Vicksburg is a fun place, even if it makes you scratch your head
by Paul Gerald
Vicksburg, Mississippi, is an entertaining but sort of weird place.
I mean, it's perfectly nice, but it's such a slice of the Old
South. It even calls itself The Red Carpet City of the South,
where Southern hospitality awaits you. Essentially, Vicksburg's
fame and charm are both based on its past, for good or ill and
Vicksburg refuses to let its past leave it, just like it refused
to let the Mississippi River leave it.
You have to admire Vicksburg for sticking it out, and you should
go visit it for a day or two to enjoy its pleasures. You should
also take the Great River Road, which I wrote about last time
and which in that part of the world is U.S. 61. If you do, Vicksburg's
weirdness will hit you before you even get into town.
When you first see Margaret's Grocery, Market, and Bible Class,
where a sign says All is welcome Jews and Gentiles, you'll
think you've stumbled upon the world's largest Lego building.
Most of Margaret's outlying decorations are in fact red and white
cinder blocks stacked one row wide and impossibly high. Unfortunately,
we were there on a Sunday, so I can't speak for what's inside.
There was a trailer nearby filled with folks impeccably dressed
for Sunday, though.
Central Vicksburg is like a sea of old bed-and-breakfast homes
with a couple of big casino-islands in the middle of it. It seems
like every house in town that's more than 80 years old and there
are a lot of them is a B&B. Many of them are opened up during
the city's two big pilgrimages in March and October, during
which time people dress up in period garb and dance and frolic
from one historic-home tour to the next.
We took a tour of one home, Stained Glass Manor, home of the
greatest of the Vicks the Vicks being a local family which,
as you might imagine, was pretty influential around Vicksburg.
It was a beautiful house filled with more stained-glass windows
than your typical Catholic church. Some of them were done by Mr.
Tiffany himself, and apparently Frank Lloyd Wright was an intern
on the project, until he got chased out of town for chasing the
town's ladies too vigorously.
The guy who gave us this tour made reference to a view of the
South I had forgotten about. He was telling us that an old Greek
Revival plantation home in nearby Port Gibson called Windsor,
whose ruins (just the columns) are still there, was in its time
the great home of the South. Said he, North Carolina had the
Biltmore Estate, Virginia had Monticello, and the South had Windsor.
I'm going to call my friends in Virginia and North Carolina and
break the news to them that they don't live in the South.
Did you know that Coca-Cola was first bottled in Vicksburg? Well,
it was, and you can still tour the place where it happened. A
local candy-maker wanted to sell Coke to outlying areas, so he
bottled some up, sent the first batch to the Coke people in Atlanta,
and soon became Coke's sole bottler and, one would assume, a
bazillionaire. Today his former shop is a museum of Coke memorabilia
with a 1900-vintage soda fountain, where they'll make you a fine
We needed that Coke float, because Vicksburg is in the middle
of the Tamale Belt. I don't know the history of Mississippi's
thing with tamales, but I do know two things: They're deep-fried,
and there was a guy in Vicksburg named Sully who made it to age
101 eating tamales all the way. His shop is still there, even
if Sully isn't, and after a half-dozen or so of Sully's tamales
bathed in chili, sugar and caffeine are called for if one is to
Without a doubt, the big deal in Vicksburg is to tour the Civil
War battlefield, where the Yankees besieged the town for 47 days
during the War Between the States or so our tour guide told
us. You can drive around the place totally free of charge, but
to have any idea of what you're looking at, hire one of the park's
guides to ride around with you (for $20 per car for two hours).
It sounds weird to have somebody sitting in your car with you,
and felt that way at first, but as soon as Betty started telling
us the significance of what the sites were, and telling us what
the siege was like, we even forgot how upset she was that that
lame Confederate general Johnston wouldn't leave Jackson to help
free Vicksburg. She told us all about how the Union troops had
to dig trenches to advance against the Confederates, how sometimes
those trenches were so close together that the soldiers would
chat among themselves in between bouts of shooting at each other,
and how Missourians from both sides met to exchange gifts and
pleasantries every night.
We also got to hear some more Vicksburg weirdness: In 1917, there
was a reunion of siege veterans, most of them in their 70s, which
erupted into what a local newspaper writer called The Walking-Stick
War. Betty also told us that because Vicksburg fell on July 4,
1863, the Fourth of July wasn't celebrated there until 1947. It
was finally reinstated when General Eisenhower visited to dedicate
the park, an event which was referred to locally as Vicksburg's
During the Civil War, one of the Union army's first ideas was
to make the Mississippi River bypass Vicksburg so their ships
could sail past its guns. They dug and dug, but the river didn't
move, until 1876 when it did so overnight, of its own volition.
But the Corps of Engineers there are still something like 3,500
engineers in town redirected the Yazoo River, so Vicksburg is
a waterfront town once again.
I can't say Vicksburg is the most exciting place on Earth, but
if you'd like to drive a few hours, take in some history, and
stay in an antebellum bed-and-breakfast, by all means fire up
that auto and head on down. n
For more information, call the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors
Bureau at 800-221-3536, or surf to www.vicksburg.org.