5 Days in Mississippi: Cousins Courting HistoryJune 10-14, 2013
When my sister Jeanne invited us to join her and five of her grandchildren on a history and letterboxing/geocaching expedition, she didn't have to ask twice. Of course, I was on board, but Ken needed to visit his mother in North Carolina. So off we went, sad to be headed in opposite directions yet again.
Ranging in age from four to twelve, the kids would spend their mornings in Vacation Bible School and their afternoons exploring with us. And let it be said, this was not your grandmother's VBS. Rock music blared, black "Turn It Up" t-shirts and baseball caps were distributed to all the kids, and class groups vied for the daily spirit award with competitive noisemaking pandemonium. Our postprandial activities would be calm in comparison.
|Forrest County Courthouse in Hattiesburg|
As the symbol and seat of local government, courthouses would be the focus of our touring with an introduction to letterboxing and geocaching thrown in to spice things up a bit. Monday afternoon found us invading the Forrest County Courthouse in Hattiesburg.
|Monday - downtown Hattiesburg|
After a brief visit to the courtroom, where probation revocation hearings were wrapping up for the day, we completed the Forrest County Courthouse tour and trekked over to the Hattiesburg Cultural Center nearby to search for a letterbox. Here the kids learned one of the basic lessons of this hobby—sometimes the box has gone missing. Retracing our steps toward the courthouse on the way to Veterans Memorial Park, we passed the office of U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo, who represents Mississippi's 4th Congressional District. Upon entering, we learned that Representative Palazzo was in Washington that day, but his Hattiesburg office staff was very congenial, and we jumped on their suggestion for a group photo in the office. These young constituents were especially impressed with the congressman's gold-embossed business cards that the staff distributed.
|Young constituents of Rep. Palazzo|
At Veterans Memorial Park, the search began for the kids' first geocache. The hint for the cache suggested it was on or near a place to sit, but the park was equipped with two dozen or so benches, and with the temperature at 95°, discouragement was an easy option. In what would become a pattern, Carson (age 10) persevered in the quest until he tracked down the treasure, a tiny magnetic box hidden on the underside of a bench.
Drenched in perspiration, we were all thrilled to return to the oasis of the air-conditioned car, but the best relief for the kids came after we returned to the Hudson home for the day. A long playtime in the pool became a late afternoon routine. They invented clever games to keep them splashing and frolicking until dinner time. Not only was it fun, pool time absolved the kids from the requirement for a daily bath. What could be better?
|The cousins: Carson, Alex, Andrew, Avery and Lizzie, plus neighbor Hayden|
|Lamar County Courthouse|
Though a new Lamar County Courthouse opened next door in 2009, finishing touches were underway in a massive renovation of the 1905 building, which will again house some county courts and offices. We were invited to see the new state of the art courtroom with video panels for each juror and noted that the restoration included the return of the dome and clock atop the structure.
|At the Purvis Library|
While at the library, we also left a letterbox that we had created to plant in Purvis. The clue relates the tragedy of the 1908 tornado, and we had decided to name the box A Twist of Fate in Purvis. As we explored the area for a good hiding place, Avery mentioned that the bust of Mr. Purves was hollow and asked if the box could be hidden inside it. After obtaining permission from the librarian, we did just that, and Andrew received high-fives all around when he suggested we change the name of the box to A Twist of Fate in Purves. Brilliant!
One more geocache, found again by Carson the 'geomaster,' slowed down our departure from Purvis only briefly. After all, the pool awaited, offering refreshing relief from the relentless heat and humidity.
On Wednesday and Thursday, we visited the courthouses of Jones County, named for Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones. Like 33 other counties in the U.S., Jones County has two county seats, Ellisville and Laurel. This practice dates back to the time when cross-county travel was difficult and persists because county seats are a source of pride and jobs.
Back when the county was still divided into two judicial districts at the beginning of the last century, Jones County constructed twin courthouses in the Classical Revival architectural style. Laurel's courthouse was completed in 1907, and the doors of its Ellisville twin opened in 1908, leaving no opportunity for conflict over which city had a finer building.
|The Jones Twins - Ellisville (L) and Laurel (R)|
|Judge Carson on the bench|
|There must be a quill pen in here somewhere.|
|This time Avery was the lucky finder.|
With the lowest slave population in the state in 1861, Jones County was inhabited by yeoman farmers and cattle herders, who were opposed to secession for the purpose of defending the institution of slavery. Jones Countians insisted that they had no interest in fighting a war on behalf of wealthy planters who would be exempt from conscription by means of their slaveholding—a rich man's war and a poor man's fight, they called it. So determined were they to remain out of the Confederacy, some locals attempted to secede from the state of Mississippi and form the "Free State of Jones." In the end, the county did send native sons to the war but it was also known as a haven for Confederate deserters.
|Jones County Confederate Memorials in Ellisville (L) and Laurel (R)|
|Alex looks confident as we prowl around searching for the trap door.|
While at the depot, we took the opportunity to plant another letterbox we had prepared with a stamp of a train. Our box naming brainstorm session produced Down by the Station for its title, and Avery, who had suggested the name, sang the eponymous song for us.
By this time, the Amtrak Crescent train was approaching Laurel for the daily stop on its southern run. The Crescent provides daily service between New York and New Orleans. Of course, we decided to brave the sweltering heat and wait to see the train come in.
|Riding the Amtrak Crescent|
|Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby|
After a couple of hours at the museum, we found one last letterbox nearby before returning to the Hudson house to pack up Andrew, Carson and Lizzie for home, but not before we celebrated Lizzie's upcoming fifth birthday and posed for one last group shot.
|The end of the trail|