Governor Dennis Murphree of Mississippi occupies a unique place in Mississippi history by virtue of having served as governor of the state twice without ever being elected to office. He also served three terms as lieutenant governor. His record of public service is also distinguished by perhaps the most unusual public relations operations of any state in the Union, the famous Know Mississippi Better Train, a project developed from his own ideas and experiences.
In 1925, Governor Henry L. Whitfield called a meeting in Jackson with the object of adopting “some plan whereby the opportunities, possibilities and resources of Mississippi might be effectively presented to the outside world.” Mississippians from twenty-six counties attended, including Lieutenant Governor Dennis Murphree of Calhoun County, who proposed a plan of a “Know Mississippi Better Train,” a special train to carry representatives of Mississippi, exhibits of Mississippi resources, literature, and public speakers to visit across the country. The plan was adopted, and the first KMB train pulled out of Jackson in August, 1925.
The Know Mississippi Better Train was the longest Pullman Special Train in the world. In its 20 years of operation, the KMB Train traveled the North American continent once each year from Savannah to Alaska and from Mexico City to Prince Edward, visiting more than 500 towns and cities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The train’s operation was suspended during WWII, but resumed immediately after.
The 1948 KMB train was the last. Fifteen cars made up the train. The first was an exhibit car carrying huge signs on its sides: “This is the Know Mississippi Better Train.” This car contained a comprehensive exhibit of the resources and products of Mississippi. A small observation platform on the end of this car bore an electric sign which read: “Know Mississippi Better Train”. The lounge car—with a soda fountain and small piano on loan from the Brown Music Company of Jackson—was furnished by the Illinois Central Railroad and made the entire trip. The train also contained an office dispensing information about the trip as well as stationery, telegraph blanks, pens and paper. Postage needs were handled in a post office, while the Pullman Conductor handled telegraph messages. The train also had its own free daily newspaper/bulletin, “Mississippi A’Roll,” containing Mississippi news briefs supplied daily by the managing editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
In February, 1949, the Know Mississippi Better Train lost its great conductor when Dennis Herron Murphree died at his home in Pittsboro, Mississippi. Alumni of the KMB train circulated newsletters and held reunions for years afterwards, and it’s worth speculating that relationships forged during the journeys endured long afterwards.