25 Things You Should Know About Jackson, Mississippi

SeanPavonePhoto/iStock
SeanPavonePhoto/iStock

There aren’t many cities in which you can see a rock concert on top of a prehistoric volcano. It’s equally hard to find a place with the deep ties to the blues, international ballet, and pine-scented products that Jackson enjoys. Here are 25 surprising facts about Mississippi’s intriguing capital.

1) The settlement on the Pearl River that gave birth to Jackson was first called LeFleur’s Bluff, named for French-Canadian trader Louis LeFleur, who had founded a trading post on the site. In 1821, four years after Mississippi achieved statehood, the state legislature decided to erect its capital city at this strategic locale. Lawmakers also chose to name the city after General Andrew Jackson, who had become a national hero by defeating British forces at the Battle of New Orleans, the final skirmish of the War of 1812.

2) Chemist and native Jacksonian Harry A. Cole invented Pine-Sol floor cleaner in 1929. It's now owned by the Clorox Company.

3) The international honor society of two-year colleges, Phi Theta Kappa, claims more than three million members. Founded in 1918 at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, its world headquarters is now located on Eastover Drive in Jackson.

4) Completed in 1842 in the Greek Revival style, the Mississippi governor's mansion is the second-oldest continuously occupied governor's residence in the United States. Virginia’s is 29 years older.

5) The Jackson Zoo, which today houses mammals, birds, and reptiles from four continents, had humble beginnings. In the early 1900s, firefighters at the city's Central Fire Station (now the Chamber of Commerce Building) passed the time by keeping a menagerie of wild pets, including deer, squirrels, and alligators. The city bought land to establish a zoological park in the 1920s, and the firemen's pets became the first animals on display.

6) On June 11, 1963, the first human lung transplant took place at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. The center's chairman of surgery James Hardy, who led the transplant team, achieved the first heart transplant in a human (using a chimpanzee's heart) one year later.

7) During the Civil War, Union commander Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee fought the Battle of Jackson on its way to Vicksburg. Jackson's factories and warehouses were burned, leaving behind nothing but their brick chimneys (thus the city's contemporary nickname, Chimneyville). The Union army spared the city's non-strategic buildings, including city hall, the governor's mansion, and the capitol.

8) The blues were born in the Magnolia State. In 2006, the Mississippi Blues Trail was established to educate the public about this uniquely American art form. One-hundred-and-eighty-nine historic markers are spread out over the state, with each sign planted at a locale that played some role in shaping the blues genre. Jackson alone has 13 such sites. On Roach Street, for example, you’ll find one dedicated to legendary blues pianist Otis Spann, who was born at the spot on March 21, 1930.

9) In 2001, Roderick Paige became the first African-American person to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Education. The longtime college football coach and advocate for improving urban educational opportunities had graduated from Jackson State University in 1955.

10) On the capitol’s north side, you’ll find a naval figurehead shaped like a flying eagle, which once belonged to the USS Mississippi, a battleship commissioned in 1904. Before the navy sold the ship to Greece, it gave the figurehead to the state, where it is currently affixed to a huge planter near the capitol building.

11) Every October, the 12-day Mississippi State Fair brings thousands of visitors into Jackson. Popular attractions include Ferris wheels, an antique car show, and a biscuit-making booth. In recent years, organizers have experimented with newer events, like a beard-growing contest that debuted in 2009.

12) Jackson was the setting for Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestseller The Help. When its movie adaptation was shot in 2010, numerous scenes were filmed in the city. Among the many Jackson landmarks to appear onscreen was Brent’s Drugs, a beloved Duling Avenue soda shop. After the shoot, its owners were able to keep a few movie props as souvenirs.

13) Seventy-five million years ago, present-day Jackson sat on a volcanic island. Roughly 2900 feet below the intersection of East Pascagoula Street and I-55, a long-extinct volcano has its origins. Today the Mississippi Coliseum, a 6500-seat multipurpose arena, sits on top of its caldera.

14) On a related note, the Coliseum hosts the annual Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Contest, the largest annual rodeo east of the Mississippi River. Launched in 1965, it awards nearly $250,000 in prize money each year.

15) Author Eudora Welty was born in Jackson on April 13, 1909. One of the 20th century's most esteemed writers, Welty wrote award-winning short stories for The New Yorker, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of the Arts, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Today, her house at 1119 Pinehurst Street is a national historic landmark.

16) Another Pulitzer Prize-winning Jacksonian is playwright Beth Henley, a 1981 recipient for her three-act black comedy Crimes of the Heart. The play was made into a film starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek in 1986.

17) On February 15, 1839, the state legislature passed the Mississippi Married Women’s Property Act. The act stemmed from a lawsuit in which a Chickasaw woman sued to retain ownership of her property (a slave) that her husband's creditors had tried to seize. The court decided that case based on the Chickasaw tradition of matrilineal inheritance. It was the first piece of legislation in American history that gave wives the right to hold property in their own names.

18) In 1943, prisoners of war from a camp near Jackson were recruited to build a large-scale model of the Mississippi River basin to make predicting flood patterns easier. With supervision from the Army Corps of Engineers, they put together a 200-acre, hydraulic-powered replica of the Mississippi delta. After 79 simulated floods, the model was abandoned in 1973. Its remnants can still been seen in Butts Park.

19) Future NFL superstar running back Walter Payton played at Jackson State University from 1971 to 1974. By the time he graduated, he had set an NCAA record for most points scored—464—within a four-year period.

20) James Meredith, the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi, nearly gave his life in the fight for civil rights. On June 6, 1966, he launched a solo march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson to promote voter registration among African-Americans in the south. (The historic Voting Rights Act had been passed into law the previous year.) On the second day of the march, a white man shot Meredith and he sustained several wounds. By the time he was able to rejoin the march near Jackson, it had grown to 15,000 participants and had registered more than 4000 new voters.

21) Mississippi chose to observe Prohibition for 33 years after the Volstead Act was repealed. In 1966, one event turned the last dry state wet. Hinds County sheriff Tom Shelton launched a surprise raid at the Jackson Country Club, where prominent citizens, including the governor, were celebrating Mardi Gras with illegal liquor. Most of the revelers were arrested, prompting the state legislature to quickly pass a law allowing individual counties to decide whether to legalize alcohol—effectively repealing statewide Prohibition.

22) What does Jackson have in common with Moscow, Helsinki, and Varna? They’re the only four cities that get to host the two-week International Ballet Competition (IBC), where the world's best dancers compete for medals, scholarships, and fame. Jackson dance instructor Thalia Maria convinced the IBC to make Jackson its sole American host city, and the capitol has welcomed the tournament every four years since 1979.

23) The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and Mississippi State go head-to-head in the annual Egg Bowl, shorthand for The Battle of the Golden Egg, a college football rivalry dating back to 1903. The showdown has taken place in Jackson on 29 separate occasions.

24) Baltimore native James D. Lynch was the first African-American person to hold any major political office in Mississippi. In 1869, he was elected Secretary of State, an office that he would retain until his death in 1872. Lynch also participated in the 1872 Republican National Convention as a delegate. He's buried in Jackson’s Greenwood Cemetery.

25) Pascagoula Street is home to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. The brainchild of longtime Jacksonians Okolo Rashid and Emad Al-Turk, it is the first American museum designed to show the story of Islamic culture and history. When it opened in 2001, former governor William Winter praised the facility. “It definitely breaks a stereotype,” he said. “It’s at odds with what the average American would think about Jackson, Mississippi.”

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


Getty Images

Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


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Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

5 Facts About Edgar Allan Poe

You’ve read Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories. You can quote "The Raven." But how well do you know the writer’s quirky sense of humor and code-cracking abilities? Let’s take a look at a few things you might not know about the acclaimed author, who was born on January 19, 1809.

1. Edgar Allan Poe was the original Balloon Boy.

You probably remember 2009’s infamous “Balloon Boy” hoax. Turns out the Heene family that perpetrated that fraud weren’t even being entirely original in their attempt at attention-grabbing. They were actually cribbing from Poe.

In 1844 Poe cooked up a similar aviation hoax in the pages of the New York Sun. The horror master cranked out a phony news item describing how a Mr. Monck Mason had flown a balloon flying machine called Victoria from England to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina in just 75 hours. According to Poe’s story, the balloon had also hauled seven passengers across the ocean.

No balloonist had ever crossed the Atlantic before, so this story quickly became a huge deal. Complete transatlantic travel in just three days? How exciting! Readers actually queued up outside the Sun’s headquarters to get their mitts on a copy of the day’s historic paper.

Poe’s report on the balloon was chock full of technical details. He devoted a whole paragraph to explaining how the balloon was filled with coal gas rather than “the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen.” He listed the balloon’s equipment, which included “cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so.” He also included hundreds of words of excerpts from the passengers’ journals.

The only catch to Poe’s story was that it was entirely fictitious. The Sun’s editors quickly wised up to Poe’s hoax, and two days later they posted an understated retraction that noted, “We are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous.”

2. Edgar Allan Poe dabbled in cryptography.

If you’ve read Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” you probably know that he had a working knowledge of cryptography. But you might not know that Poe was actually a pretty darn good cryptographer in his own right.

Poe’s first notable code-cracking began in 1839. He sent out a call for readers of his Philadelphia newspaper to send him encoded messages that he could decipher. Poe would then puzzle over the secret messages for hours. He published the results of his work in a wildly popular recurring feature. Poe also liked to toss his own codes out there to keep readers busy. Some of the codes were so difficult that Poe professed utter amazement when even a single reader would crack them.

Poe was so confident in his abilities as a cryptographer that he approached the Tyler administration in 1841 with an offer to work as a government code cracker. He modestly promised, “Nothing intelligible can be written which, with time, I cannot decipher.” Apparently there weren’t any openings for him, though.

3. The "Allan" came later for Edgar Allan Poe.

It would sound odd to just say “Edgar Poe,” but the famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of the writer’s name. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to professional actors, but his early childhood was fairly rotten. When Poe was just two years old, his father abandoned the family—leaving the toddler's mother, Elizabeth, to raise Edgar and his two siblings. Not long after that, Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.

Poe actually had a little luck at that point. John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond family, took the boy in and provided for his education. Although the Allans never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own name.

Like a lot of Poe’s fiction, his story with the Allans didn't have a particularly happy ending. Poe and John Allan grew increasingly distant during the boy’s teenage years, and after Poe left for the University of Virginia, he and Allan became estranged. (Apparently the root of these problems involved Poe’s tendency to gamble away whatever money Allan sent him to subsidize his studies.)

4. Edgar Allan Poe had a nemesis.

Like a lot of writers, Poe had a rival. His was the poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold. Although Griswold had included Poe’s work in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe held an extremely low opinion of Griswold’s intellect and literary integrity. Poe published an essay blasting Griswold’s selections for the anthology, and their rivalry began.

Things really heated up when Griswold succeeded Poe as the editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe had been pulling in. Poe began publicly lambasting Griswold’s motivations; he even went so far as to claim that Griswold was something of a literary homer who puffed up New England poets.

Poe might have had a point about Griswold’s critical eye, but Griswold had the good fortune to outlive Poe. After Poe died, Griswold penned a mean-spirited obituary in which he stated that the writer’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it” and generally portrayed Poe as an unhinged maniac.

Slamming a guy in his obituary is pretty low, but Griswold was just getting warmed up. He convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to make him Poe’s literary executor. Griswold then published a biography of Poe that made him out to be a drug-addled drunk, all while keeping the profits from a posthumous edition of Poe’s work.

5. Edgar Allan Poe's death was a mystery worth of his writing.

In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond, but he never made it that far south. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Passersby rushed Poe to the hospital, but he died a few days later without being able to explain what happened to him.

Poe’s rumored causes of death were “cerebral inflammation” and “congestion of the brain,” which were polite euphemisms for alcohol poisoning. Modern scholars don’t totally buy this explanation, though. The characterization of Poe as a raging drunk mostly comes from Griswold’s posthumous smear campaign, and his incoherent state of mind may have been the result of rabies or syphilis.

Some Poe fans subscribe to a more sinister theory about the writer’s death, though. They think he may have fallen victim to “cooping,” a sordid 19th century political practice. Gangs of political thugs would round up homeless or weak men and hold them captive in a safe place called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day—and there was an election in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, the day Poe was found—the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.

This story sounds like something straight out of Poe’s own writing, but it might actually be true. Poe’s crummy physical state and delirium would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the ill-fitting clothes jibe with gangs’ practice of making their hostages change clothes so they could cast multiple votes. With no real evidence either way, though, Poe’s death remains one of literature’s most fascinating mysteries.

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