Myrtle - Holly Springs - Tunica September 24, 2009

We left Tupelo about 9:00 on a cloudy Thursday morning and headed up new Highway 78. The first thing that caught our attention was the sign for Myrtle. Myrtle, Mississippi is an enticing name, isn’t it?

Yes, it is.

Sadly though, it appears that Myrtle is another small town that seems to be fading away. And what a shame that any place with a Town Hall like this would fade away.

As you can see from the picture, Myrtle has a Town Hall tota
lly out of keeping with the town I’ve been describing here, and one has to wonder if it’s a remnant from Myrtle’s better days. It’s a beautiful old house.

The photo above is of a beautiful old house, but mostly we drove through Myrtle saying, “Now, with some work, that could be a beautiful house.” Over and over again we said this, and there’s something sad about that.

And, with a sigh, we were off to Ashland – a little out of the way, but worth a visit. It’s in the hill country, you know, and it actually has a mountain area look to it. The town of Ashland is really small, but it was a beautiful drive.


The photo above is of Snow Lake Shores, a real “Whaa? Stop the car!” place. We were just driving over a bridge when we looked to our right and saw the most beautiful lake. There are houses all around the lake. They look like the sort of houses that people built years ago when you could buy a piece of land, pick out a house plan, and build a house without having to consult a committee or get anything approved. In fact, that's just the way it came about. It was developed during the 50s.

The houses all back up to the lake, and have really deep back yards that slope down to the lake, where each house has its own small covered boat dock. It was so serene, so incredibly beautiful, so unexpected.

We got to Holly Springs around 10:45 and made (the HBCU) Rust College our first stop. It is really pretty. There are several buildings that appear to be quite old (and therefore, have personality), a few that appear to just be old (and therefore, run down and dirty), and some lovely new buildings. The main building (pictured above) – one that appears to be the centerpiece of campus – has a date of 1947 on it, I believe, although the school dates to 1866.
Across the street from Rust sits the remains of Mississippi Industrial College. This, too, was an African American school, but more trade school than university. It opened in 1902 to educate blacks and train them for a total of three occupations (in case something happened to the first, or second, career choice). MIC closed in 1982, leaving five beautiful old buildings behind. Recently, someone has gotten the buildings onto the National Register of Historic Places, but the action seems to have stopped there. One building has collapsed, the rest are on their way; it’s a shame as they are gorgeous and a real loss.
Holly Springs has a nice town square. We weren’t there to see the town square though. Marian and I went to Holly Springs to see Graceland Too, something we assumed folks in Holly Springs wished would just go away. It is home to Paul McLeod and his son, Elvis Aaron Presley McLeod, who are devoting their lives to keeping Elvis’s memory alive. (And, goodness, don’t they have a lot of help there?)

All the rest of the Elvis impersonators and Elvis memorabilia collectors in the world don’t have a thing on these guys. Their goal is to compile the most thorough collection of Elvis-related items in the world – and they’re well on their way! This goal necessitates (in their minds, at least) keeping a record of every time Elvis has appeared on TV. Or, been the subject of a program on TV. Or had someone so much as mention his name on TV. You can only imagine how extensive this collection alone must be. It requires them to man a TV (or several) 24/7. They do this in 12 hour shifts with the help of VCRs and now, TIVO, which must have made their lives much easier. Consequently, these guys are home all the time, and they advertise that fact. We’re always home, they say, all you have to do is ring the bell, pay $5, and in you come!
Not so. 
They weren’t home/wouldn’t answer the door/whatever and we didn’t get in. We had to console ourselves with looking at the innumerable plastic 3’ tall Christmas trees they have placed along the top of the fence that surrounds the house.

Personally, Marian seemed a little too happy about us not getting in,
but I really wanted to see it. I was sorely disappointed and will be dragging Marian back there.

Marian -- Happy? I seemed HAPPY? I wouldn't say HAPPY...........cheerful, contented, delighted, glad, jolly, overjoyed, thrilled, upbeat......yes, but.....cheez... Susan couldn't see the condition of this place up close. There was no bell....no door knocker...I knocked on the door and rapped on the window....but no one answered. The door didn't seem to be closed all of the way, so I pushed on it...but.. it was padlocked from within. Heck, I've seen this place on YouTube and, I promise you, there's no use in being rude and disturbing these people if they don't hear your first knock. These people need their rest!
We were hungry by then, so we set off for Phillips Grocery. It used to be the kind of grocery where the town’s working men would lunch on Vienna sausages, saltines and an RC, but they also cook food and they’re known for their hamburgers. In fact, they are actually in the book, “Hamburger America,” a copy of which they display for all to see. It’s a book that some guy wrote, rating the best hamburger joints in the U.S. (well, in 39 states at least). Only one other hamburger place in MS made the cut by the way, that being Bill’s in Amory. At $2.55, it was a fine burger. It didn’t knock our socks off, but it tasted like the burgers mom used to make – a real burger. Another nice thing they do at Phillips is offer a side of fried okra, which we thoroughly enjoyed. They have fried pies too – apple and peach. We split a yummy peach one.

As you can see, Phillips is in an old building, a circa-1900 store/home combo, a fairly narrow building with a porch and an upstairs where the owner lived. It was very conveniently located in its time too, right across the street from one of the prettiest train depots ever.

It’s not a fancy depot, but the picture hardly does it justice; it’s a striking red brick building (with a gorgeous brick walkway). It appears someone lives in the depot, judging from the plantation-shuttered upstairs windows and the note to the postman on the door, but it kind of gave us the creeps because the depot doesn't appear to have been refurbished or gentrified – it’s an old deserted train depot. It’s not falling in or anything... but it could be haunted nonetheless. The depot and Phillips are within touching distance of the train tracks, yet they still somehow seem isolated.


We left Holly Springs in plenty of time to get to Tunica for the highlight of our adventure, a trip down the Mississippi on the Tunica Queen. However, the highway (Highway 4, I believe) is enchanted, and somehow cast us onto another highway headed in the wrong direction. While the scenery was lovely, it was not going to take us to Tunica, and it took a while to right ourselves. I won’t go into all the boring details; suffice it to say, blah, blah, blah, we got to the dock at 2:26 for a 2:30 departure.
Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that I broke my ankle two months ago, and I’m still incapacitated. I can’t put any weight on my left leg, which is a real hindrance because in this particular case, I had to hop on my crutches down a tall set of steps while Marian carted my wheelchair down. Then I hopped into my chair and held on to my crutches while Marian flew down this (very steep and therefore very scary) ramp. Apparently, they held the boat for a couple minutes to allow us to get on, so…we made it! Sure was close though.
Neither Marian nor I had ever navigated the Mississippi, and we aren’t getting any younger, you know, so we figured this was our chance. Incredibly though, we were about the youngest people aboard, so I guess we still had plenty of time and just didn’t know it.

We found the Mississippi to be very interesting. Did you know that there is a 50’ fluctuation in water height on the river? True! That’s why the docks along the MS are floating rather than stationary. The river only flows about 4 miles an hour, which doesn’t sound like much at all, but that sucker is full of movement. It’s possible to see signs of movement from the top of the water, in the form of large circles. They look like the equivalent of crop circles on water. They’re just flat, glassy places in the water, 5-8 feet across, sometimes more. They’re everywhere, each one signifying that something is going on underneath the water. 

Then, there are little tiny places that look like water being sucked down a drain. People who know the Mississippi have great respect for it due to the fact that they fear it, but our ignorance had precluded having such fears. Now we're scared of it too!
We motored upriver for 45 minutes before turning around and coming back, and that whole time we didn’t see one other boat or barge or anything. That’s not good. You see, the banks of the Mississippi are not particularly interesting – they’re flat and tree-lined, and they’re virtually identical, so you get the same view coming and going. A few barges or boats, even a tow boat with nothing to tow, would have enhanced the experience exponentially. That said, it was still fun, although it would have been more fun if I could have wandered the boat and perhaps, sat up top. As it was, I can't do any of those things, so Marian parked my wheelchair in the second level bow (entry and exit point) and I had quite a good view.
After our boat ride, we checked out a casino. Although neither of us is a gambler, you just can’t go to Tunica and NOT go to a casino. We chose Bally’s purely for convenience. We went through the front door and were immediately aware that smoking is not outlawed everywhere in Mississippi after all.
Marian wheeled me around till we found a penny machine (I told you we weren’t gamblers) and then we tried to figure out how to work it. Now, I go to Las Vegas every year or so and am not unfamiliar with slot machines, but these were puzzling. Worse, I was in my wheelchair, Marian’s hair is (prematurely) white, and the combo causes us to look, well, old and inept.
An employee took pity on us and tried to give us a tutorial in using the machines, but she soon gave up and found us one with a handle to pull. THAT’S what we had wanted in the first place! So, Marian and I sat side by side at our penny slots and played away. What a picture we must have made!
Those penny slots really pay off, but sadly, it’s all in pennies. Our employee/tutor kept urging me to play the full board, which added up to 90 cents a pull, but I stood my ground at 5 or 10 cents a hit. She told me that I couldn’t win the progressive jackpot that way, and I told her that I wasn’t going to win the progressive jackpot anyway. She said, “You never know.” and I said, “Yes, I do.”

I learned a long time ago that as far as casinos go, you are a winner or a loser and I’m a loser. I can accept that, but it must have been hard for her because she gave up and went away then. It was shortly after that that Marian and I decided it was time to cash out, to take our winnings and go. So, we took our $3.52 cents and left for home.