Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jefferson Davis' mansion survives Katrina

The Biloxi mansion of Jefferson Davis, head traitor and President of the Confederate States of America, apparently survived Katrina.  Just barely: Beauvoir will 'rise again' by Lisa Krieger Biloxi Sun-Herald 09/13/05.

And I just can't stop myself from saying, it was almost gone with the wind.  (Ooohhhh, bad.)

The beachfront retirement home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and the only national historic landmark in Harrison County, the Beauvoir house has lived through the Civil War, attempted arson and 21 other hurricanes during its 150-year life.

But Hurricane Katrina was almost fatal.

Beauvoir's elegant porches, recently refurbished, are gone. So is the graceful front staircase. Entrance doors, each with nine oval glass panes, were destroyed. A corner of the roof is missing. Original windows have been broken. Louvered green shutters are badly damaged.

The old traitor was allowed to live in the United States even though his citizenship was removed.  President Jimmy Carter formally restored it.

Unfortunately, its surrounding structures did not fare so well. "It is with great sadness that the Library pavilion, where Jefferson Davis penned "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,'' the Hayes Cottage, Soldier's Home Barracks replica, Confederate Soldier's Museum, giftshop and director's home were totally destroyed,'' according to the Beauvoir Web site. The Presidential Library lost its first floor.

Gosh, that's too bad.  Where will we go now to buy Jefferson Davis kitsch?

I have been to Beauvoir.  It's not very exciting, but if you're a history nut, it is interesting.  I do hope they took the precaution of doing something special to protect their more important holdings.  A hurricane like Katrina causes cultural losses.  The article says that a building housing an African-American museum was completely destroyed.  I believe that was a relatively new project and wasn't yet completed.

Flooding carried away antique furniture and many priceless artifacts, including uniforms and weapons. It is feared that some rare rifles are gone, along with the saddle on which Davis rode into the Mexican war and the wooden hearse-like structure that carried his body to the grave.

Because an inventory is still under way, historians do not yet know how many artifacts were lost. Beauvoir historians reportedly provided a list of military artifacts to the eBay online auction Web site, so that any items listed for sale can be confiscated and returned to the estate.

On the other hand, if you do decide to visit the place, remember that it's owned by a neo-Confederate group:

Beauvoir is owned by the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which will lead fundraising and restoration efforts.

The SCV was the main organization that pushed successfully for the preservation of Mississippi's Confederate state flag in 2001.  Keep that in mind if you feel moved to contribute to the restoration of the place.

It attracts between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors a year. In 2002, the Mississippi Tourism Association named the estate the top tourism destination in Mississippi. (my emphasis)

Because of its link to the Confederacy, "It is a lightning rod for a lot of people, which gives us an opportunity to explore a lot of themes in our history ‹ themes that have an impact on our current culture,'' he said.

South Mississippi historian Charles Sullivan calls it "a shrine" a memorial to a lost cause. Jefferson Davis is a symbol of a cause that failed.''

"It is a tangible connection to a past that wasn't so long ago. In the 7,000 years of human history, the Civil War was just an eyeblink ago. It just happened. Because of Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis is still with us,'' Sullivan said. "In the words of William Faulkner, 'The past is not dead. It is not even past.' "

You know, seeing someone quote William Faulkner to praise Jeff Davis and his "shrine" just makes me want to puke.

I actually find it hard to believe that Beauvoir was the state's top tourist destination.  It's a pretty dull stop, at least the last time I was there.  And the Confederate "museum" was pretty light-weight, not much more than a few small exhibits.  What would you expect from the SCV?

My gone-with-the-wind joke was about as corny as it gets.  But the nostalgics for the Confederacy have a corner on the market for a special kind of hokiness:

But we'll fix it,'' said Sullivan. "We're used to defeat. We'll restore it. It will rise again."

Get a life, people.

By the way, Steve Earle's song "Dixieland" that I feature here in the "Music I'm Listening To" section is a song about a soldier in the command of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, a Union hero of the Battle of Gettysburg:

I am Kilran of the 20th Maine
And I'd march to Hell and back again
For Colonel Joshua Chamberlain
We're all goin' down to Dixieland

I am Kilran of the 20th Maine
And I damn all gentlemen
Whose only worth is a father's name
And the sweat of a workin' man

Well we come from the farms and the city streets
And a hundred foreign lands
And we spilled our blood in the battle's heat
Now we're all Americans

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