Growing Up Downtown - February 2016
Chasing Tarzan at the St. Augustine Seminary
In this latest edition of Pat Murphy's book-in-progress, readers round up with Pat and the neighborhood boys to explore the wilds of the Seminary grounds, hunting for adventure and Tarzan.
Much of this huge parcel of real estate was largely undeveloped. One thing that I have stumbled upon in my research is that in 1953 and 1954, when the highway was rerouted to the new concrete Bay bridge, the State of Mississippi obtained the highway land through eminent domain from the seminary. This property encompasses all of the land that holds the highway and service roads between Dunbar Avenue all the way to Second Street. The state took all of this land for the sum of $25,000.00!
I don’t know how it came about, but the seminary became a refuge for the crew of kids that I ran around with in my youth. My best friend, Billy Shumski, lived on Carroll Avenue and his mother’s property ran all the way back to Ulman Avenue, about a half block away from the main entrance to the seminary. This, I suppose, is how we began to hang out at the seminary. The priests and brothers always seemed to enjoy having us hang around and they were our friends. They never seemed to tire of having us around.
Our crew loosely consisted of myself, The Shumski brothers, Billy and his older brother, Butch (now Dr.Edward), The Gavagnie brothers, Donald and older brother Bobbie, the Pursley brothers, Johnny and Pauley, Ronnie Genin and sometimes Ree Elliott. We used to assemble at the Shumski home about 8:30 on Saturday morning with backpacks, bag lunches and all our gear and head out for a day of adventure.
Click on the images below for captions and to enlarge!
The Shumski and Gavagnie brothers were avid snake enthusiasts and as a result much of our time was spent dealing with and chasing snakes, both poisonous and non-poisonous. We would catch them, catalog them, cage them, feed them and eventually release them. There was an abundance of wildlife that thrived within the seminary property.
There were two large clay mine pits where clay fill-dirt had been mined for the “new” section of highway 90 when it was constructed. The pits had filled with water and were home to fish, turtles, snakes and even a few alligators. Pine saplings had grown on the sloped sides of the larger pit.
Over on the Ulman Avenue side, there were three or four large growths of clumping oldhami giant timber bamboo. We loved playing and climbing up in these growths of bamboo. This was all happening during the late 1950s and early 1960s, so tales of the Vietnam War were starting to drift into our lives. Much of the seminary grounds were very much like we imagined the jungles of Vietnam to be, and of course we all loved Tarzan movies and the “Ramar of The Jungle” TV shows. We’d go on safari every Saturday!
Since the seminary was self-sufficient, the brothers grew much of what they ate. This included a diet of primarily pork that they raised and butchered themselves. They had a huge hog pen where they raised and fattened up the pigs. Some of those hogs were huge, weighing in at four or five hundred pounds. We used to hang around back by the hog pens and chase the piglets and jump on the big old sows’ backs and ride them like bucking broncos. I don’t ever remember getting in trouble for doing this, but I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to be doing it!
Brother Lawrence Morton, SVD, another of our kind benefactors at Saint Augustine. (Courtesy Robert M. Myers Archives Society of the Divine Word)