is no longer as well manicured as it once was, but I imagine Eudora prefers it that way. Now devoid of family responsibilities, she works consistently and hard. As she prefers never to discuss her work-in-progress, I seldom ask her what she is doing.

If I have given any notion that, like Emily Dickinson, Eudora is a recluse, let me assure you that she is not. She has many old friends, all of whom respect her privacy, and everyone in Jackson is deeply proud of her distinguished achievements.

LEFT: I snapped this picture of Eudora Welty with her camera. Frank Lyell was the Señor; Eudora, the unwitting inventor of camp, was herself above it all. RIGHT: Taken on a summer vacation in Jackson by Eudora Welty. I was about twenty.

A Victorian Russian Tea

The Oaks, one of Jackson’s few surviving antebellum homes, recently celebrated the 207th birthday of its builder, Mr. James Boyd, and during the observance the Colonial Dames, who care for the house and grounds, served an outstanding antique hot tea. I was lucky enough to get the recipe from an officer of the organization, who provided this wonderful memory.

My grandmother’s Russian tea was a treat for the Christmas season. My sister and I were her only grandchildren, and she was our lone living grandparent so she was extra special. In December, we would go to her house and help her make her Christmas delicacies. Unlike my mother, she was a very good cook, and this was a learning event that started when we were preschoolers. We were like little elves in a very primitive kitchen as most kitchens were in the 1950’s; we would juice the oranges and lemons in an old metal device when making her Russian tea, which always made her house smell so warm and inviting when it was heating on the stove. The Russian tea was always served in china cups from her tea service, which was round white porcelain and not glamorous at all; it looked like something from a Walt Disney cartoon. We also roasted pecans and stuffed them in dates rolled in powdered sugar and made salted pecans, custard, meringues and oatmeal cookies.

The Russian tea is a Victorian beverage. My grandmother would make it with her mother, who was born in 1860, when she was a child. I think back then it was more of an event as fresh oranges and lemons were not as plentiful as they are nowadays. Grandmother always said we had too much in our modern world and Christmas at her house was centered more on food, sharing little things, good times with family and friends, and less on material items.

4 big tea bags (I use Luzianne decaf)
12 cups of water
2 cups pineapple juice
1 cup orange juice (cheap canned OJ is best as it is not as strong as Tropicana in a carton)
Juice of two lemons
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons whole cloves

Boil 12 cups water in a large soup pan, remove from heat and immediately add the tea bags. Remove bags in EXACTLY five minutes or the tea will have a ‘bite’ (this is very important) then add everything else. Keep on low heat for a while before serving; it makes your house smell wonderful. I freeze it in qt. Mason jars so I will have it ready at a moment’s notice.

Oysters D’Iberville

D’Iberville, Mississippi bears the name of an explorer, adventurer and soldier who had his portrait painted with a periwig of the Third Order, which was like huge back then. These oysters are topped with garlic and scallions browned in butter and a smidgen of grated Parmesan or Romano. You have to put these in the hottest oven you can conjure, on a flaming grill or if you’re lucky under your salamander. And here’s a tip for oysters in the home kitchen. I have a sack full of oyster shells that I keep clean and use to broil shucked oysters I buy in containers. You’ll not find a more perfect surface for cooking oysters than nacre; not only that, but mother-of-pearl is dishwasher-safe. Trust me.