When people think of the deep south, Mississippi is among the first states mentioned. A region rich in culture (and controversy), there are lots of stories to be told about the people, music, geography, and politics of the state. To pique your interest, here are 25 things you may not know about Mississippi.
1. Mississippi became the 20th state to join the Union on December 10, 1817. Despite launching a large promotional campaign with buttons, posters, and thousands of postcards, the state’s centennial celebration was canceled in 1917 because of the start of World War I. Preparations for the bicentennial are already under way; events will include a "Capitol for a Day" initiative, as well as the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History.
2. The state is named after the Mississippi River. The native word for the river (coined by the Ojibwa tribe) was messipi, which means “Big River.”
3. Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, is named after General Andrew Jackson in honor of his victory at the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815.
5. Blues music was born in the Mississippi Delta, the northwest section of the state between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. Iconic blues musicians who hail from the state include B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Lead Belly, and Little Freddie King, just to name a few.
6. The University of Mississippi is home to the Marijuana Research Project, the only federally-funded center devoted to growing cannabis and investigating the plant's medical effects. Just this March, the National Institute for Health earmarked $68.8 million for the center's efforts.
7. Mississippi has more churches per capita than any other state in the country, and they’re not just buildings taking up space; a 2009 Gallup poll found that people in the state actually go to church more frequently than residents of any other state.
8. According to a 2011 report by the Mississippi Forestry Commission, 63 percent of the state’s land area is covered in forest, which amounts to 19.5 million acres.
9. The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865, was not ratified by Mississippi until 2013. In 1995, lawmakers had finally voted to ratify the amendment, but the paperwork was never sent to the U.S. Archivist to be made official.
10. The term “teddy bear” originated in Mississippi when President Theodore Roosevelt refused to kill a trapped bear during a hunting trip near Onward, Mississippi in 1902. A Brooklyn candy shop owner saw a political cartoon depicting Roosevelt and the bear and was inspired to create a stuffed animal that he called “Teddy’s Bear.”
Clifford Kennedy Berryman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
11. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson was born in Greenville and spent his childhood in Leland, Mississippi. The town still honors Henson’s Mississippi roots with the Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum and the Rainbow Connection Bridge.
12. The late '80s-early '90s drama series In the Heat of the Night (based on a film and book of the same title) was set in the fictionalized town of Sparta, Mississippi. There is a real Sparta, but the television show was filmed elsewhere, in Hammond, Louisiana, and Covington, Georgia.
13. Ridgeland, Mississippi, may be home to the country's most picturesque (not to mention patriotic) cell phone towers: a structure shaped like the Washington Monument.
14. Pine Sol, the cleaning and deodorizing product, was developed in 1929 by chemist Harry A. Cole, who lived in a pine forest near Jackson, Mississippi.
15. Mississippi is the farm-raised catfish capital of the United States, with over 100,000 acres of catfish ponds.
16. In 1963, Dr. James Hardy at the University of Mississippi performed the first human lung transplant. One year later, he performed the first animal-human heart transplant. The patient, who received a chimpanzee heart, lived 90 minutes after the operation.
17. Coca-Cola was invented in Atlanta in 1866, but it was only sold as a fountain drink for nearly 30 years. Joseph Biedenharn decided to bottle the drink for the first time in 1894 at a plant in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
18. In the 1940s, the town of Pascagoula had a hard time figuring out the mystery of the bizarre “Phantom Barber.” The serial hair-snipper would break into homes to steal locks of hair and then slip away into the night. When it was all said and done, a man named William Dolan was caught and charged with attempted murder. But after serving six years of his 10-year sentence, Dolan passed a lie detector test and was set free.
20. The magnolia is both the state flower and the state tree of Mississippi, thanks to two separate elections by schoolchildren.
21. In 2002, 48-year-old marathon swimmer Martin Strel swam the entire length of the Mississippi River. The 2,414-mile swim took a total of 68 days to complete.
22. Mark Twain had a literary love affair with the Mississippi River and wrote about it often. One of his most famous works centered around the river and places along its path is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
23. The 26-mile section of the Mississippi Gulf Coast that stretches from Biloxi to Henderson Point is the longest man-made beach in the world.
24. The Nina Simone song "Mississippi Goddamn" was written and composed in an hour. The song was a response to violence against Blacks in the South, prompted by the murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963 and the bombing of a church in Birmingham. The song was named one of the top 20 protest songs of all time by The New Statesman in 2010.
25. No one seems to know the origin of using the word “Mississippi” to count seconds, and even people outside of the United States were taught to use the state’s name. “I was taught ‘one Mississippi’ etc. even in England,” wrote one person on a blog titled Separated by a Common Language. In a similar thread on reddit, someone wrote, “Australian, I go ‘One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand,’ but also did Mississippi growing up.”