“Yes I know the blues had a baby, and they named the baby rock and roll.”
One of the defining experiences of the day was observing the marked shift in climate, geography, and culture with every mile that we drove further into the Southland. Our first stop today was at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Clarksdale is one of several places in the Mississippi Delta that lays claim to be the birthplace of the blues. Housed in the former rail station on the edge of downtown, the museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts and informative signage from some of the best known figures in blues including Robert Johnson, BB King, and, of course Clarksdale’s own son, Muddy Waters. One of our students was delighted to find the brick her family had bought several years ago to help support the museum! It was a great start to our day in the Delta.
From Clarksdale we drove through the heart of Mississippi farm country, and we were surprised at how similar the land looked to rural Indiana: flat; and expansive fields of green for as far as the eye can see, broken only by the occasional grove of trees, farm-house, or silo. Of course, the presence of rows of cotton plants, so pervasive in the Delta, reminded us of our location. Some of our students were also delighted to see kudzu for the first time and commented on the way it draped itself over trees and smothered structures giving the landscape a strange Dr. Seuss-like appearance. As we got further South, Spanish moss began to make an appearance for the first time.
When we arrived in Vicksburg, we ate lunch at a place with tons of local color, owned and operated by a Hoosier of all people. But with smothered catfish etouffee, rice, and greens as a menu staple – it was clear that we weren’t in the Midwest. Some friendly locals were happy to give us all kinds of advice on what to see and where to go on our brief visit. We walked over to a small antique store (where one of our students got to ride a tractor) and then to the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Museum where a wonderful docent prepared us for our visit to the Vicksburg Military Park. The museum had an amazing diorama of the battlefield as well as model train and ship exhibits. We saw an incredibly detailed minature of the ironclad warship, the USS Cairo, which was recovered from the bottom of the Mississippi River in 1956 after being underwater for almost 100 years.
It was a hot and muggy afternoon, perfect for touring the battle field and getting some small sense of the conditions under which the soldiers labored and fought. The real USS Cairo is on display at the park and has been partially restored to its wartime condition. The size and complexity of the ship, which was powered by a steam powered paddle wheel was most impressive.
From there it was on to the battlefield, which spanned nine miles, encompassing Vicksburg. It is heavily memorialized, as so many Civil War battlefields are. We saw many monuments to various Indiana regiments; however, the Illinois memorial was by far the most splendid and captivating in its Classical style and the sweeping vistas it offered of the battlefield.
Our last leg of the journey was to Natchez, through some cooling rains. In fact, when we arrived at our hotel for the night, perched high atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, it was surprising comfortable for a June afternoon. And certainly the view was spectacular!
One of our students celebrated her 16th birthday in style as we watched the sun set over the river and enjoyed a nice dinner in our hotel restaurant.