From Memphis I had initially thought I’d travel through Tupelo back to the Natchez Trace, but enough people told me that Tupelo wasn’t worth visiting (including the Termite lady from the Arcade lunch) that I decided to skip it and go south through Oxford instead. Fortunately for me this gave me the chance to meet up briefly with Nolte, the daughter of a work friend, who also had worked at the camp I ran for a few summers. She was such a good sport showing me around this cute college town- I’m sure her mother called and strongly encouraged her to agree because what college senior really wants to spend their free time making small talk with your summer manager, but it was nice to hear what her post-school plans are, how the family is, and get a little walking tour of the main square downtown. I have a feeling her parents also offered to buy her lunch if she went with me, but hey, good pizza is a good excuse regardless.
Oxford’s square is beautiful with a courthouse in the center and two level shops and restaurants around with porches and balconies everywhere. We passes at least 3 bookstores, and a bench with a statue of hometown hero William Faulkner. After leaving Nolte to go back to spring break packing I did a brief stop at the (alleged- I’ve read that they may have been outdone) world’s largest cedar bucket. Very specific record, I must say, but located outside a cedar furniture store so makes sense.
My friend Karla had mentioned a funky inn on my route, and I am so glad she did because it was one of a kind. Turns out my friend Katie had stayed here before, too, and she does a lot of trip research to find memorable places so another indication it was a good choice! The Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale is a collection of old (or perhaps some made to look old from what I’ve read) shacks, silos and barns outfitted to retain the rustic feel and accented by all sorts of vintage posters, signs, antiques, and fun art installations. The main building houses the registration, shop, and a restaurant/bar that sometimes has live music. It looked super cool but unfortunately there wasn’t anyone scheduled for the night I was in town. They were in full prep mode for a wedding that weekend, though. I stayed in ‘The Gunny Shack’ which was one room that managed to fit a piano inside, and a cute little porch I took full advantage of in daylight hours relaxing with some wine in the super fancy glassware provided.
Clarksdale is a blues destination, home of the Delta Blues Museum, and the site of the crossroads at which Robert Johnson (a blues legend of the 1930s- I had to look that up) is said to have sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar like crazy. With this of course comes a bunch of great blues clubs and old time juke joints. I went to the Ground Zero club and saw a band playing- the core players were pretty decent, but they kept inviting other regular performers to join them, some better than others. One guy was good, another guy sounded like a suburban dad doing bad blues karaoke…. weirdly enough this guy heads a band that’s been around for years and was having a 10th or 20th or whatever-th anniversary show I heard advertised on the radio for days after even in different towns. Fun fact: the club is partially owned by Morgan Freeman and there are pics of him all over the place.
I hopped back onto the Parkway from town, and drove through the swampy areas, the pastures of cows and fields of sugarcane, and shady forests with spring peeper sounds calling from the trees. Along the way I attempted to visit 3 roadside attractions- a cyprus swamp boardwalk, an abandoned ghost town, and something else I’m forgetting- but between downed trees blocking the road and high water flooding from recent storms, I wasn’t able to reach any of them. In fact, while I was driving I passed a truck that had just avoided having a tree fall on it blocking the lane. This gave me total tree flashbacks (back story if you don’t know- a tree limb broke and fell on my car while I was driving about 2 years ago and almost squished me but luckily didn’t though the car was totaled), but made it to the end of the parkway and into Natchez just fine.
Natchez was a surprisingly nice town to spend the day in. I got some decent free coffee and a map at the visitor’s center (100% spent the night in their parking lot overnight), parked downtown (on Franklin Street no less), and walked around. My walk took me through the kind idealized Main Street places, down to the river where there was once a booming riverboat trade and the accompanying illicit bars and casinos, to a still functioning casino where I lost a grand total of $1 on a piggy themed slot machine, under a basic pedestrian bridge they’ve tried to fancy up by calling it the Bridge of Sighs (sigh I did not), and through the old fancy homes. I stopped in the local brewery for lunch, popped in a church the visitor center lady insisted I visit, and my funny surprise of the day was a grave to a cat named Tripod. RIP, three-legged cat.
A little outside of the downtown I checked out a historic site at an old plantation home with exhibits on the antebellum era, which actually had a decent section on the plight of the enslaved people in the household which followed some by name, so at least there’s that. Right downtown was another historic site I visited which was once a successful barbershop of a prominent freedman with exhibits based on his surviving journals. It was a different take on the same era and I’m glad they have both in the area. Completely negating my feeling that perhaps this city was trying to come to terms with its history, I came across Mammy’s Cupboard, a restaurant housed in the skirt of a woman with obvious racist undertones despite having been repainted at some point to make it look more like a white lady? This one kind of blew my mind. Perhaps a sign it was time to leave Mississippi, so I did just that.