Day In The Country | Mississippi Roads | MPB

On this edition of Mississippi Roads, farm fresh produce reaps great benefits for locals We comb through the history of Mississippi’s oldest working cotton gin And a grave tradition at Madison County’s Chapel of the Cross is undertaken Mississippi Roads is made possible in part by the generous support of viewers like you Thank you! Support for the Arts Segment of Mississippi Roads comes from the Mississippi Arts Commission whose mission is to be a catalyst for the arts and creativity in Mississippi Information available at arts.state.ms.us ♪ Down Mississippi roads… ♪ ♪ Mississippi Roads… ♪ Hi, I’m Walt Grayson Welcome to Mississippi Roads We are spending a day in the country at the historic Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in Madison County Actually, A Day in the Country is the name given to the community festival held on the chapel grounds the first Saturday in October The family-friendly event attracts over 10,000 visitors yearly With wholesome fun, good food, Christian fellowship The days festivities commence at 8 a.m with the ringing of the church bell signaling the start of the annual 5K Run in the Country There’s also a cross-country fun run available for the kids After the race, you might want to sit a spell at a picnic table or pull up a hay bale and enjoyed the festival’s live entertainment No matter your musical preference, blues, country, rock, or Irish folk, you’re bound find something here to tap your foot to And if these country tunes don’t get your toe tapping, maybe you’ll enjoy the Music in the City in our next story (Harpsichord playing) ♪♪ We’ve had a long-running series that went on for about 30 years called Wednesday at St. Andrews We did a 30-minute concert at noon and then people went back to work Well about 10 years ago it became clear that that model was not working anymore So we came up with Music in the City Music in the City started out as a program where one month it was held at the Cathedral and then the next month it was held here at the Museum What we found was that our venue was a really great place to host this So we switched it from being every other month switching locations to it completely being held here at the Museum of Art It’s typically held on the first or second Tuesday of every month at the Museum Art museums are, of course, about art But our museum is about more than just art It’s about being a part of the community It’s about reaching people where they are It’s about being an open and welcoming place and a museum without walls We want to be the Barnes and Noble of art museums and in order to do that, we want to offer engaging and diverse programming like Outdoor Concert Series in our art gardens or opportunities for gardeners to come and participate in gardening programs and lectures Or Music in the City, which is this monthly recurring classical music series We are very grateful to the Museum for offering this wonderful facility To go to such an utterly genteel and beautiful place with so many other wonderful cultural things in it It’s a lovely relationship and I think all of us engaged in it on both sides really enjoy it and value it The arts and crafts aren’t the only homemade item you’ll find here at Day in the Country You will never go hungry when you have things going on like the barbecue competition Mmm-mmm, that’s good Over 500 loaves of bread of many varieties are baked at the Chapel of the Cross 48 to 24 hours prior to the festival You can find them, along with muffins, pies, cakes, cookies and other baked goods at the Bake Booth They also have a lot of jam and jelly and pickles and things like that for sale and for sampling It’s good! Excuse me People everywhere are discovering the advantages

of buying local produce I mean, it is more nutritious than what you get in the grocery store Plus, it helps out the local farmer Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been involved in farming My dad and mom has always had a farm, a vegetable farm I’ve got about 15 acres here then I got an acre, an acre and a half in two or three different places Two of the places in Simpson County When I was five, I would hold the reins, the plow lines as daddy calls them for him to pile mule because he had a big old middle buster and it was everything he could do to hold this middle buster to plow the ground so that we could prepare the ground to plant our seed and have our food Shoot, I guess when I was about five, he put me on a tractor He would just say, “Hold it in the row, and he would be behind and I would do that Watching him and seeing how much he loves it, I’m getting to experience what he has experienced in his life I enjoy it I like to put the seed in and then come back and watch it grow Especially when you pick the vegetables and take them to the market and somebody buys something that you’ve actually touched from the ground to their mouth, I guess It’s nice It’s really nice Grayson: Brenda’s Produce is one of the oldest Farmer’s Markets in Mississippi just off West Street in Jackson That’s where you will find Brenda seven days a week selling the freshest produce in town Brenda: We’re here at the farmers market from April till the first of November During the growing season, 90 percent of everything I sell is my daddy’s I have watermelons, I have cucumbers, I have okra, I have squash, bell peppers, I have hot peppers Tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, okra Peas and butter beans, potatoes Corn, watermelons Sweet potatoes, string beans Cantaloupes Zucchini Sugarcane White squash, just about any kind of vegetable And another thing that is just extinct with any other person is white field corn I sell trailer and trailer loads of white field corn People will beg for Daddy’s white field corn The reason we have such a good demand for what I grow is if it ain’t fit for me to eat, it ain’t fit for you to eat And I don’t carry it When I hear of a 37-year-old person dying of a heart attack or a 27-year-old having a massive stroke, I contribute a lot of that to their eating habits The local food, I know what my daddy puts on that produce I know what he sprays it with I know what he puts on that produce as fertilizer I know what he does to that produce to make it good for you and I to eat and not dangerous A lot of people will plant 1000 acres of corn and spray some kind of chemical on it that not only kills the worms, but it hurts you too It will kill you too I think it’s very important for people to know where their produce comes from, what has been used on it I’ve had people to ask me, “Has your daddy sprayed anything on this corn? I pull it back, and there is a worm at the top of it.” I said, “No because he said anything he sprays on this corn to kill that little worm right there that it’s going to hurt you too We have to have money to live like everybody else, but it’s really not so much the money as it is the smiles

on people’s faces when I say yes, this is Daddy’s tomatoes It doesn’t cost a penny to be nice to people and that’s how we run our business The Chapel of the Cross is one of the oldest church buildings in the state of Mississippi and it sits on land that was once the Annandale Plantation It was built back in the early 1850’s by Margaret L. Johnstone in memory of her husband, John Johnstone I imagine back at that time, all the land surrounding the chapel was planted in cotton as far as the eye could see In Mississippi in the 1850’s, cotton was king and every community had a cotton gin where the cotton fiber could be easily separated from the cotton seed or “boll” In our next story, we travel down to Jackson to the Agricultural and Forestry Museum where the tradition is preserved in Mississippi’s oldest working cotton gin (whistle blows) (banjo plays) It’s impossible to imagine a Mississippi without cotton For decades, the rich soil of the Mississippi Delta has produced some of the country’s finest cotton yields But much of that history has been lost as new machinery and methods of cultivation have modernized the industry Now, by visiting the Mississippi Agricultural Museum, you can get a first-hand look at how it used to be thanks to the generosity of Charles McMahon who donated what has become the oldest operating cotton gin in America My name is Ethel Nelson This is my Daddy’s cotton gin He acquired it when I was about in the 6th grade So that was my little hide out and where I went and tinkered around This was our playhouse This was our tree house, playhouse, dollhouse, everything We went straight to here to play We used to find some neat stuff I found old bottles I think we found an old sign one time Wrenches that they used to work on that old engine were just laying around You could always find something old Tool boxes Old wooden tool boxes Go in it, dig around in the dirt because there was a lot of dirt in there It just fascinated me to go in there and see how it was put together and how it worked I remember John, my brother, and my daddy kinda tinkering with the machine that was in there We loved following them down there because we were all country kids and riding horses and playing and we would play in the bottom part of the gin while my brother and dad would work on the motor part Me and him piddled with it for a couple three or four months there and we finally got it to hit and crank up Didn’t run long but we knew it would run and when he found out it would still crank, he went ahead and put it in the paper, give it to the state Jim Buck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture at the time, contacted him and they come down and blueprinted it and they moved it up here This gin was donated here about 1987 We’ve spent the last three, three and-a-half months tearing it apart and repairing things that were broken on it The engine had got in bad repair and it had a rod that was burnt in it and we found an old retired machinist that actually made us a bushing to go in the rod so we rebuilt the engine We tore down all the gin stands and cleaned them up Got all the rust off of everything and put everything back into working order The old guy that used to run this engine had passed away about five years ago so really nobody knew how to run it (whistle blows) I was able to take and locate the original owner’s manuals and the different operator manuals for this engine and taught myself basically how to work on this thing and studying the books and operator manuals kinda got me into it and taught me how to run it It’s actually a pretty manual engine You have to watch it constantly It’s a pretty complicated machine to run but once it gets going, it’s a pretty powerful machine It’s fascinating how it works I mean, just one belt off that one engine runs everything in there

This machinery was built in Amite, Louisiana, in 1892 This gin would probably gin about, maybe if it was real good, two bails an hour Maybe a little more if they really pushed it Where gins today, the new electronic systems can put out a bail in 45 to 60 seconds However we can’t forget to remember that the ginning process is exactly the same as Eli Whitney invented in the 1700’s It’s no change It’s still a saw running between two ribs and pulling the lint from the seed and the seed falls out, it goes out, is blown out into the seed house and the lint goes into the press That’s the separation of the two parts of the cotton: the lint and the seed And then when we get the bail in the press, we turn the press and press it out and tie it out and get it ready for another bail And that’s the process (whistle blows) This is a part of history and once this history’s gone, once it’s left to rot away or rust away, then future generations won’t have any idea All they can do is go to a book and see maybe a picture in a book or a drawing But this way, they can actually come here and visit and actually see how things operate and see the massiveness of it and the construction of it And we just have a passion here at the Ag Museum for preserving history and preserving artifacts so that future generations, our grand children and great grand children, can come here and tour through the facility and see how it used to be a long time ago He was so proud of this cotton gin If he was here today, he would be grinning from ear to ear I mean, he loved the cotton gin It pulls our family together and we’re very proud of it and we were so ecstatic when they brought it here for Jackson and everybody else to come and look at It’s really important to us that people know how important this gin is to everybody And it is history and I hope it does remain Grayson: The Chapel of the Cross is an outstanding example of nineteenth century Gothic Revival design and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 But at the time, the building was over 120 years old and on the verge of being lost forever to vandalism and decay Then in 1979, the parishioners of the chapel received an epiphany The church’s congregation decided to put on a festival, not only to raise funds for the restoration of the chapel, but also as means of community outreach, thus A Day in the Country was born If you get the chance on the first Saturday in October, make sure you stop by the Chapel of the Cross and participate in one of the sweetest traditions they have at A Day in the Country Get you a slice of their famous 63-Egg cake No, I will save this and savor it Meanwhile though, I did have the honor to be invited to take part in another of the traditions at this church recently I can think of few if any other churches in Mississippi that have as much lore and legend associated with them as does the Chapel of the Cross near Madison For instance the story of the ghost of the Bride of Annandale in association with the death of Henry Vick who is buried in the church’s graveyard has been the subject of everything from campfire tales to a play Not to mention we’ve told it here on Mississippi Roads in a past episode The graveyard still draws a lot of attention at the church Not only because of its antiquity, but because of a tradition that current members of the Chapel of the Cross instituted several years ago A tradition being undertaken today Well, one of our members just passed away, so as our gift of love to one of our members, we actually dig our graves by hand Grayson: A former pastor suggested it and the congregation feels it’s in keeping with the mandate of Christ for His followers, if they desire to really be great in the kingdom, to become the servant of all And in the spirit of Christian servitude, when a member of the congregation dies

and is buried in the church’s graveyard, other members of the congregation pitch in and dig the grave And they dig it, not with backhoes or machinery, but with picks and shovels and time Bud Phelps: Usually fast track, five hours And then it can go 10 or 12 hours Grayson: This particular day the project starts at about 4:00 in the afternoon About a dozen men more or less some coming and going, others for the long haul, take turns digging After the parameters of the grave are laid out, the task begins The sod is removed and set aside And the picks and shovels come out and start inching downward Family members take part sometimes You know, before the day of cemeteries; — cemeteries as opposed to graveyards, graveyards being associated with a church, usually Cemeteries being where you pay for a plot in which to bury your loved ones.– Before the day when we depended on cemeteries and the funeral home to dig our graves for us, it was totally up to family members and fellow church members to dig graves for loved ones Who else was going to do it? So it may seem odd for us to think of a family member helping dig a grave, but it used to be commonplace And perhaps helps with closure This is Heather Lolly’s mother’s grave that is being dug today I wrote a letter to my mom and told her that I would sit vigil and I would help with the grave digging because that is the Episcopal way Grayson: Nine and a half year old Logan, Heather’s son, also takes part in the digging of his grandmother’s grave I think my grandmother’s watching me right now and she’s probably proud of me Grayson: The late spring afternoon wind dies and it starts to feel like mid-summer Time inches on as the grave inches deeper And after a while, the crew doing the digging withers down to the core group who will stick with the task until it is finished after dark sometime Bud: The most amazing part of it is what we’re doing now, you couldn’t pay anybody to do The people that are out here digging are lawyers, bankers, professional people You could never go to them and say could I get you to dig me a grave Grayson: So why DO people volunteer to come out and do this? Probably as many different answers as there are people here Each has his own reason for taking part Well for me personally it really drives home the resurrection of Jesus Christ It’s an extremely moving event And you’ll get a chance to actually get in the grave We’re going to let you do that When you get in there, then all of a sudden your mortality hits you in the face It’s something that you have to deal with And you think about what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us It’s the ultimate sacrifice Grayson: I did take a turn in the grave later But at the moment, too many people seemed too energetic for me to interrupt their momentum Even the pastor of the church, Austin Johnson, took his turn with the pick and shovel and seemed determined to work harder than anyone Another measurement is taken Not that anyone believes that the grave is deep enough yet But just to get an idea of how fast, or how slow, this is going Bud: A lot of people think that you are buried six feet It’s not six feet It’s 54 inches But when you get to that last 10 inches, it’s just like concrete It’s really intensive Grayson: It isn’t a somber occasion There are tales told of when other graves were dug The man digging in the hole is usually joked with in some way or another And time passes as the grave inches deeper The sun sets The moon comes up This grave is going pretty quickly I take my turn You realize when you are standing in a nearly completed grave that you are standing between two worlds Between this world and the next And you do think about there will come a time when one of these will be yours But not this one The picks and shovels make a different sound when they are digging this deep Hollow Resonating And after a while, a measurement is taken indicating the goal has been reached And the final ceremony takes place The Lord be with you All: And also with you Let us pray Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name Bud: Now when we finish, we’ll have a bottle of McAllen Scotch And when we finish the digging the grave, our priest, Austin Johnson, will come out and bless the grave and then all the gravediggers will stand around in a circle and we will open the scotch up and pass it around and then what’s left,

we pour in the shape of a cross inside the grave In the name of the Father The Son, and the Holy Ghost Amen Grayson: And then? Then it is evident that a bonding has taken place between the people who have experienced this unusual tradition Bud: It’s something that you just can’t put into words I can talk about it all day, but until you actually experience it Grayson: During A Day in the Country, tours through the historic cemetery and church building are given from 10am to 3pm Just listen for the church bell It is rung five minutes before each tour begins (bell rings) Well I can hear by the tolling of the bell that it is time for another tour to begin and our A Day in the Country tour to come to an end If you have any questions about anything you have seen on tonight’s show, contact us at Until next time, I’m Walt Grayson and I’ll be seeing you on Mississippi Roads Mississippi Roads is made possible in part by the generous support of viewers like you Thank you!