A Shoofly Way of Life
A change of name kicks off an International Shoofly Awareness campaign, in hopes of reviving a fine and neighborly tradition, while creating a new Mississippi export.
- story by Ellis Anderson, artwork by Zita Waller
Our area of focus remains the same, reflected in our tag line: Bay St. Louis Living.
The Bay St. Louis is still part of our name despite stats that show our readership extends far beyond the city limits. The Bay is home to our headquarters, and it’s where this artistic enterprise began.
But the Shoofly – like the Cleaver - remains committed to featuring people and events in our sister city of Waveland, as well as Diamondhead, Kiln, and Pass Christian happenings (and human-interest stories) as space permits.
The name change is a relief in some ways. Our readers long ago dropped the Fourth Ward part of the name, so our publication became known around the coast as simply "the Cleaver." Without good old “Ward” attached, when the name was mentioned, people who weren’t regular readers were inclined to visualize a horror movie prop.
That made my job as the chief photographer difficult. Sometimes I’d be covering an event and ask parents if I could take their kids’ pictures for the Cleaver. Often, they’d recoil, then gather their young ones and herd them away from me with all due speed.
But while the name Shoofly doesn’t bring any sharp kitchen implements to mind, it’s still an unfamiliar term to out-of-towners and new residents.
Around the turn of the 20th century, every self-respecting hotel and boarding house across the Mississippi coast boasted its own shoofly deck. Now only a few remain. In fact, the Bay's shoofly at the old City Hall is a replica, designed by architect Kevin Fitzpatrick and built in 1991.
How'd they get the name? According to historian Charles Gray, the word “shoofly” is derived from the French word for cauliflower, “choufleur,” because of the way the white deck blossoms around the base of a tree. Our own shoofly oak in Bay St. Louis is even registered under its French alias and bears a plaque to prove it.
So I was surprised when an Internet search couldn’t turn up the Gulf Coast definition for shoofly. Google returned lots of links for shoofly pies (a molasses concoction popular in Pennsylvania), a type of railroad bridge, and a child’s rocking chair. But our particular kind of shoofly is so rare, I only saw the definition once, listed as an “archaic” word.
The Shoofly seems to represents a part of our coast culture that has been overrun by the mad rush of modernization. Conversing quietly with neighbors in the shade - above the biting pests where the breezes pass more freely - seems like a pastime worth reviving.
So I’m thinking that the shoofly should take its rightful place in the dictionary again. Then Mississippi shooflys (shooflies?) might start popping up all over the place. We could even send our coast shoofly consultants to other cities to teach the art of building and relaxing on shooflies. The country would be better - and more beautiful - for it. “Across the land, this hue and cry: ‘Every town needs its own shoofly!’”
So in conjunction with our name change, we’re dedicating the remainder of 2016 to International Shoofly Awareness. To kick it off, we’re holding a Shoofly art contest, with amazing prizes!
The top 10 finalists will have their work prominently featured in the Shoofly, while the winner will get:
The contest opens Friday, July 1 and the deadline for entering is 11 p.m. Monday, August 15.
But wait! There’s more!
The judge is Malcolm White, director of the Mississippi Arts Commission (and part-time Bay St. Louis resident). What fun!
The top 10 finalist pieces will be shown in Bay Life & Gifts for the entire month of September.
And in the fall, we’ll have a Shoofly photography contest AND a Shoofly writing contest! Stay tuned for details.
Meanwhile, click here for the Shoofly art contest details and rules.
We'd like to thank you for being here with us as we grow and do our best to serve the people of the Bay and the Mississippi coast. We couldn’t be prouder to be here.
And while our name has changed, some things never will: we plan to keep on savoring the breezes off the water and relaxing in the shade with our neighbors, sitting on the sweet Shoofly.