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Archive for October, 2014

 Sale of the McGehee Estate

“To love a place from a distance is to embellish it with memory, desire, and myth. Why Don’t You Come Home is a fantasy, a lyric, and a document of one of several returns to the place where I grew up. It is part of an ongoing exploration of a South that is both familiar and strange, both real and imagined.”
—Missy Evans, a native of Mississippi who now lives in Oregon,
quoted in OxFord American Magazine
and sent to me by Pat Scavo on 9/24/14

On September 24 my longtime friend and McGehee High School classmate from the Class of 1956 sent me an advertisement of the auction sale of the mansion, furnishing, and vehicles of the McGehee Estate, the home of the McGehee family for whom the town was named. Here is what Patsy Mc had to say about what the realtor’s ad called “a true Southern plantation mansion”:

The McGehee Estate, "a true Southern plantation mansion"

The McGehee Estate, “a true Southern plantation mansion” (to magnify, click on the photo)

“This ad was listed in our local Hot Springs newspaper today and I thought you all would be interested. The house was described in the paper as having a staircase similar to the one in ‘Gone With the Wind’ and being complete with a white-columned porch. The estate’s furniture and cars also will be auctioned on September 27.”

Following is a realtor’s description of the items for sale:

Formally known as the “McGehee Estate” named after Abner McGehee SR. founder of the town of McGehee Arkansas. Upon entering foyer area, your eyes will be focused on the Spiral Staircase that compares to the one in “Gone with the Wind.” It is constructed of beautiful hardwoods and custom railing. A Crystal Chandelier hanging from the second floor ceiling in the foyer to be offered separately from the home. The master suite has walk-in cedar lined closets and a huge walk in marble shower. Out front are 6 beautiful white columns soaring 24 feet to the ceiling of the 60 feet wide front porch. The front lawn has the appearance of a park with huge Pine, Oak and Pecan trees plus a creek running along the width of the lawn. This property’s beautiful corner lot fronts Crooked Bayou and D Street. Split level central heat and air system and is on City Water and Sewer. As true with many older homes, there are some updating needed here and there.  We will also be selling all furnishings and collectibles including a Robert W. Erwin Bedroom Suite which the Dodds family traveled to Fort Worth in 1960 and purchased for $6,000.

The McGehee Estate circular staircase

The McGehee Estate circular staircase (to magnify, click on the photo)

This sale is a historic event since it marks the first time in its long history that the mansion will not be owned by the family of the founders of the city of McGehee. There was no mention of the ownership of the land and other tangible assets of the estate.

For more photos of the house, furnishings, and vehicles, click here and wait a few seconds. For more about the McGehee Estate and its importance in the founding of the city of McGehee, click here.

 Photo/article about a McGehee Alligator

“Alligators, like snowfall, are just rare enough in Southeast Arkansas
to cause a stir among the locals.”
—Jimmy Peacock

On the subject of our hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, it has been noted that McGehee is the only city in the country to have a swamp (actually a small cypress slough) as its city park. On September 24, 2014, the McGehee Times published a photo/article about the appearance of a young alligator in the pond of that park.

The Wiley McGehee city park in McGehee, Arkansas, from the cover of an Arkansas road map

The Wiley McGehee City Park pond in McGehee, Arkansas, from the front cover of an Arkansas road map (to magnify, click on the photo)

A young alligator in the McGehee city park pond

A young alligator in the McGehee city park pond (to magnify, click on the photo)

Officials from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spent Thursday afternoon searching Wiley McGehee Pond’s newest resident.

Local police contacted the AGFC after an alligator was sighted several times recently. Mark Barbee, the AGFC’s nuisance alligator coordinator for the area and AGFC biologist David Luker said they followed the young gator in a boat for several hours before he disappeared into the high grass area at the north end of the pond.

Barbee said the risk of human interaction at the park led officials to determine the alligator should be relocated to a less populated area. Barbee said the gator is young and an estimated four feet in length.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the gator had not been caught but AGFC officials say they will continue relocation attempts.

As an update, the Wednesday, October 8, issue of the McGehee Times reported that the gator had been caught and relocated “to an unnamed Wildlife Management Area.”

Police chief holding the McGehee gator

McGehee police officer Darren McAdoo holding the McGehee alligator later relocated

Hunted to near extinction decades ago, alligators have made a tremendous recovery since they were reintroduced from Louisiana a few years ago. Their increasing numbers and activities are evident in the establishment of the position of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s “nuisance alligator coordinator.”

In my files from the McGehee Times and other Arkansas newspapers I have several photos/articles of alligators in Arkansas (including a huge one discovered in the middle of U.S. Highway 65 around McGehee). These I have collected and kept as evidence to those who question or even dispute the presence of alligators in the state.

Mari’s Brown Cotton Plant

“Gonna jump down, turn aroun’ an’ pick a bale ‘a cotton,
Gonna jump down, turn aroun’ an’ pick a bale a day.”
—Lead Belly, old-time Blues music composer and singer
(To view a brief video of Lead Belly performing this Blues song
sent to me by Pat Scavo on 9/30/14, click here.)
To read a bio of Lead Belly from his induction
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, click here.)

Whenever cotton is mentioned one almost automatically thinks of Scarlett O’Hara and other Southern Belles. (See the opening quote of the next section about “Designing Women.”)

Here is a photo of a group of such Southern Belles, Mari’s high school Clique about whom I have written several times on my blog. (See, for example, the post titled “My Annual Tributes to the Clique.”)

A portion of Mari's high school Clique of Southern Belles with Mari on the right in the long white dress with the flower on the front

A portion of Mari’s high school Clique of Southern Belles; Mari is the curly-haired blonde on the right wearing a long white dress with a flower on the front (to magnify, click on the photo)

Since Mari is also from McGehee, and since she misses the Arkansas Delta and the now virtually defunct Southern Cotton Kingdom as much as I do, several years ago she began growing a couple of cotton plants to show the bolls to her Okie pupils who had never seen raw cotton.

Later she learned about brown cotton and began to grow it to show to people in general who have never seen it or even heard of it.

This year Mari’s brown cotton plant is currently in bloom (see photos). Soon those blooms will be replaced by cotton bolls which will later open to display and give access to the actual cotton fiber within them.

That’s when Mari will “jump down, turn aroun’ an’ pick a [bit] a cotton.”

Mari's first brown cotton blossom of 2014

Mari’s first brown cotton blossom of 2014 (to magnify, click on the photo)

Mari's brown cotton plant in bloom in our back yard

Mari’s brown cotton plant in bloom in our back yard (to magnify, click on the photo)

Mari's brown cotton plant in bloom in our back yard

Mari’s brown cotton plant in bloom in our back yard (to magnify and see the brown cotton boll open, click on the photo)

Marion's last year's crop of brown cotton

Mari’s last year’s crop of brown cotton (to magnify, click on the photo)

(To view an interesting four-minute YouTube video of an old black man telling and showing how to pick cotton, click here. Warning: Disregard the comments about the video which contain racist terms and messages!)

 Salute to Late “Designing Women”

“The Old South will never die, not as long as there are darling debutantes, doting docents, indomitable dowagers, and other groups of proud Southern women like the Junior League, the Ya Ya Sisterhood, The Sweet Potato Queens, the Steel Magnolias, [Designing Women]—and the Maggie [McGehee] Clique!”
—Quote by Jimmy Peacock in letter to
Charles Allbright dated June 10, 2002

Speaking of Southern Belles, here is a salute to the “Designing Women,” especially the late Dixie Carter and Jan Hooks. First, here is Dixie delivering five of Julia Sugarbaker’s best rants from that TV show. They were sent to Mari and me by our longtime friend and Southern Belle Pat Scavo.

Cast of "Designing Women" during their first five seasons

The cast of “Designing Women” in Season 1–5 (1986–91): Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Alice Ghostley, Jean Smart, Annie Potts, and Meshach Taylor (to magnify, click on the photo)

Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker on "Designing Women"

The late Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker on “Designing Women”

Dixie Carter was our favorite character on “Designing Women.” In fact, once when she visited Tulsa I thought about driving over to the studio where she was taking questions from the audience to tell her that it was her performances on reruns of that show that got me through a bout with lymphoma back in 1991-92.

These bits by Dixie are jewels. We miss her and her indomitable spirit greatly. Just as we miss the Southern homeland and lifestyle she represented so well.

After I had made up this post I read in the Tulsa World the news about the death of another member of the “Designing Women” cast, Jan Hooks. Jan was also a favorite of ours whose career we had followed since she first appeared on the Bill Tush Show on an Atlanta cable station. In that show she often played a televangelist who berated her viewers for not sending in enough donations to fill up the “inspirational font” (a fish bowl set on top of a piano) or pay for the “inspirational Cadillac de Ville” or the “inspirational Winnebago.” Our older son Sean sent her some old copies of Confederate money. Jan wrote him back and thanked him for his “worthless donation.”

Jan Hooks

Jan Hooks

From that show Jan graduated to “Saturday Night Live” and then on to “Designing Women” in its latter years. To read her obituary that appeared in the Tulsa World on October 11, 2014, click here. For more about Jan with videos of some of her best performances as presented on the Huffington Post Web site, click here and then scroll down. To view other videos of Jan hook’s funniest bits, especially as Brenda the waitress and the tour guide at the Alamo from the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, click on the titles.

Incidentally, one of her funniest bit was a skit in which she played Brenda singing “Is There Life after Elvis? . . . I Hope So.” I could not find a video of it, so if you do, please let me know.

Sources

Information and photos about the McGehee Estate were taken from:

http://www.fowlerauctioneers.com/auction/236940/dodds-estate-absolute-auction-real-estate-and-personal-property/#detail-tabs-morephotos

http://www.auctionzip.com/cgi-bin/photopanel.cgi?listingid=2205967&category=0&zip=&kwd=

http://www.auctionzip.com/Listings/2205967.html

The link to the entry on the city of McGehee was taken from:
http://www.arkansas.com/places-to-go/cities-and-towns/city-detail.aspx?city=McGehee

The articles and photos of the alligator in the McGehee city park pond were taken from:
http://themcgeheetimes.com/edition/

The link to my post titled “My Annual Tributes to the Clique” was taken from:
https://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/my-annual-tributes-to-the-clique/

The link to the YouTube video of the old black man telling and showing how to pick cotton was taken from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IW4dBODmN9o

The links and photos about “Designing Women,” Delta Burke, and Julia Sugarbaker were taken from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Designing_Women
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie_Carter
http://jiveturkey.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/julia.jpg
http://www.newnownext.com/happy-28th-anniversary-designing-women-julia-sugarbakers-5-best-rants/09/2014/

The photo of Jan Hooks was taken from:
www.behindthevoiceactors.com/Jan-Hooks/

The October 11, 2014, Tulsa World obituary of Jan Hooks was taken from the online edition at: http://www.tulsaworld.com/scene/tv/former-snl-cast-member-jan-hooks-dies-at-age/article_bc4479ab-05f4-5fba-b8ad-9cbaf74171ab.html

The Huffington Post Web site obituary of Jan Hooks was taken from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/09/jan-hooks-dead-dies_n_5961882.html?flv=1

The video of Jan Hooks as Brenda the waitress was taken from:
http://www.purpleclover.com/entertainment/3264-snl-30-rock-jan-hooks-10-funniest-moments/item/6-brenda-waitress-snl/

The video of Jan Hooks as the Alamo tour guide from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure was taken from:
http://www.purpleclover.com/entertainment/3264-snl-30-rock-jan-hooks-10-funniest-moments/item/2-alamo-tour-guide-pee-wees-big-adventure/

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A river [or a land] doesn’t bestow enlightenment in and of itself—but it can provide clarity and insight for someone who was ready to observe and listen to it.”
—Bob Krist

In my previous three posts, titled “Arkansas Delta Plantations and Other Post-Mortem Tidbits, Parts I-III,” I examined several subjects relating to the Delta and its surrounding areas which have had such a powerful and enduring influence on my entire life.

Thinking I had exhausted my material on those subjects, I had planned to publish a different post at this time. However, since then I have received several additional “tidbits” which I feel compelled to share with you all, my readers.

As indicated by the title of this post, these “tidbits” relate to: An update on the Taylor House at the Hollywood Plantation, Joe Dempsey’s fifteen Delta photos, and the upcoming publication of a book about a voyage of discovery down the Mississippi River.

The next post will be about the auction and sale of the McGehee Estate mansion and its furnishings and vehicles, the appearance of a young alligator in McGehee’s city park pond, the blooming of my wife’s brown cotton plant, and a marvelous video of five of Julia Sugarbaker’s most delightful and amusing rants from the popular television show of the past “Designing Women.”

These two new posts may be some of the longest I have published, but I wanted to do justice to these interesting, informative, intriguing, and inspiring updates and reminiscences. I hope you share my interest in them and my enthusiasm for them.

 Taylor Prewitt’s Update on the Taylor House
at Hollywood Plantation

“Why would anyone with a big plantation and house in Kentucky
want to do all this amid the mosquitoes etc.?”
—Taylor Prewitt, describing the Southeast
Arkansas Hollywood Plantation
in an email to Jimmy Peacock on 9/27/14

Taylor Prewitt, a physician who now lives in Fort Smith but whose family has been engaged in large-scale farming in Southeast Arkansas for generations, sent me the following email account of his recent visit to the Taylor House on the Hollywood Plantation near Winchester, Arkansas, a site which I have featured several times on my blog.

Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation

Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation

I have presented Taylor’s message below just as he sent it with the photos of the house, bayou, cemetery, and fields that accompanied the email report.

“While on a run to look at the farm yesterday I ran by the old Taylor House on the Hollywood  Plantation east of Winchester—built before 1846, up to 11,000 acres, had a basement/cellar (!). Literally under wraps. Bayou bed below house was dry! Don’t understand that. Must have been a tributary of Bayou Bartholomew, which had plenty of water in it as we crossed the bridge. [See my earlier post titled “Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews.”] They were burning the harvested fields nearby.

Dry tributary of Bayou Bartholomew behind Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation

Dry tributary behind the Taylor House

View of barren fields at Hollywood Plantation

View of burning fields at Hollywood Plantation

“Max Hill was operating the Hollywood Plantation at Winchester when I was a boy. Don’t know what’s happened to it in terms of ownership and management.

“The Arkansas Historical Preservation Program Web site says about the Taylor home on the plantation:

 . . . the last known example in Arkansas’s lower Delta region of an intact two-story log dog-trot residence, its alterations notwithstanding. Its square-notched, cypress log construction is intact throughout and the open breezeway on the first floor remains open.

Close-up view of Taylor House

Close-up view of construction of Taylor House

Interior of Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation

View of the dog trot breezeway at the Taylor House

John Martin Taylor was born in Winchester, Kentucky on July 23, 1819. Apparently his family was fairly well-to-do, as by the time of his marriage in 1843 to Mary Elizabeth Robertson (the daughter of Martha Goodloe Robertson Arnold, a family relative by marriage) he was a practicing medical physician with large land holdings and a great number of slaves. He and his new bride began enlarging their agricultural land holdings in both his native Kentucky and Arkansas, and soon established homes in both places. He built a palatial mansion near the banks of the Kentucky River in Westport, Oldham County, Kentucky, that he named Mauvilla.

Family tombstone at Taylor House cemetery

Family tombstone at Taylor House

Henceforth the Taylor Log House served as the headquarters for a large plantation complex that raised cotton with the help of a large slave labor force until the onset of the Civil War. After the cessation of hostilities Dr. Taylor attempted to continue his farming operation with free labor until his death, though with mixed results and at great personal cost. After his death in 1884 his children continued to run the farm, even regaining a good deal of the land lost immediately after the war and expanding the Taylor farm to as much as 11,000 acres. The Taylor farm operated in various forms through the first half of the twentieth century.

Burned fields at Hollywood Plantation

View of burned fields at Hollywood Plantation

Joe Dempsey’s Fifteen Photos of the Delta

“Driving through the Delta is like bank fishing on the river: you never know what you are going to catch (and or see).”
—Joe Dempsey

In his “Daily Grist for the Eyes and Mind” on October 5, my longtime friend and Ouachita Baptist College classmate Joe Dempsey published a post titled “A Delta Sampler.” In that post he featured fifteen recent photos of the Arkansas Delta.

An Arkansas Delta cotton field ready to be picked.

This cotton near the junction of Highways 1 and 318 northeast of St. Charles appears ready to pick.

These photos pictured huge trucks waiting at grain elevators, fields being burned off in preparation for a new planting season, flocks of white egrets in a recently harvested cornfield, two abandoned and rusted vintage vehicles from the 1930s and 50s, a cotton field (above) “white unto harvest,” a sample of Delta “buckshot” soil, a leaky water faucet, another abandoned Delta farmhouse, a cotton gin (below), as well as a derelict small-town cityscape from days gone by.

An Arkansas Delta cotton gin

Here’s a close look at a Delta cotton gin. Farmers would bring picked cotton to the gin in a trailer like you see in the picture. A gin worker would climb in the trailer and maneuver a large metal vacuum tube descending from the overhang through the cotton to suck the crop into the gin.

These two photos feature Joe’s own captions. To view the rest of the fifteen photos and Joe’s commentary on them, go to http://weeklygrist.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/a-delta-sampler/.

Believe me, the view of the “dying Delta” is worth it!

 Announcement of Book on Mississippi River
Voyage by Gayle Harper

“ . . . an epic river voyage teaches the traveler as much or more about himself than about the topography and geography of the waterway itself. It’s an exterior trip that prompts an interior journey.”
—Bob Krist

“Muddy Mississippi River water leaves a stain on the soul that is impossible to get out—assuming any fool would try!”
—Jimmy Peacock

In an earlier blog post published on October 15, 2013 and titled “A Few of My Favorite Things I: McGehee, Mississippi River, the Delta/Cotton” I included a section about a voyage down the Mississippi River made and recorded by Gayle Harper. (To read that post, click on the title.)

To view a Web site of Gayle’s trip down the Mississippi River from its source to the Gulf of Mexico, especially the posts on Arkansas City and Lake Village, Arkansas, click here and then click here.

Seal of Desha County, Arkansas, with the county courthouse at Arkansas City and steamboats on the Mississippi River

Seal of Desha County, Arkansas, with the county courthouse in Arkansas City and steamboats on the Mississippi River (to magnify, click on the photo)

In an email announcement titled “Off to the Printers” dated 9/27/14, Gayle sent me the following announcement of the upcoming publication of her book about her voyage of discovery.

 “Hello, my friends! HOORAY!

Roadtrip with a Raindrop:
90 Days Along the Mississippi River 

has been sent to the printers!

“Thanks to an amazing team of talented folks, this baby has been kissed and bundled off! And…it will be beautiful! I revealed the cover in the last update, but in case you missed it, here it is.

Photo cover of Roadtrip with a Raindrop

Cover photo of Roadtrip with a Raindrop by Gayle Harper (to magnify, click on the photo)

“Every detail is the best possible quality and has been given the greatest possible care and attention. There is even a satin ribbon placeholder! Inside, are 55 short stories, each with its photographs that give you your own experience of this magical adventure. As we discover America’s greatest River and meet her colorful people, we keep pace with a raindrop called ‘Serendipity’ on its 90-day, 2,400 mile journey from the headwaters to the Gulf.

“I want to share something very special with you. Bob Krist is a world-renowned photographer who has been shooting for National Geographic Traveler for more than 25 years. He has been honored in many ways, including being named three times as ‘Travel Photographer of the Year.’ I have admired him and his work for many years.

“Some years ago, when I was fortunate to be in one of his workshops at the Maine Photographic Workshops, he encouraged me to find a personal project that touched my heart and to make time in my schedule for it. That is what opened me up to receive this Mississippi River project when it appeared. So, I have always known that I would ask him to write the Foreword for this book – and I was thrilled and honored when he agreed to do so. When I received it, I could only cry. Here it is.”

Foreword

As literature and myth illustrate time and time again, a river journey can be a life-altering experience.

Whether it’s the young Buddha in Siddhartha, Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, or Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an epic river voyage teaches the traveler as much or more about himself than about the topography and geography of the waterway itself. It’s an exterior trip that prompts an interior journey.

Fortunately for us, Gayle Harper’s book, Roadtrip with a Raindrop, is both. While her encounters with the beauty of the Mississippi and the wide array of humanity who make their home along the river—barge captains, blues musicians, artists, hunters, historical reenactors and even a jolly nun—obviously move her in a profound way, she never fails to take us along to share her experience.

Like Vasudeva, the ferryman who helps Siddhartha find enlightenment in the rhythms of the mythic river, Harper acts as our ferryman, documenting the beauty of this mother of all North American rivers and its people in stunning photography and rich prose, while she herself undergoes the profound changes that occur when an artist meets her project of a lifetime.

The result is a beautiful, warm and intimate portrait, as stunning to look at as it is to read, that makes us appreciate all that the Mississippi River has meant and continues to mean to America. In these pages, we feel the river’s pulse, we come to know and appreciate its people, and in doing so, we learn more about ourselves.

A river doesn’t bestow enlightenment in and of itself—but it can provide clarity and insight for someone who was ready to observe and listen to it. Fortunately for us, Gayle Harper was prepared not only to learn and be moved herself, but she has the vision and the craft to make it as vivid an experience for us as it was for her.
—Bob Krist

“Thank you, my friends, for being an essential part of this adventure. I cannot wait to put Roadtrip With a Raindrop into your hands. I will be back in touch with details about exactly when and where they will be available, but I can tell you that we expect to have them by Thanksgiving!

“In the meantime, if we are not yet connected on Facebook, come on over to www.facebook.com/GayleHarper.MississippiRiver. There’s photos, fun, conversation and information. Or visit my blog at www.gayleharper.wordpress.com. I will be posting information about the publication of the book there as soon as it is available.

“See you soon!

“Love, Gayle”

Sources

The photos of the Hollywood Plantation were provided by Taylor Prewitt.

The link to my earlier post titled “Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews” were taken from: https://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/bayou-bartholomew-two-book-reviews/

The quote about the Hollywood Plantation from the Arkansas Historical Preservation Program Web site was taken from:
http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/_search_nomination_popup.aspx?id=1371

The link to my previous post titled “A Few of My Favorite Things I: McGehee, Mississippi River, the Delta/Cotton” was taken from:
https://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/a-few-of-my-favorite-things-i-mcgehee-mississippi-river-the-deltacotton/

The links to Joe Dempsey’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” titled “A Delta Sampler” from October 5, 2014, were taken from:

http://weeklygrist.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/a-delta-sampler/

http://weeklygrist.wordpress.com/

Information from Gayle Harper’s voyage down the Mississippi River  was taken from:

http://gayleharper.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/5-good-reasons-to-see-the-movie-mud-this-week/

http://gayleharper.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/faces-of-the-delta/

 

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