Shared History - February 2021
- by J. Michael Dumoulin
If you're excited about the possibility of restored passenger rail service in Bay St. Louis, find out how it all began.
- by J. Michael Dumoulin
The family of Andrew Higgins, the boat designer who has been credited for winning WWII, have long time ties to Bay St. Louis.
- Story by Dena Temple
The current COVID-19 crisis isn’t the first time Bay-Waveland has faced an epidemic. Read about the 1897 Yellow Fever epidemic and how the community staged an organized fight.
- Story by Jerry Beaugez
In honor of Black History Month, the author looks back at three BSL residents whose character and service helped shape our community.
- Story by Jerry Beaugez
Every community is the sum of its residents, past and present. But we'll bet that none of these gentlemen had an inkling that we would be talking about them more than a century after they left us.
- Story by Jerry Beaugez
No man was more accommodating or had more friends than he. If anyone met him and said they were hungry, Polite would say, “Well, you can’t eat your hat. Here, try this,” and he would leave them with something to eat. The mailman, messenger, general delivery man and baker all in one great character continued to helping others for nearly half a century. Mr. Polite passed away in 1930.
Rufus Randolph Perkins
R.R. Perkins was known as a “big operator” in Bay St. Louis. Born in Bernice, South Carolina, in 1869, he and his family moved to Broxton, Georgia, where he met and married Tempie Lott. Perkins moved to Bay St. Louis in 1903 where he and his wife raised six children.
Mr. Perkins was the president of the Imperial Naval Stores Company and the Hancock Naval Stores Company, one of the largest companies of its type in Mississippi at the time, which produced such items as resin, tar, and timber used for sailing ships. The company also produced pine oil, pitch, and turpentine which were shipped through New Orleans, Mobile, and Gulfport. Under Perkins’s supervision from its Bay St. Louis headquarters, the Hancock Naval Stores Company was capitalized at half a million dollars. Today that would earn him $12,500,000.00. Perkins was also the president of the Merchant’s Bank, which was originally housed on Beach Boulevard just south of the tracks. The building remained standing until 2005 when Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged the structure, and it was eventually torn down.
Perkins was a kind and giving man who quietly dispensed with an open heart to many charities as well as family and friends alike. When he passed away on December 10, 1915, his obituary stated, “He had the biggest trust in mankind; ever hopeful, his life was indeed an inspiration to those who knew him.” His tombstone is as large as his presence in the history of Bay St. Louis and is the largest single stone in the Cedar Rest Cemetery, weighing 1,700 pounds. The stone was brought from New Orleans by train, which stopped at Second Street; there it was loaded onto a skid and was pulled by eight mules to mark his final resting place.
Ludovic A. de Montluzin
For nearly 100 years the de Montluzin name was known in Bay St. Louis as a distinguished family and the proprietors of the city’s oldest and most reputable pharmacy. Ludovic A. de Montluzin, otherwise known as “L.A.” was born in December of 1827 in the town of Luneville in the province of Lorraine, France. An idealistic young journalist with political opposition to the French Emperor Napoleon III, de Montluzin felt despair for the future of France and emigrated to the United States with his wife, Reine Helluy de Montluzin, and their three small children. Settling in Louisiana, the couple had three more children. In 1878, L.A. suffered a heart attack and, at the urging of his doctors, he retired to Bay St. Louis to “give up some of his activities.”
L.A., Reine and their six children began their new lives in Bay St. Louis. Their family home was located at 208 North Beach Boulevard, at the foot of what is now de Montluzin Avenue. The de Montluzin home would later become the original Bay Town Inn, which was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While looking for a hobby to pass his time, L.A. decided to open a pharmacy. The de Montluzin Drug Store was opened on Beach Boulevard in 1878 and soon became a trusted establishment for stocking pure, fresh drugs, sundries, toiletries and other quality goods. L.A. and Reine’s son, Rene, received his pharmacist license in 1893 and worked alongside his father.
The devotion to his wife and family was very strong. During a deadly yellow fever epidemic along the Gulf Coast, Mrs. de Montluzin took her two youngest children to visit her family in Paris. Her husband missed her greatly, and letters to her during this time “overflowed with his tenderness and love.” That love of the two remained constant for 62 years until the death of L.A. on December 26, 1909. Heartbroken and not desiring to live, Reine took to her bed, and on January 19, 1910, she passed away, simply by willing it so. A love like that can only be described by the Latin inscription engraved inside her husband’s wedding ring, Virtus iunxit; mors non separabit – “Virtue united us; death will not separate us.”
Their son, Rene, continued to operate the de Montluzin and Sons Drug Store for years. Rene passed away on February 18, 1959, at the age of 93. His son, Rene Jr., would become the third generation to carry on the family business, doing so until his death in 1977. The pharmacy was then closed, and patient records were transferred to another pharmacy in town.
The oldest and most trusted name in pharmacies in Bay St. Louis was in continuous operation just short of 100 years. Many older residents of Bay St. Louis still speak of the de Montluzin family and the de Montluzin & Sons Drug Store.
Internationally revered piano genius James Booker spent time growing up in Bay St. Louis. Writer Edward Gibson traces some of those early years and explains why the Bay was always a touchstone for the legend who died too young.
It is unclear whether these lines are an anthem to inspire the East Germans or a confession. He turns then to Aretha Franklin’s “People Get Ready.” “I’m free at last,” he sings before he transforms Franklin’s theme into a blues riff in the high register before turning it again, now into ragtime, and then back again to Aretha’s song of freedom.
The politics could not have been lost on the men in gray uniforms, not only the message of freedom but the exuberant expression of it. But before he could be dragged off to the Runde Eckei for interrogation, he turned 180 degrees to Chopin, a deft and exact rendition of the “Minute Waltz,” and then turns again to a left-handed boogie before closing the show with “Malengua de la Lousiana,” a Fess inspired flamenco, a melodic and rhythmic largesse packaged into three minutes and four seconds.
James Booker was (and is) a mystery to all, to his friends and family and to other musicians, and so it may be presumptuous to say that side B of the live recording in Leipzig, entitled “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” (AMIGA) captures not only Booker’s talent but the frenetic and troubled man behind the keys.
All agree that James Carroll Booker was a complex character, a true musical genius, tormented and defeated by his own worst tendencies. Yet James Booker played with a speed, imagination, and touch that has left such masters as Arthur Rubinstein, George Winston and Harry Connick Jr. in silent awe.
Born in 1939 at Charity Hospital to J.H. Booker and Ora Champagne, James Carroll Booker III grew up between New Orleans and Bay St. Louis. His father was a reverend and professional dancer from Bryan, Texas. His mother was a Creole, and several years younger than J.H. Booker.
J.C., as family called him, moved at age two to 126 Ballentine Street in Bay St. Louis, the home of his aunt, Bessie Lizana. Betty Jean Booker, his older sister by six years, joined him two years later when the Rev. Booker suffered a stroke.
It was on Ballentine that Booker’s musical talent flourished. Bessie Lizana and her husband, Bernard, enjoyed a relatively prosperous life. Among their few luxuries, an upright piano occupied a corner of the large main room. He received instruction from Ms. Natalie Piernas and attended the St. Rose de Lima School.
In elementary school when other children played bells, triangles and woodblocks, Booker played piano. He mastered it by age seven. He received a saxophone as a gift and mastered that as well. According to Ms. Lizana, Booker enjoyed his life near the Gulf. In addition to learning piano and saxophone, he crabbed and fished with a Mr. Prowell, the husband of Lizana’s employer.
It is not clear how long Booker stayed in the Bay. Booker himself accounts being struck by an ambulance at age nine in about 1948. Documentary filmmaker Lily Keber places the accident in New Orleans, on Dauphine Street. According to Kent Taylor, J.C. Booker and Betty Jean moved to New Orleans with his mother and lived at his aunt Eva Sylvester’s home at 2511½ Third Street in Uptown, across from Shakespeare Park and around the corner from the famed Dew Drop Inn. Booker attended Xavier Prep and met fellow Orleanians and contemporaries Art and Charles Neville, as well as Allen Toussaint.
Betty Jean began to sing gospel at WMRY and introduced J.C. to the station’s producers. In short order he formed Booker Boy and the Rhythmaires. The radio shows caught the attention of Dave Bartholomew, and in 1954, at age 15, Booker cut his first single for Imperial Records, “Doin’ the Hambone” / “Thinkin’ ‘Bout my Baby.”
Before the end of his senior year at Xavier, Booker took to the road. He toured with popular artists like Joe Tex and Earl King. Booker found work making the most of his own sound but he also imitated the styles of other piano greats.
He so impressed producer Johnny Vincent, of Ace Records in Jackson, Miss., that Vincent hired Booker to tour as Huey “Piano” Smith. Huey Smith did not like touring, so Booker toured in his place, not in support of Smith, but actually appearing on the bill as Huey “Piano” Smith.
A busted tour with Dee Clark (“Nobody but You”) found Booker down and out in Houston, Tex., but he soon impressed the producers at Duke/Peacock Records. Soon he backed Peacock’s clients, acts such as Junior Parker (“Next Time You See Me”) and Bobby “Blue” Bland (“Farther on up the Road”).
In 1962, Booker scored his only top ten hit, “Gonzo,” on the Peacock label. Throughout the 1960s Booker recorded and/or toured with Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Freddie King, Wilson Pickett and others. In 1968, at the request of David Bartholomew, Booker recorded all of the piano tracks for the Fats Domino record “Fats is Back (Reprise).” Domino, a tireless touring musician, was too busy to return to New Orleans to record. The record includes two of Booker’s best originals, “My Old Friends” and “So Swell When You’re Well.”
In 1967, at the height of his touring and recording career, Booker lost both his mother, Ora Champagne, and his sister, Betty Jean. According to Charles Neville, the loss of his family exacerbated Booker’s mental health issues. Three years later, while entering the Dew Drop Inn, New Orleans Police caught Booker with heroin. He served a year in Angola and 34 days in the Orleans Parish Prison.
The brutality of Angola took a further toll on Booker’s mental health. Although he continued to record and perform throughout the early 1970s, his deteriorating mental health and drug addiction irreparably damaged Booker’s rising star. He continued to record as a backing musician during the early 70s - most notably with Ringo Starr and the Doobie Brothers - but his career continued to founder until an appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest in 1975.
His performance drew the attention of Island Records, which signed him to a recording contract. More significant was the attention it drew from European promoter Nobert Hess, who brought him to Europe for tours in 1977 and 1978. The tours produced several records including “New Orleans Piano Wizard (Rounder)” and the aforementioned “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Let’s Make a Better World)” (AMIGA).
Throughout his long and storied career, it is unclear when and how often Booker returned to the Bay to visit his Aunt Bessie Lizana and nephew Kent Taylor and nieces, Shelia Twiggs and Yolanda Barroughs, but return he did.
Accounts differ as to how often he accompanied the choir at St. Rose de Lima. According to one source, he played only a few Christmas pageants during the ministry of Father Borgia Aubespin (1973-1978). Others recall more frequent visits.
According to Kent Taylor, Booker returned again and again for family. He would attend the service at St. Rose, perhaps accompanying the choir. Then, he would retire with family and friends to Ballentine Street for Bessie Lizana’s Sunday dinner. Neighbors would come from Chinch Alley (Easy St.) and bring instruments. Ellsworth Collins came from 216 Sycamore and brought a guitar. Another neighbor, Clarence Collins, joined.
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Considering the troubled and tormented life of James Carroll Booker, such a picaresque Sunday afternoon undoubtedly drew the Piano Prince back home to the Bay. How could, as Dr. John described him, “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano player to ever come out of New Orleans,” resist the sound of Southern gospel, jazz and R&B, heard through open windows as far as the beach, all punctuated by the smell of Aunt Bessie’s gumbo?
Kent is the first to confess that Booker was also known “to be out for a fix” before playing Lizana’s upright through the night. He believed Miss Lizana overlooked Booker’s drug addiction. She told Jon Foose at Booker’s end that “I have never seen a child as good…. he was smart as a whip.”
Others recount that in the sixties, the other Booker, the Uptown Booker, would occasionally make his way up Sycamore Street to the clubs that lined the block, the Crack and Big Five Club.
Despite success and the adoration of European fans, heroin, cocaine and paranoia plagued the Piano Prince. By the early 1980s he had returned to the bars, playing a regular Tuesday night show at the Maple Leaf, either alone or with Johnny Vidacovich and “Red” Tyler.
His tenure at the Maple Leaf was erratic, from sublime shows (captured on several posthumously released albums) to no-shows, and prima donna tantrums, refusing to play at all. During this time, his only steady gig was at the Toulouse Theater in the French Quarter, playing intermission of the show “One Mo’ Time.”
Taylor who — like Booker — divided time between Ballentine in the Bay and New Orleans, would accompany Booker to local gigs. There was a room at Tipitina’s where Booker could shoot up cocaine and heroin. Taylor would wait outside.
Once, he recalled, Booker returned from Europe with two briefcases. In one, Taylor said was money, a briefcase full of money. “I want this for you. You can have this,” Taylor recounts Booker saying, “But you stay away from this other case. This ain’t for you.” Booker did not show Taylor the contents, but Taylor knew.
James Carroll III died Nov. 8, 1983. Taylor and Bessie Lizana went to his one-bedroom apartment in the French Quarter. By Taylor’s account, the apartment was filled with empty bottles of Canadian Mist, fifths, half gallons and pints, all empty. According to Taylor, doctors had told Booker in no uncertain terms that his liver had failed him and any more drinking would kill him. J.C. would not or could not stop. Documentary footage of his funeral show friends - among them, Red Tyler, Deacon John, and three elderly women - Bessie Lizana among them.
As to how he lost his eye, nobody knows - a cheap journalistic trick, of course, but one of which Booker would approve. Booker was a showman, and a showman loves and needs mystery.
He told Johnny Vidacovich that record producers beat it out of him after Booker worked some flimflam. He told Dr. John that John F. Kennedy did it. To Charles Neville and many others, Ringo did it, thus the star on the black patch he wore. He told Kent Taylor he lost it in Angola, but would not say how. The truth was likely too painful for Booker to share.
Booker had the marvelous gift to be able to set aside the tragedy of his own life - the addiction, the paranoia, the loss of family - and communicate joy through the keyboard. His own compositions are imbued with irony and humor, not only in the lyrics, but in his voice, and again, not just his voice but the piano itself. He can tear into Rachmaninoff with such authentic gusto and flair, then wind it into a Jelly Roll Morton swing, then again into “Goodnight Irene.”
There is a tremendous effusion of comedic wit in the way Booker folds a theme, song or style in on itself, transforming it again and again till it is, at once something different and yet somehow the same, like a Mobius strip or an M.C. Escher print.
It is hard to square this humor, this joy, with the man whom the New Orleans police reported had track marks in both arms with a total of 22 scabs. It’s hard to square the beauty with the ranting, broken man screaming over the piano at the Maple Leaf. He screams “Like the Bible tell you are guaranteed to live to seventy if you do the right thing. My mother wasn’t no junkie. She died when she was fifty-three.”
Booker puts it best in the liner notes of his best studio release, Junco Partner (1976): “To know the feeling of rejoicing in sorrow is nothing strange to me.”
Author Unknown. “James Booker” http://roots.life/new-orleans/james-booker/
Matthews, Bunny. “James Booker: Music as a Mysterious Art.” Wavelength, p. 24. Dec. 1983.
Foose, Jon. “Booker’s Life and Achievement.” Wavelength, p. 28. Dec. 1983
Keber, Lily “Bayou Maharaja” Netflix. 2013.
McDermott, Tom. “James Booker” https://64parishes.org/entry/james-booker
McDermott, Tom. “Remembering James Booker”. Offbeat. May 1, 1996
O’Hagen, Sean. “Cocaine boogie: James Booker, the tragic piano genius of New Orleans”. The Guardian. Nov. 20, 2013.
Parlese, Jon. “James Booker: Piano Prince” New York Times. Nov. 10, 1983.
Booker Fest in Bay St. Louis
Friday, August 30th
8PM: Lazy Magnolia Brewery and Cathead Vodka present a screening of Lily Keber's Bayou Maharajah, the definitive documentary on Booker at 100 Men Hall. Delicious eats for purchase by The Smoking Oyster.
Saturday, August 31st
10AM: Hollywood Casino and Hancock Whitney Bank present the St. Rose Gospel Choir on 100 Men Hall's historic stage.
4 - 5PM: Reflections on Booker by local Ellis Anderson, publisher of Shoofly Magazine.
5 - 6PM: The Silver Slipper presents a Booker piano tribute performed by New Orleans piano greats -Tom McDermott and Josh Paxton. Delicious eats for purchase by The Smoking Oyster.
9 – 11PM: The Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area presents a Dance Party with Cuban superstar Alexey Martí accompanied by Jorge Perez, Paolo Castanogli and Oscar Rossignoli. Delicious eats for purchase by The Smoking Oyster.
The list of needed repairs was long - but the dedication of the designers, carpenters, craftsmen and artists returned this house of God to its former glory.
- Story by Lisa Monti,
photos by Nina Cork and Drew Tartar
The parish footprint has been in the same beachfront spot for almost 175 years. The current brick church was completed in 1908 after a devastating fire the year before that also destroyed St. Joseph Academy and other buildings on the beach road. It withstood many storms over the years and rebounded from the damage. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the church’s roof was torn off, the interior flooded and the marble altar rail was broken into pieces.
Major repairs were made after the storm, including a new roof, but problems persisted. “We had leaks in the roof for the last 12 years, and termite damage,” said Joe Monti, a lifelong parishioner. After those issues were finally resolved, the parish was able to move ahead with plans to restore the church interior with new paint and lighting and other needed improvements.
The project was a year in the making, said Wikoff, who selected the new color scheme for the church.
In January, church services were moved to the adjacent Community Center as paint contractors set up scaffolding to prep and paint the ceiling, walls and columns. Parishioner Rick Martin directed the scaffolding placement, wall restoration and the painting contractors.
There was so much scaffolding, the work being done wasn’t visible from below. “It was like the Sistine Chapel,” Monti said. “You didn’t know what it looked like until the scaffolding was gone.”
Parishioner Nina Cork, an artist, used her talents and background in iconography to restore the canvas murals depicting Mary as Our Lady of the Gulf attached to the dome and the ceiling panels of saints. That required her to work 50 feet up in the air and without the benefit of seeing her progress from the vantage point of a pew. She also added the gold leaf throughout the sanctuary and on top of the columns. “I spent my entire 10 weeks on scaffolding,” she said. “I’d never done that before.”
Cork repainted the top third of the image of Mary to keep it as close to the original image as possible and to keep the church’s namesake as the focal point above the main altar. It’s not known who originally painted the church’s murals.
To brighten up the church’s interior, LED lights were installed to illuminate the space and highlight the stained glass windows, the Stations of the Cross and to put the focus on the altar. The LED lights on the side aisles now match those in the large center aisle and new lighting has been added to the various niches around the church.
The church’s stained glass windows, some of which were crafted in Germany decades ago, were outlined in dark blue paint and cleaned up so the colors and features were enhanced.
The Stations of the Cross along both sides of the walls date back to the 1920s and were taken down for the church renovation. Parishioner Joann Hille hand painted the plaster, three dimensional Stations some months ago and did some retouching where it was needed after the stations were hung back on the church walls.
Parishioners got to see their renovated church on Easter weekend, after volunteers cleaned and dusted, all the Carrara marble statues were uncovered and the artwork was back in place. “It was a long process but it came together at the last minute,” Monti said.
Cork called the renovation “a wonderful team effort, with everybody using his or her skills. We all had our own vision but to see it all pulled together, it’s just amazing.”
There’s still some work to be done, most notably the return of the original altar rail severely damaged by Katrina and a redesign of cabinets in the sacristy behind the altar.
Father Mike said that OLG has always been recognized as a beautiful church and that made the prospect of changing some interior features a bit daunting.
“Due to the research, hard-work and talent of so many, I believe we have really made almost everyone happy. I feel truly blessed by the results of the renovations, and I am happy for the parishioners of OLG and the many visitors we host here,” he said.
“Going all the way back the Temple of Solomon, we recognize that the beauty of ‘God’s house’ should raise the mind and heart to contemplate the beauty of God’s truth and presence. I believe OLG does that as good as ever. I could not be more grateful for the team of professionals and volunteers that made this renovation a success.”
This local musician's talents are woven into the fabric of our American musical heritage.
- story by Edward Gibson, photos courtesy the Moran family
At twenty years old, he joined a band led by Werly Fairburn. Fairburn, the “singing barber,” is a lost legend of rockabilly, one of the few that successfully transitioned from country to the “new” music. This was in 1953, before Werly turned away from country.
“Werly was a good songwriter and a good singer. He was serious about it,” said Tommy.
Tommy moved to New Orleans, and along with his brother, Ola Gene, backed Fairburn. They recorded Werly’s music and played live fifteen minutes every day on WDSU.
The group earned extra money playing dances and barrooms. Soon, Fairburn and Moran landed a gig on the Louisiana Hayride. There, they shared the bill with Johnny Horton and Elvis Presley. From there, they went to the Grand Ole Opry, playing alongside the royalty of country music, most notably, the great Webb Pierce.
But music is always changing, and country was giving way to rock 'n' roll. Tommy played a bill at Pontchartrain Beach with Presley. Tommy said, “They wanted to tear his clothes off of him. That always baffled me.”
By the late fifties the Bakersfield sound was catching on, and Fairburn wanted to move to move west and cash in.
“I wouldn’t go,” Tommy said. “I figured I had never lost anything in Bakersfield, and so I didn’t have to go out there to find it.” Besides, it was the old-timey music Tommy loved, “Fire on the Mountain” and “Billy in the Low Ground.”
For the next ten years, Tommy also became a popular session musician. He recorded in Nashville and at the Studio in the Woods in Bogalusa. Along with the many unknowns, he recorded with Loretta Lynn and Don Price. He played with Dolly Parton and George “Possum” Jones.
But the recording artist has enjoyed performing as well. Early on, Tommy formed the Moran Family band with two brothers and two sisters (listen to one of their recordings at the end of this story). Along with his talented son, "Little" Tommy Moran, he toured with Moe Bandy. And he took home numerous top prizes from fiddling competitions through the years.
But mostly, he cut timber. He worked oxen long after the mechanization of the timber business. Tommy said he cut less timber, but he could make more without the cost of skidders and tractors. He could feed an ox for a dollar a day. They never broke down, and I think he liked the quiet of the woods and the company of the animals.
We talked about the players he liked, consummate session and side men like Don Rich, Roy Clark, Jerry Reed and Glen Campbell. A good player, he said, isn’t out front. He is there in a way that you hardly notice, but if he wasn’t there, the song would be missing something.
Two of his sons, Tommy and Gene, are carrying on the family tradition, currently playing together in "Monsters at Large" (catch them at 100 Men Hall, June 21, 2019).
Years ago, I had an opportunity to play at church with Tommy Moran and his wife Annette. He came out day or two before. We ran through the number I picked, Doc Watson’s “I am a Pilgrim.” I asked him if he wanted to run through it again.
"That’s all right,” Tommy said, “I got it.”
Yes, he did.
In the recording below, Tommy Moran's brother, Doug Moran (now deceased) sings lead.
Tommy Moran plays in this 2012 video by BSL singer-songwriter Rochelle Harper
Special thanks to Tommy Moran's daughter Michele Seal for photo/video assist for this story!
Richmond Barthé left Bay St. Louis at age fourteen. He became one of 20th century America’s greatest sculptors of the human form - and Mississippi’s preeminent artist in the field.
- story by Edward Gibson
According to Celestine Labat, in the oral history preserved by Lori Gordon, Barthé was pronounced like “hearth.” His mother, the Creole Clemente’ Rabateau, hailed from a family of craftsmen, and his father, Richmond Barthé, an “American” as the Creoles disparaged, was a dark-skinned, grey-eyed African-American. The elder Richmond died within months of Jimmy’s birth.
Jimmy enrolled at the newly formed St. Rose school where he met Celestine Labat’s sister, Inez Labat. The teacher Labat recognized Jimmy’s talent for drawing and encouraged him with both praise and a supply of pencils and paper. Inez Labat encouraged the young artist throughout his life.
Jimmy’s talent for portraiture soon drew the attention of the town, and the Pond family from New Orleans hired the young boy to work at their summer home. In the early twentieth century, African Americans could go only so far in school and when Jimmy completed the eighth grade, he moved with the Pond family to New Orleans.
Through the Ponds, Jimmy met Lyle Saxon, editor of the Times-Picayune, and future biographer of Jean Lafitte. Saxon, hardly ten years Jimmy’s senior, purchased Jimmy’s first oils and canvas. Barthé’s biographer, Margaret Rose Vendryes, in “Barthé: A Life in Sculpture,” hypothesizes that the two shared an intimate relationship, though there is no certain evidence to support this.
Saxon sent Jimmy on false errands to Delgado where he could view the school’s classical art collection, a collection not generally available to people of color. At twenty-three, Jimmy Barthé rendered a portrait of the Savior for a church bazaar which impressed Saxon. He attempted to have Jimmy enrolled in Delgado College - without success.
Undeterred, and with the assistance of the local parish, Jimmy Barthé applied to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago accepted him. Had Barthé attended the Pennsylvania school, he would have matriculated with Walter Anderson.
With a modest fellowship from the parish in New Orleans, Barthé took up residence in the home of his Aunt Rose in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. He attended night classes at the Art Institute and turned his attention to sculpture by accident. He was facing difficulties capturing the third dimension in his painting and an instructor suggested sculpting in clay. Classmates sat as models and Barthé created two busts. The transformation was complete. He was no longer Jimmy Barthé but Richmond Barthé (pronounced “bar-tay”).
In 1927, Richmond Barthé exhibited in a show called The Negro in Art Week. Critics panned the show, but praised the success of Richmond’s two busts, and he drew the attention of Chicago’s philanthropists, notably Julian Rosenwald. With their encouragement, Richmond established a studio in Bronzeville and created the first of many opuses, among them “Tortured Negro” (1929) and “Black Narcissus" (1927). The former was modeled on the classical pose of St. Sebastian, who was tied to a tree/post and pierced with many arrows. The piece has been lost, according to Vendryes: “dimensions and location unknown.”
Inez Labat visited the Bronzeville studio in 1929. According the Celestine, Inez found Richmond Barthé eating canned beans and the “soles of his shoes were flapping.” Labat took the impoverished young Barthé to a cobbler and “gave him some change.” In gratitude Richmond sculpted Inez Labat, “La Mulatresse” (1929), in plaster and gave it to her.
That year Richmond Barthé received the first of two Rosenwald fellowships. With this money and funds he received from a successful one-man show, Richmond Barthé moved to New York City and into the heart of the thriving Harlem Renaissance. There, he met African American luminaries such as Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Alaine Locke and Ralph Ellison. In New York, he became simply Barthé.
Over the next twenty years, from studios in Harlem and in Greenwich Village, Barthé created his body of work and enjoyed success that the Jimmy Barthé could have only imagined. Barthé sold pieces to the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art as well as to wealthy collectors. He crafted “Blackberry Woman” (1930), his first major piece after moving to New York.
In 1935, Barthé exhibited at the Rockefeller Center alongside Matisse and Picasso. His sculptures, including “Feral Benga” (1935), “African Dancer” (1933), and “Wetta“ (1934), received more praise from critics than his more well-known contemporaries.
Also in 1935, Barthé crafted his most political work to date. “The Mother” depicted a women holding the lifeless body of her son, the noose still hung about his neck. Sadly, Barthé, never comfortable as a dissident, later destroyed the piece.
Barthé installed several public commissions, including a frieze in Harlem, “Exodus and Dance” (1940) and works for the James Weldon Thomas House. Dance and the music of the Savoy Club inspired much of his work, including “Rugcutters” (1930) and “Kolombwan” (1934). He also crafted several religious pieces, including a life-size statue of the Savior, “Come Unto Me“ (1947), commissioned by the St. Jude School in Montgomery, Alabama. In New York, Barthé also felt less confined in his sexuality. He crafted the homoerotic pieces “The Stevedore” (1937) and “Boy With a Flute” (1939).
For reasons unclear, Barthé abandoned New York in 1949. He traveled with the wife of philanthropist Robert Lehman to her winter home in Jamaica, and shortly afterwards, he purchased an estate there, Iolaus. His time in Jamaica was unproductive. He tried to paint without success. He completed his two largest pieces, “Toussaint L’Ouvreture" (1952) and the equestrian “Dessaline" (1954), for the Haitian government’s sesquicentennial celebration, but he accomplished little else during his time in Jamaica.
Iolaus was without power or telephone and his expatriate neighbors fled the hot and rainy summers. Loneliness and the slow pace of island life exacerbated an underlying depression. In 1961, he entered a hospital, first in Jamaica and then later in New York’s infamous Bellevue Hospital.
Doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia and he received shock treatment. He recovered enough to return to Jamaica but sold Iolaus in 1964. Unsure of where to turn, Barthé came home briefly, visiting his old teacher, Inez Labat. He received the keys to the city from then-Mayor Scafidi.
Barthé spent several years in Florence, Italy, in the shadows of the Renaissance masters who had inspired his life’s work. Perhaps overwhelmed by the magnitude of Michelangelo, he could not work. He again became sick, and after a convalescence with friends in Lyon, France, arranged for return passage to the states.
Penniless and ill, Barthé landed in Pasadena, California. He became the benefactor of patrons such as James Garner and Bill Cosby, although he ultimately sued the latter for casting statues without his permission. The City of Pasadena recognized the national treasure, and a street there is named for him. In the final photograph of the Vendryes biography, Barthé holds the street sign bearing his name. He smiles.
Barthé died March 6, 1989, from complications related to cancer. St. Rose conducted a celebratory Mass and the bells rang in his honor.
Barthés artistic legacy is complicated. Many African Americans disparage him as an “Uncle Tom,” for his many busts of famous men, including his last known piece, a bust of his patron, James Garner. He destroyed his most overtly political piece The Mother and may very well have destroyed Tortured Negro. He declined to permit the former to be displayed in the 1934 show, An Art Commentary on Lynching. The Creole Barthé was too high-minded, too formal for overtly political artists, such as Marcus Garvey.
His formalism also set him apart from other modern sculptors. His work was too representational, too linked to the Renaissance to fit neatly among moderns such as Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti. His harshest critics simply decry Barthé as an imitator, notable only for rising above the oppressive racism of his times.
Vendryes, however, rightly notes that a Creole homosexual sculpting nude Africans and African-American models overtly challenged a white audience so fearful of African-American virility that they would (and often did) resort to violence to suppress it. Where Walter Anderson’s muse was the natural world and Ohr’s musen was pure form itself, Barthé reveled in the human body. He was not, as detractors argue, an apologist for whites in the separatist country of his birth. He longed for integration and advocated for it. However, politics was not his medium. It was the dancer, boxer, worker and the dying man. He treated them with dignity. Barthé, the artist said, “black is a color, not a race.”
There is little remaining in Bay St. Louis to memorialize our greatest artist. A large pre-Katrina mural paying homage to the great artist was painted on the side of a county office building (on the corner of Second and Main Street), but the building was damaged by the storm and later demolished. The Bay St. Louis library houses a bust he gave to the city in 1964. Celestine Labat mentions a street off of Bookter named in his honor, but there is no Barthé or Barthe street found on the county’s Geoportal.
Celestine Labat tells a story in Lori Gordon’s oral history. It is unclear when, but according to her, “Jimmy” Barthé was visiting one year at Christmas. A reveler came, and deep into his cups, the drunk man dropped and broke the plaster bust of Barthés first benefactor, Inez Labat.
According to Labat, “We heard a crash from the parlor, and Barthé didn’t say anything, he just put his head in hands.” Years later, Celestine came into some money, and she sent Barthé the shards. He cast the piece, "La Mulatresse," in bronze and sent it to her, recouping only material costs and the foundry’s bill.
Vendryes, Margaret Rose, Barthé: A Life in Sculpture. University Press, 2008.
Gordon, Lori K. “Oral History of Celestine Labat” Univ. of Southern Mississippi Oral History Project, 2003.
Vertical Files, Hancock County Historical Society.
Various Articles, Sun-Herald Archive.
The Amistad Project. Tulane University.
There's little solid historical information about one of Bay St. Louis's most significant buildings, but its new owner hopes to learn more with the help of long-time locals.
- story by Lisa Monti, photographs by Ellis Anderson
Dangermond plans to share with the public any photos and memorabilia she can track down. “I want to position the hall as an interpretive center,” she said. “My goal is to show how and why it came into existence and its significance to the area."
According to the new 100 Men Hall website:
In 1894, 12 civic-minded African American residents of Bay Saint Louis drew up the bylaws for an organization called the Hundred Members Debating Benevolent Association. The group’s primary purpose was to "assist its members when sick, bury its dead in a respectable manner and knit friendship." From an organizing group sprang an open-air pavilion and then, in 1922, a cornerstone was laid and the existing Hall built. The Hall was dedicated on July 16, 1923.
The Mississippi Blues Trail marker at the entrance recognizes the 100 Men D.B.A. Hall for its significance as a music venue. B.B. King and Etta James were among the musicians and signers who took to the stage at the hall. Money raised by the performances was used by the organization to help members of the community get medical treatment and other services.
Saved from demolition by previous owners and guardians Kerry and Jesse Loya, the refurbished hall hosted concerts, weddings, Sunday afternoon Cajun dances and pop-up dinners over the last several years.
In the short time she’s owned the property, Dangermond has held a writer’s workshop and a Baria for Congress fundraising performance by Cedric Burnside. More events are in the works while Dangermond seeks pieces of the hall’s history.
“I’ve reached out to some folks to see if they have any old family photos. They might have one of their mom or an aunt standing in front of the hall. Up until Camille, if you were African American, you went to that hall. That’s where events were held. So there must be photos out there.”
There’s a sense of urgency to locate any photos and other keepsakes and record memories as the years go by, she said.
“Any memorabilia, even if it’s story, I’m very interested,” she said.
To contact Dangermond, email email@example.com call (415) 336-9543.
In July, the Cedar Point area's contributions to Bay St. Louis were recognized by a state historical marker, while one of the neighborhood's beloved gathering spots is undergoing a renewal.
- story by Denise Jacobs
Kersanac remembered those “coming to a new world” to work at Peerless Oyster Company from places as far away as France, Germany, Italy, and South America. They were, Ms. Kersanac noted, “starting from scratch,” and, she added poignantly, “We are the glad recipients of all their labor.”
Markers of other types - indicators, perhaps - can be found in Cedar Point, as well. Larroux Park, at the corner of Dunbar Avenue and Julia Street, is one such community touchstone.
Thanks to grant funding from Hancock County, the green space now boasts new swings and slides. The park is completely fenced and includes a basketball court and an old gazebo. One very heavy picnic table rests in the shade of an old oak tree that is rooted in the yard next door, but is no respecter of fences.
Additional Larroux Park projects in the works include park benches and trash-can container painting by Hancock Youth Leadership Academy (HYLA) teens. Josh Cothern and Charlie Luttrell, Cedar Point teens, planted a Bradford Pear tree at Larroux Park in late July as Charlie's HYLA project. The duo and a handful of friends are committed to watering and caring for the tree in its early days.
The park is located near the site of a popular grocery store that no longer exists. According to one Larroux family source, Ed Larroux first installed playground equipment in the early fifties, soon after he purchased what became the Mercadel grocery store, so children could entertain themselves while their parents shopped. In a 2016 Shoofly Magazine article, local historian Pat Murphy recalls that after owning the grocery only a few years, Ed Larroux converted the building into a warehouse, with a place in the front for neighborhood kids to play ping-pong and pool.
All this property later became Larroux Park as gifted by Ed Larroux via a 99-year-lease.
The merry-go-round is long gone, and the old (newly-replaced) swings had rusted with age, but the park remains. On any given fall or winter day after school has ended, a group of high school boys of various shapes, sizes, and ethnicities can be found playing a game of pick-up basketball.
It’s a happy sight, and one that reminds us of the resiliency of neighborly bonds and the strength of community.
For this we are glad recipients.
The sugary Southern tradition of baking artful - and delectable - cakes for special occasions is celebrated in this story looking back at some of the town's best bakers.
- story by Denise Jacobs
Still, beloved as she was, Ruth Thompson, owner of Ruth’s Cakery in Bay St. Louis, was just one of several cherished cake makers in the Bay St. Louis/Waveland area.
And there was Inez Blaize Favre (1900-1983).
In the ‘60s, Inez and daughters Udell and Inez—or “Little Inez” as she was known—baked from their house on Felicity Street. Little Inez became Inez Favre Pope. She baked from her home on Highland Drive in her retirement from the late ‘80s until Katrina destroyed the house.
Rachel Pope Cross, one of Mrs. Pope’s daughters, remembers her father building a special kitchen on the back of the house to have a proper home bakery. “A delicacy was always in the oven,” Mrs. Cross said, “and friends and neighbors popped in almost every day of the year to pick up their sweet treats.”
Mrs. Cross remembers her mother baking over 500 petit fours for the opening of a Biloxi casino. “It fell to me to put dots on sugar cubes to resemble dice.”
Danita Scianna Luttrell, another of Inez Blaize Favre’s 40+ grandchildren, remembers her Aunt Udell as the master decorator. “Aunt Udell once baked a five-foot tall lighthouse for a Hancock Bank anniversary; I can still see it sitting in the lobby of Hancock Bank down on the beach.”
Both Luttrell and Cross remember customers bringing party-themed napkins to Little Inez and Udell. Danita or Rachel would transfer the design onto the cake with a toothpick, and the bakers would fill it in with icing or hollowed-out sugar mold designs. As the girls tell it, all the relatives got in on the act at one point or another by washing mounds of mixing bowls, delivering cakes, or answering the front door.
Luttrell remembers her grandmother as an amazing cook and a woman who did everything to perfection. “She would spend more money making something perfect than she made selling it!” Luttrell attributes this to a convent-based education. “She just wanted everything to be beautiful, and she passed down all her talents, from cookery to crewel to cakery, to her children and grandchildren.”
L: wedding cake by Inez Favre Pope for daughter Rachel Cross. Top R: wedding cake for Inez Favre Pope made by Inez Favre. Lower R: cake by Inez Favre Pope for Rachel Cross's daughter. Photos courtesy Rachel Cross
Other cake bakers in the Inez line include Laurin LaFontaine, daughter of one of Inez Blaize Favre’s sons. LaFontaine baked from the mid-1970s through the late ‘90s. Also, Mary Ann Benvenutti, another grandchild, began baking out of her home in the late 1980s. Benvenutti no longer bakes except for special family events. At Christmas, her red velvet cake graces the family dinner table.
Luttrell said that all the women have Inez Blaize Favre’s cake recipes but are sworn to secrecy. “The red velvet cake frosting was not the typical cream cheese type,” she says. “It was almost like a whipped cream, but it’s not whipped cream.”
More cakes by Inez Farve's descendants: Top left - Moana cake by Paul Scianna, top right, graduation cake by Mary Ann Scianna Benvenutti, Car birthday cake (center) by Mary Ann Scianna Benvenutti, lower left - chocolate cake by Laurie Benvenutti, lower right - Berry Chantilly cake by Laurie Benvenutti. Photos courtesy Danita Scianna Luttrell
Women were not the only ones working the cake angle. Other FB commenters mentioned Gregory Morreale, who is said to have made birthday, holiday, and christening cakes that were works of art.
While it is likely that Katrina washed away many photographs of cake-worthy occasions—and there were many—our fondest memories are intact, right down to the aroma of delicate vanilla and warm butter baking, a cake’s soft velvety texture, and the distinctive and delicious taste of childhood—an essence we have never quite been able to replicate.
Special thanks to "You Know You're From the Bay" Facebook page and contributors.
The official name of this rollicking group is the Komic Kurt Kinski Karnival Krewe & Karrying On Klub. Founding member and Bay historian Pat Murphy reveals the club's origins 46 years ago and hints at its future.
- by Pat Murphy, photos courtesy of the Kinski Krewe and Ellis Anderson
On the drive home from Gulfport that night the topic of staying close in the future resurfaced and talk of some type of social club began to swirl. Before arriving back in Bay St. Louis it had already been decided to christen the loosely conceived social organization with the name Kinski.
The idea centered around bringing old friends together at least once or twice per year for social events. While this group was never in need of an excuse to party, they felt that this organization would be a way to make sure it happened. The party, quite simply, had to go on.
Over the next several months there were additional meetings held to come up with some operational rules for this loose-knit organization. These meetings were held mostly around parents’ dining room tables and included a few more friends interested in being involved as things progressed.
Eventually the original group was christened the "grandfathers" of Kinski. This group of "grandfathers" included Pat Murphy, Wayne Fillingame, Ronnie Genin, Michael P. Larroux, Michael Reeves, Lee J. Hayden, David Adams, Steve Benvenutti, Jimmy Wagner, Mac Hadden, John Heath and Rory MacDowell.
Shortly before the end of 1971, the opportunity arose to ride on a Mardi Gras float in the Pass Christian parade. David Adams' father, Howard already belonged to a group that was participating in this parade every year. Howard offered to sell the Kinski group a dilapidated old float that was laying around behind the florist's greenhouses. For the modest purchase price of $25 Kinski bought the old float from Howard and the Kinski krewe was rolling just like that.
Well, not quite, because with Pat Murphy's father pulling the float in a pickup, the tongue of the float broke off in the middle of the 1972 parade and the ride had to be completed in the back of the pickup truck. However, a marvelous time was had by all and a decision was made that this parade was to be the annual event that the Krewe would be centered around.
The following year Kinski held its first "Mardi Gras ball" on the Saturday night before the parade at John Heath's parents’ home (without their knowledge while they were out of town). After about two years the ball was moved to the Friday night before the Pass parade.
The thinking was that this would give the members a full day and night to recuperate from the ball before riding in the Sunday parade. In a somewhat loose coronation ceremony, Pat Murphy was crowned King Klaus I. The reason for his choice will forever remain a secret within the confines of the Kinski organization and its archives.
Each year a new King would be crowned when the court was announced. The King would be decided upon by the King Selection Committee made up of the previous three kings, whose duties also included naming a Queen, Dukes and Maids for the court.
After the King's ride in the current year's parade, he would serve as Kaptain of the Krewe, overseeing the business of the organization until the following year. Prospective new members were only brought up for vote before the organization after they had been accepted and approved in a closed meeting of “grandfathers."
In 1979 Kinski began to have live entertainment for their Mardi Gras Ball. Through the years some stellar entertainment played for the Kinski Balls. Marcia Ball played three or four times as well as Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, Lil' Queenie & The Percolators, A Train, Zachary Richard and John Mooney & Bluesiana to name but a few.
The Kinski balls were created as spoofs on the formal New Orleans Mardi Gras ball's pomp and circumstance. The King’s crown has always been dilapidated old porcelain chamber pot while his scepter was a glittered plumber's helper. Irreverence has always been the Kinski Krewe's central theme.
When the organization was founded, no one thought that it would expand beyond a tight-knit circle of close friends. Through the years the circle eventually expanded to include friends of friends, younger brothers, cousins, etc. Members have come and gone. Some of the grandfathers have become inactive and no longer participate in the functions or business of the organization.
Through the years Kinski held other events in addition to the ones at Mardi Gras. Some, like The Basket of Cheer Raffles and The Spring Barbecue, were fundraisers for the group while Cat Island and Wolf River camping trips, crawfish boils and bonfires were simply social gatherings for members and guests
For a number of years the Kinski float was kept in a "den" that the group constructed on property owned by Howard Adams next to his greenhouses in Pass Christian. Later the float was moved to property belonging to the Battalora family's Pass Wholesale Supply.
Both of these dens were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina and the float sustained substantial damage but was repaired and continued to roll. Eventually in 2010 the organization rode in the Pass parade for the final time and the float was brought to Waveland and a warehouse on property owned by the Markel family. Several years later in 2014, the group began to ride only in the Waveland St. Patrick's Day parade.
Through the years, especially when members were a bit younger, there were some particularly spirited parade rides, especially in the Pass Mardi Gras Parade. The details of these spirited rides shall also remain within the confines of the Kinski Krewe archives. What went on back there stays back there!
Any of the original friends present at those dining room table planning sessions would tell you that it was never envisioned that the organization would continue as long as it has. Never in anyone's wildest dreams was it thought that this club would still be in existence 46 years later!
With the passage of time membership and annual participation has waned. Some of even the youngest in the group are now grandparents and many members, frankly, have other priorities today.
There has been much speculation that the 2018 Waveland St. Patrick's Day Parade will have been be Kinski's Last Ride. If you attended this year's parade you saw lots of cabbage, carrots and corn being thrown from the Kinski float as well as the usual spirited irreverence toward everything!
After the parade the Krewe threw a "Kinski's Last Ride" Part One celebration in the Longfellow Civic Center at the top of the Bay St. Louis parking garage. "The Garagemahal" as it is affectionately known to many, was a fitting location for the krewe party. Only a limited number of tickets were sold and the affair was a sellout. The Kinski Krewe's first king as well as twenty-first king, Pat Murphy and his band, 'Sippiana Soul played to a packed room full of dancing, partying people.
Many who had enjoyed Kinski's Mardi Gras balls and functions through the years were in attendance on the chance that the event would be sending The Komik Kurt Kinski Karnival Krewe & Karrying On Klub riding off into the sunset. Whether the event was or was not the krewe's last ride remains to be seen but regardless, what a ride it has been! Readers may want to stay tuned for possible Last Rides Part etc., etc.
Lisa Monti takes a look back at Mardi Gras in the Bay, remembering parades, throws and the Krewe of Real People's legendary Moss Men.
- photos from the Scafidi collection at the Hancock County Historical Society and courtesy Edward Carver
Every community along the Coast fashioned its own Mardi Gras fun with balls, parades and royalty, going way back to the early 1900s in the case of Biloxi.
Mardi Gras in the Bay, Past & Present
As a kid growing up in Bay St. Louis, Mardi Gras day was the whole Carnival season. That was well before Carnival associations multiplied, their seasonal celebrations proliferated and King cakes were sold at drug stores and grocery stores.
Costumes for the most part were homemade, as were Halloween costumes, sometimes becoming interchangable. Accessories were mostly rubber masks that covered the whole face or lipstick and rouge applied in excess. I can remember joining cousins of stairstep ages dressed as cowboys and Indians and gypsies, some wearing scary masks and all holding tight to our bags of throws.
We stood for what seemed like the whole day along a forgotten parade route (maybe on Necaise Avenue?) waiting for the horseback riders, police cars, marching bands and some form of humble floats.
For a time and for some unknown reason, wooden nickels were especially prized throws, though I can’t recall any redemption value. My most memorable throw came courtesy of a long forgotten bakery that provided miniature loaves of sliced bread tossed sparingly to the crowds. To a kid who was captivated by anything shrunk down to a perfect tiny replica, it was a magical possession.
Someone recently asked if I remembered when Mardi Gras beads were made of glass before plastic became the favored material. Hard to imagine now that hazard waiting to happen, but so was running behind a mosquito-spraying truck and other experiences done in the name of 1950s fun.
Another memorable component of Bay St. Louis Mardi Gras starting in the mid-150s was the marching Moss Men, which Bay resident Larry Lewis recalled in his Good Neighbor profile six years ago.
What do Moss Men look like? “Something like a gorilla suit,” said Larry in his Shoofly interview.
I remember the Moss Men dancing in the streets but my most vivid recollection was the terror my very young niece Becky suffered when she first laid eyes on them. To this day, when we talk about anything related to Mardi Gras, the Moss Men always come up. And so do a lot of memories of large family gatherings on Mardi Gras day, homemade costumes, jumping and diving for trinkets and looking down the street for the next truck float or marching band to appear.
We never wanted the parade to end.
All because it's Carnival Ti-i-ime
Whoa, it's Carnival Time
Oh well, it's Carnival Time
And everybody's havin' fun
Click here for the Shoofly Magazine's historical perspective on coast Mardi Gras celebrations.
Click here to read about former Moss Man Larry Lewis in the Shoofly archives.
Although shoofly decks were nearly extinct on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, three women decide that Bay St. Louis should be home to at least one: how the town's current shoofly came into being.
- story by Ellis Anderson
By the late 1900s, only a few remained on the entire coast. An iconic one stood in the Biloxi Green. Another had survived somewhere in Ocean Springs. Bay St. Louis had none.
What had survived though are two astonishing photographic images preserved in the Library of Congress. Both were taken in the Bay around 1900 by a photographer named William Henry Jackson. Jackson took them for the Detroit Photographic Company, a national postcard enterprise.
The images show different views of the same Beach Boulevard shoofly.
Jackson took one picture from the road looking toward the house and called it “Harry’s Villa” after the first name of the owner. The shoofly is in the foreground, an elegant wood home behind it. A woman stands on the shoofly, while a boy is perched in the fork of the tree trunk, temporarily taller than the adult.
Jackson shot the other perspective from the porch of the house, pointing his camera toward the water. In the picket-fenced yard are Harry’s wife, Mrs. Boyle, their daughter and a grandchild. Several people stand on the deck of the shoofly. Judging by their hats and dress clothes, they’re probably guests at the Boyle’s boarding house.
Yet, despite its historic shoofly stardom, Bay St. Louis remained shoofly-less until 1989 or ’90, when three Bay residents – Mike Cuevas, Zita Waller and Pat Cucullu – visited Ocean Springs for a home tour. Waller and Cucullu have passed away, and Cuevas tells the story. One of the featured houses – Cuevas doesn’t remember exactly where - had a shoofly in the yard. The three were enchanted and took photos.
Cuevas, who worked for the city, asked Mayor Eddie Favre, who was serving his first term, if building a city shoofly in the Bay was a possibility.
“He said the same thing he always did when I asked him for something,” recalls Cuevas. “He said, ‘Sure, you raise the money and we can do it.’”
The live oak on the property of the historic City Hall on Second Street was chosen to host the project. Cuevas says that later Farve himself found the funding to add to donations that came in. Architect Kevin Fitzpatrick and engineer Wayne Peterson volunteered their professional services, making the project a possibility. In the end, the cost for the shoofly construction was around $20,000, with the public works department providing the labor.
Fitzpatrick, an architect well-versed in historic preservation (he currently serves as chair on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission), remembers the project well. As a college student before Camille, he often traveled the coast, driving between Tulane University in New Orleans and his parents’ home in Florida.
“Back then, it seemed like the coast was covered with them (shooflies),” Fitzpatrick said. “I’d always admired them, so I was able to design the Bay’s pretty much from memory.”
Fitzpatrick designed the railings to match the ones on the historic city hall, while engineer Wayne Peterson worked on the structural engineering. Fitzpatrick said he remembers joking with the engineer after seeing the support system Peterson devised.
“I told him that we’d be able to park a locomotive on that thing,” Fitzpatrick said. “It seemed way over the top. But Wayne believed that people would assemble on the Shoofly for weddings and events, so it had to be extremely strong. And he was right.”
Peterson’s other concern was for the tree itself. The deck had to be self-supporting so it wouldn’t harm the ancient oak and it had to allow plenty of room for the tree to grow.
According to Peterson, “The base at the ground is close to the base of the tree, with the platform cantilevering out at the top. In addition, the structure had to be designed to support a lot of ‘weighty politicians.’ I understand that it has successfully supported a lot of those over the years.”
“It’s still something when I see it,” says Peterson. “My hope is that it gives people a little of the pleasure that growing up and living on the coast has given to me.”
Of course, the Shoofly Magazine is named after the iconic town landmark - a perfect place for elevated community conversation!
Legacy of Lovely: Carol Vegas
The park surrounding the historic Bay St. Louis City Hall and the shoofly oak is named after a woman who left a lasting legacy of loveliness.
- story by LB Kovac, photos courtesy Holly Vegas
She did missionary work with primitive Indians in the rainforest. She slowed down a little to have four kids. All of this under, as Holly puts it, “a hail of gunfire:” Guatemala was in the middle ofa brutal civil war, one that would only be settled a little before Carol Vegas’ death. But the war didn’t stop her; Carol Vegas did what needed to be done.
When she finally got to Bay St. Louis, she didn’t settle down into the role of quintessential Southern housewife so prevalent in the 1960s. The only hallmark of that image she retained was her penchant for hats. Holly says, “She loved her hats; any time there was a significant event, she would find a way to wear a hat.” She was 5’3” and had fire-licked hair out of a bottle, something women at the time just didn’t do.
And this beautification business that Carol Vegas is now so famous for? Holly says it all started because of trash. “She was infuriated by people throwing their junk out,” she says. And, once again, she did what needed to be done. “She wanted the new place she called home to be a better place.” Carol and three other ladies organized a group of kids who would pick up trash in the mornings and on the weekends. “That’s what I remember about growing up: always being dragged around to pick up litter.”
“She would never not do the right thing,” says Holly, and this strong sense of ethics is something the daughter feels she inherited from her mother. “And, if there was something to be done – a party or whatever – she would do it to the nth degree.”
It’s around this time that she met Ellis Cuevas, long-time publisher and editor of the Sea Coast Echo. The two “fell in a good friendship,” as Cuevas puts it, and, over the year’s served on many committees, boards, and task forces together. Cuevas can attest to Carol Vegas’ long list of accomplishments. “It was a hell of a journey [working with her],” he says.
“[Her] biggest project was anti-litter.” Of course, where this litter was mattered little to Carol Vegas, or Cuevas. Together they served on the Bay St. Louis Beautification Committee, the Hancock County Beautification Committee and the Marine Debris Taskforce, where they helped on numerous projects that made the neighborhoods, roads and beaches less trash-filled and more beautiful.
Independent of Cuevas, Carol Vegas also served on several highway landscaping committees and city beautification projects. She’s credited with designing the Tree of Life at the Harriet Center and the rose window at Christ Episcopal Church. For her efforts beautifying the Gulfport area, Carol Vegas was awarded medals, titles, plaques and other awards too numerous to even list.
In the last years of her life, when she’d “retired” from public work, Carol Vegas did not let up. Holly shares, “Her ritual every morning was to call all of these people and just listen to them. She was a kind of therapist… That’s what caught me off guard [at her funeral] – how many people she emotionally supported… And she did it all out of this sense of purpose.”
Picking up litter certainly isn’t the glamorous side of beautification – not like designing gardens or arranging ornamental flowers – but it is important and necessary. Carol Vegas made a career out of it.
If you ever see the sunlight coming over the old City Hall, casting long shadows over the swing sets or the wildflowers, think that it wouldn’t be that pristine or beautiful if it weren’t for someone seeing a piece of litter and deciding something needed to be done about it
Just a few months prior to its opening, the park formerly known as City Park was a mess. No one needs reminding that Hurricane Katrina hit the area hard, and a lot was lost. But Carol Vegas Park was one of the first things in the area people came together to clean up and rebuild it. More than 500 volunteers and residents worked to clean up debris, lay the foundation and add the equipment donated by KaBoom!
And, in Carol Vegas’ name, the area was left a little brighter.
The Legendary (and Non-existent) Captain Longbeard
Pirate Day is the Bay is centered around a pirate named Captain Longbeard, but it turns out that he's a shipmate of the fictional Jack Sparrow.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
The Krewe has created a mock-history based on the real deal, a story that’s much more colorful that the rather dry history and features a fictional character called Captain Longbeard (each year played by the current king of the Krewe).
Captain Longbeard is now taking on legendary status. John Rosetti, 2017 president of the KOTMS, says he found it hilarious last year when one television station talked about Longbeard as if he were a real historical figure.
“He was just something I drew up on a napkin,” says Rosetti, laughing as he recalls how the character was created.
The actual historical event at the center of all this merriment happened in 1814 as a precursor to the more famous “Battle of New Orleans.” The Sea Horse was an American schooner that single-handedly took on the British fleet in a “David versus Goliath” encounter, right in front of the Bay St. Louis shoreline.
While the little ship was hopelessly out-manned, it managed to delay British forces, giving Andrew Jackson (who was commanding American forces in New Orleans) more desperately needed time to organize that city’s defense and keep control of the Mississippi River out of British hands.
Since the event occurred two centuries ago, accounts of the battle vary, but as local historian Charles Gray often says, “history is lies agreed upon.” The most riveting part of Gray’s version occurred when an older woman on crutches shouted to shore-side onlookers of the battle “Will no one fire a shot in the defense of our country?”
She then grabbed a lit cigar being smoked by Bay St. Louis Mayor Toulme and lighted the fuse to a cannon, which fired into the midst of the British attackers. Mayhem ensued.
The battle’s connection to pirates is very tenuous, but the Battle of the Bay did take place in 1814 when buccaneer types abounded in the area. In fact, legend has it that the real legendary pirate, Jean Lafitte, had a house on the beach near the BSL/Waveland line.
And historians do agree that a few weeks after the Bay St. Louis battle, Lafitte and his band of ruffians fought alongside Andrew Jackson in New Orleans to repel the British invaders – a battle that probably would have been lost without the pirates’ help.
But don’t let the facts stop the fun. Captain Longbeard – this year played by MKOTS king Al Copeland – will be storming the town on the weekend of May 19th and 20th.
If you’d like to read more, details of the actual battle can be found here on the Krewe of Seahorse’s website.
Also, Charles Gray suggests reading Paul La Violette’s 2003 book, Sink or Be Sunk! The Naval Battle in the Mississippi Sound That Preceded the Battle of New Orleans. It’s available at Bay Books on Main Street.
A Hancock County database aims to assist in search for enslaved ancestors — excerpts from the introduction to the slave database, a work in progress on historian Russ Guerin’s website.
— By Russ Guerin, with intro by Ana Balka
We encourage you to browse Russ’s entire site. The years that Russ has put into research and writing on Hancock County and Gulf Coast history are reflected in the dozens of pages and thousands of words you will find there. Thank you, Russ, for letting us reprint these selections on the slave database.
I. Slave Data Base – Hancock County, MS
by Russell Guerin
Over recent years, I have had a number of inquiries, both in person and online, by folks looking into their Hancock County forebears. Even though my website is not a genealogical oriented source, it has been fruitful to a number of people whose ancestry includes African-American lineages.
One example of success involved a professor at an eastern university who was able to identify her ancestor as having been one of the “servants” at the Sea Song plantation in Waveland, described in my article a couple of years ago.
The mention of names has sometimes been included in those articles where slaves are listed in official documents such as land deeds and probate records. In the case of the example above, the source of names was in family letters. Making identification difficult is the fact that slaves were referred to by first names only, as though they had never been part of families.
It is commonly known that former slaves, when freed, often took the names of their previous masters. It may be that tracing of ancestors could be substantially helped by knowing the last names of those who had held others in bondage.
(Click here to read more and to see the database in-progress).
Slave Data Base – some observations
by Russell Guerin
Almost all slave mentions studied from original documents in Hancock County, Mississippi show only one name — neither first nor last, simply one. The acquisition of last names by freed slaves was an important post Civil War transition. Whether there was an official program of renaming, or whether and when choices were made and recorded, has not been found. Still, it can be observed that the changes took form in patterns.
The source of information for these observations was for the most part the census of 1870, and to a lesser degree, the census of 1880. While a presumption is made that those listed under “Race” are former slaves, it should be considered that there were no longer any identifications as “Free Persons of Color.”
Names and descriptions assembled from early slave-day documents such as estate inventories and property transfers were then compared to census data.
Surnames Chosen after Emancipation
As was common in other areas, in Hancock County a common choice was to assume the name of a former owner. However, it has not always been possible to relate the chosen surname to a former slave’s own owner.
Some of the more prominent slave owner/dealers were the following:
Carver, Cowand, Johnson, Favre Amaker, Claiborne, DeBlieux, Fayard, Casanova, Cuevas, Johnston, Benois, Mitchell, Bell, Poitevent, Mitchell, Russ, Carroll, Otis, Daniels, Brown, Jordan, Dawsey, Peterson, Peters, Henry, Nicaise, Wheat, Wingate, Farr, Bird, Varnado.
Another obvious choice for some was to take the name of an important person, such as Jefferson, Jackson, Washington. Even the name Lee shows up in Hancock, though it is doubtful that the former commander of the Army of Northern Virginia was the person in mind.
There were also odd names, chosen perhaps for their potential symbolism: Worship, Mars, Whig, King, Christmas, President, and Absalom.
A pattern that arose to the surprise of this writer but seems to stand up to investigation was the choice of transforming the former slave name to that of the surname, which then allowed for an assumption of a new first name. Those slave names that became last names that can be clearly demonstrated were Sam, Isaac, John, Moses, Monday, Martha, and Henry.
Historic Tour of Old Town
Wend your way through Old Town taking in the Bay's historic gems with the paper - or the mobile - version of this popular tour.
- story by Rebecca Orfila, photos by Ellis Anderson
The original wooden Depot was built in 1876, and was destroyed by fire approximately 50 years later. The present structure was built in 1929, in Spanish Mission style. A park surrounds the Depot and includes a walking track, a duck pond and picnic tables, all under shade provided by large live oaks. The fanciful building served as a set for the 1965 movie, “This Property is Condemned,” starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, directed by Sydney Pollack. It was one of Redford’s first films.
Just a block away, at 398 Blaize Avenue, stands the real star of the movie, the “Starr Boarding House.” Most of the film centered around this building, but its star status didn’t prevent it from languishing for years and nearly being demolished. Saved in a dramatic last-minute community effort, the building was meticulously restored with the help of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History post-Katrina. It now serves as home to the Bay St. Louis Little Theatre.
Some other personal favorites on the tour:
Tercentenary Park, which memorializes Bienville’s entrance into the Bay of St. Louis over 300 years ago. The park is located on the point of highest elevation on the Gulf of Mexico - 31 feet. It’s the official starting point of the tour, but one can begin anywhere and enjoy the stroll.
The Palm House, close to the Depot (217 Union Street), is a West Indies Planter style house built in the 1880s. For many years, it was the home of Joan Seal, the wife of a circuit judge. Mrs. Seal was recognized as a generous philanthropist in this area and so devoted to her dogs that she left provisions for them in her will.
The Piernas House, at the corner of South Toulme and St. John Street, is a side gallery cottage, and former home Louis Piernas, a free black man who was a community leader. In 1889, he received a presidential appointment to serve as postmaster of Bay St. Louis. Piernas, who lived to be 98, also served as chairman of the Hancock County Republican Party for 65 years, even traveling to Chicago for the 1882 convention.
The Weinburg House and Cobbler’s Cottage - 112 South Second Street - was originally constructed by John Himes in 1868. Based on its hip or gable-on-hip roof and undercut gallery, the larger house is identified as a “Biloxi Cottage.” It’s now home to the popular Mockingbird Café. Next door, the eye-catching – and very diminutive – cottage served as the workshop of cobbler Manuel Maurigi for many years. One can imagine the delight of his ghost at seeing the cottage now, filled with artwork as the home of Smith & Lens Gallery.
The Railroad Street Houses are located at 125-129 Railroad Street. These Queen Anne Revival style homes were built by Eugene Ray, an African-American who was a respected local contractor and undertaker. The largest of the three houses was home to the beloved bishop who was born in Bay St. Louis, Leo Fahey.
100 Men Hall, located at 303 Union Street, isn’t on the tour’s official route, but is suggested as an “Off the Beaten Trail” destination. The blue and white clapboard building was built in 1922, and was such an important and popular site for music - and socializing - that it is included on the official Mississippi Blues Trail.
St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church (301 South Necaise Avenue) is a short hike from the 100 Men Hall and is also highlighted by the tour. The church was built in the mid-1920s, by local craftsman Joseph Labat. The “Christ in the Oak” mural behind the altar is a nationally recognized work of art.
The Old Town Biking/Walking Tour was conceptualized, written and photographed in 2008 by Ellis Anderson. Historian Charles Gray contributed stories of local lore (especially the more colorful bits) and helped with research, while graphic designer Jenny Bell of Adlib designed the brochure. Live Oak Alliance, a non-profit headed by Marcie Baria, backed the project and brought the tour to first fruition.
The first printings were completed with the help of a grant from the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area and funding from Live Oak and other local sponsors. Currently, printings are coordinated by the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau and are sponsored by the Bureau, the Hancock County Historical Society and Ellis Anderson Media.
Myrna Greene, executive director of the Bureau, calls the tour brochure “the most effective and popular tool we have to introduce people to Bay St. Louis.” It’s updated periodically and is scheduled for a fourth reprinting in March 2017.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the tour however, is the people you’ll meet along the way. When you’re taking the tour, expect the warm and friendly nature of the neighbors along the way to make the experience even more memorable. I even had someone ask me for directions to the Hancock County Historical Society. I gave them the guide. You wouldn’t want to miss Kate Lobrano’s house on Cue Street!
Note: Since several of the buildings on the tour route are private residences, the tour brochure specifies on the opening page: “While we encourage exploring our public treasures here, please respect the privacy of our residential listings.”
The Spectacular Mardi Gras Mind of Carter Church
A small Mardi Gras museum in the historic Bay St. Louis depot features samplings of the extraordinary costumes designed by the iconic Carter Church. Celebrate Nereids 50th anniversary by visiting!
- by Rebecca Orfila, photos by Ellis Anderson
Ornate satin gowns, capes and breeches, headdresses, and beads are de rigueur at balls and on floats. During our recent visit to the Mardi Gras Museum, Susan Duffy, the Depot’s concierge, explained that a queen’s costume can take as many as 400 hours to create. Each crystal jewel is individually pasted onto the gowns and other pieces of the royal ensemble.
The dresses are special creations, fitted to each individual participant. Both royals wear high collars - iced with sparkling silver decorations, crystals jewels, and flowing with white or dyed ostrich feathers. The high collars are a modern design, typical for contemporary queens and kings.
The Nereids Kings’ and attending dukes’ costumes are equally elaborate and consist of tunics, short capes, and knee-length breeches. The King’s crown is smaller than the Queen’s and is decorated with the special motif of the year - and white ostrich feathers.
The other costumes in the collection were also created by Carter Church. After a brief period of rest following Mardi Gras, Church begins to design ceremonial regalia for the next Carnival season. Krewes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama reach out to him for their costuming needs.
In most cases, the theme for the next year is determined by a krewe; then, it becomes Church’s duty to create sparkling ceremonial clothing to illustrate the chosen motif. Fanciful designs, such as an alligator and swamp scene on a queen’s gown or Aztec-themed costumes intertwined with satin snakes are typical of Church’s detailed designs.
Church’s original design drawings are situated in front of each display at the Mardi Gras Museum. His drawings are beautiful in their own right. His many years of experience have gained him noteworthy acclaim in the fashion industry.
In a small exhibit slightly off the main hall of the museum is the costume Carter Church wore as King of Nereids in 2013. Church said that serving as King of a the famous all-women krewe was the highlight of his life.
Also included in the display is a Queen’s collar in the Medici style. The late 16th Century fashion consists of a rigid fan worn upright behind the head of a female wearer, not the large, towering form seen in modern queens’ regalia. The Medici style collar is decorated with crystals and silver decorations.
Costs for such finery can vary from nominal amounts to thousands of dollars. In the case of Kings and Queens of some krewes, the costumes will be worn the following year during the presentation ceremonies at the balls when the previous year’s royalty is presented to the new King and Queen.
One of the museums’ volunteers is Martha Franks, who has a special connection to it. Mrs. Franks is Carter Church’s sister. When the number of visitors rises during the busy seasons at the museum, or the staff is otherwise occupied, Mrs. Franks gracefully steps in and guides the guests through the display. According to Duffy, she is well versed on the royal wear and the creation of each special costume.
The museum’s collection of elaborate costumes dotted with crystals and feathers give out-of-town visitors an up-close view of the Mardi Gras celebration. According to Duffy, approximately 800 to 1,000 people stop by the Depot each month. Each visitor is welcomed with his or her own set of Mardi Gras beads.
The Mission-style train depot is also home to the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau, headed by Myrna Green. The historic building was restored after Hurricane Katrina. The depot and the grounds surrounding it are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it is a Mississippi Landmark Property.
The museum is located at 1928 Depot Way in Bay St. Louis and is open every day of the year except Sundays, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The second floor of the Depot is home to the nationally acclaimed folk artist Alice Moseley's museum.