Day Tripping - Oct/Nov 2017
Our country cousin just north of the coast offers an wonderful arboretum, a classic homestyle restaurant and yes, a Teddy bear museum. Day trip to Picayune along with the Shoofly Magazine!
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
For this Day Tripping story, we enjoyed a long morning at the lovely Crosby Arboretum - with its nationally recognized Pinecote Pavilion - a fine lunch at Two Sisters Creole Kitchen and a mind-boggling afternoon at the Teddy Bear House Museum. Yes. It’s a museum devoted entirely to toy bears.
Bay-Waveland and Picayune have more in common than geographical proximity. The communities share pride in a former resident, a woman known as “Pearl Rivers.”
According to Picayune’s website, “when the railroad came through in the 1880s the then known community of Hobolochitto turned to one of its prestigious residents Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson, better known by her pen name “Pearl Rivers,” to name the area. Mrs. Nicholson was the owner and publisher of the New Orleans Daily Picayune named after a Spanish coin called a “picayune”. She chose to name the city after her beloved newspaper.”
Eliza grew up in the countryside around Picayune, honing her skills as a poet. Shortly before the Civil War, at the age of 20, she accepted a job with the Daily Picayune newspaper in New Orleans as their literary editor - a bold move at the time for a young, single woman.
Eliza eventually married the publisher, who was 30 years her senior. When he passed away in 1876, leaving enormous debt and the business in bankruptcy, Eliza took the paper’s helm. She became the first woman newspaper publisher in the country.
Two years later, Eliza married the paper’s business manager, George Nicholson. The Picayune paper flourished in a large part because of Eliza’s innovations, like advice and society columns. The couple spent much time in their Waveland home (Nicholson Avenue is named for them, and a “Pearl Rivers” historical marker stands on Beach Boulevard where their house once did).
Much of Eliza’s early poetry was about the beauty of the natural landscape that surrounded her as a youth in Picayune. There’s no better place to get a sense of what she loved so well than Crosby Arboretum.
Crosby Arboretum370 Ridge Road
Picayune, MS 39466
Wed-Sun: 9 AM- 5 PM
Last admission is 4 PM
The arboretum proper consists of 104 acres of woodlands, ponds, bogs, savannahs – 64 acres of which are shot through with winding walking paths. The arboretum also manages an additional 700 acres. It’s all a microcosm of landscape types that used to be commonly found in the South.
The arboretum came into being when the family of local philanthropist L.O. Crosby, Jr. (1907 – 1978) established a foundation that transformed a strawberry farm into “an interpretive center for native plants of the Pearl River Drainage Basin.” The arboretum opened in 1986 and, in 1997 teamed up with Mississippi State University to “expand resources.”
We started our visit at the Visitor Center, a short, shaded walk from the parking lot. Inside, we found a charming gift shop, with everything from nature inspired jewelry to note cards. There’s a small gallery space too, where visitors can find rotating exhibits of nature photography and art.
Plan on lingering here for a while, just savoring the best of man meets nature. Standing on the edge of a large pond, the pavilion complements the landscape instead of dominating it – exactly as it should be in a perfect world.
Apparently, all the turtles and fish in the pond believe it’s a perfect world too: they surge to the surface in swarms to snap up the scatterings of feed you have cleverly brought along. But save a little food for other critters you’ll come across along the way.
Leaving the pavilion, meander along the paths – any one you choose is a good one. However, make sure at some point you make it to the Pitcher Plant bog (it’s on the map) and walk through at least one of the savannah areas. During most of the year, you’ll find several native plants blooming. We spotted some we’d never seen before. Arboretum director, Pat Drackett, says basically it’s a 20-acre butterfly garden.
“The meadow is truly working with what the land wants to be,” says Drackett. “It’s a mixture of all kinds of amazing, natural plants. The pitcher plants came from the [nearby] Walmart site.”
The fall is the perfect time to visit and stroll - there are fewer mosquitoes and milder temperatures encourage longer exploration times. Click here for a list of bloom times at the Arboretum.
Throughout the year, Crosby Arboretum offers fun educational events, like smart phone photography classes, Bugfest and gallery openings (look for them on Facebook or click here for their events calendar).
And don’t miss the annual October native plant sale on Saturday and Sunday, October 21 and 22. You’ll be able to pick up plants, shrubs and trees, all native to the South Mississippi area – like Possumhaw Holly, Sweetspire and Two-wing Silverbell. You can preorder plants by phone until October 7th, picking them up the weekend of the sale. See the Arboretum’s Facebook page for complete details and a list of available plants.
Two Sisters Creole Kitchen
119 US-11, Picayune
All the walking through the woods is bound to work up an appetite, so head on into the historic downtown and make a beeline for Two Sisters Creole Kitchen. In 2017, they’re celebrating twenty years in business – for good reason: it’s a hand’s down local favorite. And they recently were named as one of “10 Unsuspecting Restaurants in Mississippi With Food So Good, It Should Be Illegal.”
Check your calorie counter at the door. Besides, don’t you deserve to splurge after that rigorous workout at the arboretum? Our group started off with the fried green tomatoes and worked our way through red beans with a grilled pork chop (also available with half dozen fried oysters - $8.50). Other side offerings are grilled catfish, fried catfish, chicken or pork chop and smoked or hot sausage).
More delights we sampled were the grilled shrimp salad, a fried eggplant wrap and the crab cake Stella. The Stella sauce is a rich, flavorful sauce made with crabmeat and crawfish – a house specialty. You can also get it over shrimp or catfish.
The menu is busting with gumbos, po-boys, seafood platters and pastas. If you manage to resist and want to eat “healthy,” don’t despair. There are stir-fry options and “Sugar Blasters” plates.
The prices will make the most miserly of friends walk away grinning. The hardest thing about eating at Two Sisters? Saving room for the homemade pecan pies and cobblers.
The Teddy Bear House Museum
This writer and her friend, although they both had adored stuffed Teddy bears as little girls, entered the museum carrying that same skepticism. We ended up alternately gaping, laughing, and oohing/ahhing our way through and left planning our next trip back.
There are several Teddy bear museums in the world, but this is the only one in Mississippi – the place that might actually lay claim to the birthplace of Teddy bears.
If you’ve ever driven up through the Mississippi Delta on Highway 61, north of Vicksburg is a general store and gas station that comprises the town of Onward. Its single claim to fame is that President Teddy Roosevelt came to hunt bears there in 1902. Unfortunately, bears were hard to come by then. After three days, it looked as if the president wasn’t going to bag one.
Some enterprising (and heartless) locals tracked one down with a pack of dogs, and dragged the wounded beast back to Onward. They tied the poor creature to a tree and brought out the president so he could shoot it. Teddy Roosevelt, horrified, stoutly refused and ordered the suffering bear to be put out of its misery.
The incident made national headlines, with Roosevelt praised for his good sportsmanship and honesty. Soon stuffed bears were being marketed as Teddy Bears. The trend's lasted for many generations. One German company named Steiff has been making Teddy Bears for more than 130 years and the brand has become extremely collectible.
There’s no way to prepare yourself for the impact of seeing 17,000 bears. Our very knowledgeable guide, Brenda, started us off in the Teddy Roosevelt room, absolutely stuffed (no pun intended) with cartoons, stories, statuettes, and a vast array of historical items that reference Roosevelt and the Onward incident. It’s hard to leave the room, because you know you’ve missed a lot, no matter how long you stayed.
The rest of the 12,000-square-foot museum is set up in a traditional home format. There’s the bear living room, the bear dining room, the bear kitchen, bear bedrooms (if Goldilocks is there somewhere, we missed her). Even a bathroom has been bear-ized.
One entire room is devoted to Steiff collectibles – both contemporary and antique. There are vignettes, created with 550 animated bear figures (including a whole circus!!!). Bears dance and swing and pop out of barrels. You’ll marvel over bear clocks, hats, mugs, chairs, carvings, toothbrushes, canes.
The entire project is the brainchild of Ricky Lenart, a New Orleans artist who, according the Bear Museum website, began the unintentional bear collection in the early 80s. Once he had been gifted with a few, friends began showering him with bears from all over the world. Eventually, the collection became intentional and massive.
Lenart and his partner purchased the commercial building in Picayune, remodeled and opened the museum two years ago. It’s become a star attraction in the town. The facility has a 1,200-square-foot “Bruin Hall” available for events, as well as a tea room that can host showers, receptions and reunions. The museum can even accommodate weddings.
Yes. One couple has been married on site, others are sure to follow.
Something tells us Pearl Rivers would be delighted.
October is a big month in Bearville. Here’s the details for upcoming happenings at the museum:
"The Haunting at The Teddy 'BOO' House Museum." Get Special Evening Tours for 2 Weekends Only on Friday/Saturday, October 21/22 & 28/29, 6-9 PM.
Tickets: Adult (13-up) Advance $10, At Door $12
Kids (3-12) Advance $$6, At Door $8
Call for Tickets (601)778-BEAR(2327)
The Teddy Bear House Museum's
2nd Annual Halloween Party & Costume Contest.
Sunday, Oct. 29th, 2-5PM. All Ages!
Tickets: Advance $12, at Door $15
While our day trip is a fun outing any time of year, Picayune has two festivals this fall. There’s the 10th annual Blues & Heritage Fest that takes place October 20 – 21 and the Picayune Fall Street Festival, November 4 – 5.