YAZOO CITY — When April Adams was a young girl growing up in Yazoo City, she often took flowers to the legendary witch’s grave in Glenwood Cemetery.
“Nobody seemed to like her, so I felt sorry for her,” said Adams, 30, deputy chancery clerk of Yazoo County. “But not sorry enough for her to ever go near her grave at night. I’ve probably been there 20 or 25 times in my lifetime, but ain’t no sense in lying — I’m scared of that place after dark.”
The witch’s grave, made famous in the late Willie Morris book, “Good Ole Boy,” remains a popular tourist stop.
“Men, women. Old, young. And lots of school groups who are reading Good Ole Boy,” said Shanitra Finley, assistant director of the Yazoo County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The grave is hardly the only thing to see in Yazoo City, a town of some 14,000 residents. The Sam B. Olden Yazoo Historical Society Museum, located upstairs in the former Main Street School built in 1904, gives a thorough and entertaining peek into Yazoo County.
It is part of the Triangle Cultural Center in downtown Yazoo City, which also includes the B.S. Ricks Memorial Library, which opened in 1900 and is the oldest standing library in Mississippi, and the Henry Herschel Brickell Literary Walkway, which includes the names of about 100 writers with Yazoo County roots. Brickell was a renowned literary critic during the 1930s and ’40s.
The museum celebrates the lives of some of Yazoo’s most famous residents. Visitors are greeted by a life-sized cardboard cutout of the late comedian Jerry Clower, who worked here as a fertilizer salesman. Clower’s exhibit also contains one of his classic screaming-red suits, photographs and many of the awards he earned for his unique brand of storytelling.
Next to it, the life of Willie Morris is told through photographs, handwritten notes he made during the writing of My Mississippi, the desk he used to keep a journal as a youngster and a small tombstone with “Skipper” engraved on it. The stone was the burial marker for Morris’ boyhood dog made famous in the movie “My Dog Skip.”
“Our families were friends, and Willie’s mother gave me the tombstone a few years ago,” said 91-year-old Sam Olden, who was born in Yazoo City and worked with the CIA before returning home for good 30 years ago.
“Until the museum became sufficiently safe and guarded, I kept Skip’s tombstone under my bed for two years. It’s one of the most talked about pieces in the whole museum.”
Bluesman Jack Owens, who died in 1997 at age 92, is honored with a large color photograph and a guitar autographed by many fellow musicians. Owens lived near Bentonia, far from any main roads or highways, but he entertained a steady stream of visitors from all over the world on his front porch with his special style of pickin’.
Other famous Yazoo County residents honored: NFL Hall of Fame star Willie Brown of the Oakland Raiders, actress Stella Stevens, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and orchestra leader Herbie Holmes.
A wall of “firsts” tells of Yazoo’s pioneering spirit. Examples: Harriet Prewitt became the state’s first female newspaper editor in 1851, heading the Yazoo City Weekly Whig; the first high school football game played in Mississippi, won by home-standing Yazoo City 5-0 over Winona in 1905; and the state’s first Boy Scout troop, formed in 1911.
Memorable events are recalled through photographs, artifacts and plaques, such as the 1904 fire that wiped out most of downtown Yazoo City; the flood of 1927; Casey Jones’ legendary train wreck; and President Jimmy Carter’s town hall meeting in 1977.
A memorabilia room contains items such as early 19th century farm equipment and World War I uniforms and guns.
“Yazoo City and the whole county have an interesting history, and we think we’ve put together a museum that people will find entertaining as well as educational,” Bolden said.
But about that witch’s grave …
“Willie told his story — that the witch promised to break the chains surrounding her grave and come back and burn down the town. And he tied it to the fire of 1904,” Olden said. “Now I have my own story, told to me by my grandfather when I was a boy and we would stroll through the cemetery. He always said it was the grave of a man so mean that they had to put chains around it to keep him in there.”
Either way, the grave and the broken chains are there for the viewing. And just 13 paces away, per his request, is the grave of Willie Morris.
“Best seen in the daytime,” Finley reminds with a smile.
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com
Billy Watkins/The Clarion-Ledger