Trivial Mississippi

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

The community of Paris just south of Oxford was named after Dr. William L. Parris, but the second “R” got dropped.
According to the 2010 Census, the U.S. has an average of 87 people living in every square mile. That number is 63 per square mile in Mississippi.
Meridian’s Temple Theatre is the state’s oldest continuously operated theater or movie palace, and has been in operation since 1927.
These three dollops of trivia have Mississippi in common. They’re also among the 501 entries in a new book by D.K. White, a Brandon-based author.
“This is kind of what I do on the Internet to kill time: I look for things I don’t know,” White said during a phone interview. “I decided to start writing them down. I got about a hundred of them and started thinking about a book.”
That book is “501: Little-Known Facts, Obscure Trivia, World Records & Historical Minutia from the State of Mississippi.”
The publisher calls “501” a gift book, and it’s available at gift shops throughout the state, as well as at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo, Square Books in Oxford and Lemuria Books in Jackson.
“Gift book” sounds nice to White, but he usually has another name for it.
“I consider it a bathroom reader. To me, that’s what it is,” he said. “Pick it up for 10 minutes and put it down. You’re not going to lose your page. It’s history. It’s not going to change.”
The surprising past
White, 56, studied history and English at the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama. After graduation, he somehow found himself working at a bank. His career path might have been helped by a personnel director who also had a history degree.
But that path hit a snag.
“I was in banking for 30 years, and they did some down-sizing and sent me home,” he said. “Right now, today, I am writing books.”
He has a humorous fiction book coming out in early 2013, and just finished another fiction manuscript. He also has “501,” which was released by Nautilus Publishing Co. in Oxford just in time for Christmas.
“Growing up, my daddy’s idea of a summer vacation was piling me and my four siblings in the station wagon and driving around looking at Civil War battlefields and old antebellum homes,” he said. “That was summer vacation.”
History remains a pastime for White, who keeps learning new things about the old days.
One of his favorite entries in “501” involves Amite Female Academy.
When Union troops arrived to burn down the building, the school’s president and the Union commander recognized each other as old friends.
“They didn’t burn it, but they took 11 pianos out and burned them,” White said. “What good did that do for the war effort? Burning pianos?”
That story appears in the South Mississippi chapter. Another of White’s favorites can be found in the Sports chapter. It concerns Ole Miss football team’s 114-0 victory over Union College in 1904.
“The was the 74th worst beat down in NCAA history,” he said. “What struck me was there were 73 worse beat downs than 114 to nothing.”
For the record, the all-time record goes to Georgia Tech, which topped Cumberland 222-0 in 1916. Tech ran for 1,680 yards and didn’t attempt a single pass.”
The book’s chapters include Celebrity & Entertainment, Disasters, Native Mississippians, The River and Literature & Journalism.
The What’s in a Name? chapter delves into the meanings behind different place names in the state. It also documents the humor of Jefferson Davis’ mother.
“His middle name was Finis which in Latin means ‘The End,’” White writes. “When Davis arrived, he already had nine siblings.”
Happy to share
As White has traveled to book signings, he’s learned that Mississippi trivia is serious business to some.
“I’ve been challenged about facts,” he said. “There are people out there who might know about one thing, but they know it backwards and forwards.”
Some have questioned the “501” limit, and suggested he should’ve done “601” to go with Mississippi’s area code.
“I thought I was pushing it to get to 501,” he said.
He didn’t want to consider “662” for northern Mississippi, but said “228” along the coast might have been a smart way to go.
There’s nothing life-changing between the hard-bound pages of “501.” But all of the book’s facts have been clogging White’s brain and house for a while now, and he’s happy to share.
“I just have sticky notes all over my home,” he said. “When something hits me, I don’t want to lose it, so I write it down and stick it somewhere. It makes a mess around my house, but it works.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com