Saturday, January 6, 2018

For Mardi Gras, it's a Dog Day Afternoon — and ball!

In Louisiana, the fun doesn’t stop with New Year’s resolutions. Tonight, Jan. 6, otherwise known as Twelfth Night or the Epiphany, the season of Carnival begins with Mardi Gras balls and other revelries.

This year, all that’s going to the dogs.

For 24 years, the Mardi Paws Parade for canines and their owners took place in Mandeville, just across the causeway from New Orleans, on the Sunday after Mardi Gras Tuesday (this year Feb. 18, 2018). The annual event came at the tail end of the Carnival season (hey, don’t blame us, we borrowed that pun from the organizers).

This year, the Mystic Krewe of Mardi Paws, who put on the annual parade, have decided to take the fun one paw step further with its inaugural Mardi Gras ball. On Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, the krewe will offer its Mutts to Models ball, open to the public with general admission tickets at $125 each, with proceeds going to charity.

The host of the evening is Ian Somerhalder, an actor celebrated for his roles as Damon Salvadore on “The Vampire Diaries” and as Boone Carlyle on “Lost.” An ardent animal lover who grew up in neighboring Covington, Louisiana, Somerhalder worked like a dog to create his namesake foundation (another organization pun). The Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF) has purchased 100 acres of land near Mandeville with about 70 of those acres set aside to preserve the bayou and the remaining 30 acres to support pet projects that serve the needs of animals, youth and the community at large. Scott’s Wish, according to organizers, is to provide aid for patients with leukemia and life-threatening illnesses, the other beneficiary of Mardi Paws events.
The Mutts to Models Ball will take place at the Fleur de Lis event center in Mandeville and feature celebrities, local philanthropists, media personalities, and veterans and other heroes walking the runway with their dogs. Among the models will be Somerhalder escorting a canine representative from one of the organizations that’s been helped by ISF. Another “model” will be Army veteran Erick Scott, who received a black lab named Gumbo from the K9s for Warriors program after serving three tours in Iraq. Gumbo was sponsored by New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who donated the funds to train the dog and gave him his Louisiana-centric name. 

A highlight of the evening will be the presentation of the 2018 canine court, with the top dogs wearing king and queen robes designed by Mary Viveiros of the House of Privilege Canine Couture. The runway show will be produced by Penelope Francis, a global brand strategist based in Miami and Los Angeles and the cofounder and creative director of her former luxury brand, Fifi & Romeo. Models will be showcasing a private collection from Louisiana legend Raoul Blanco Couture, which dresses a loyal following of society’s “who’s who” around the globe.
The festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. with a VIP cocktail reception, followed by the runway show and after-party. The event is open to human attendees; canine guests are limited to the model participants.

If you can’t make the ball, don’t forget the Mardi Paws Parade on Feb. 18. This season’s costumes will highlight “Fables, Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes.”
For more information about the ball or tickets, visit To plan ahead for the parade, visit

Weird, Wacky and Wild South is written by travel writer Chere Coen who loves a strange and unique Southern place or tradition. She's also a big fan of dog parades.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Berry College: 14 acres to every student

Who would imagine that a college with 2100 students would exist on the world’s largest campus. That’s 14 acres to every student.

Berry College outside of Rome, Georgia, sits upon 27,000 acres — that’s two times larger than Manhattan. The Christian school also contains the largest mill wheel (circa 1930) at 42 feet in diameter and still used to grind corn on special occasions. There’s also 88 miles of trails, including the three-mile Viking Trail that’s popular with hikers and bikers. The campus includes several beautiful chapels, the Gunby Equine College, a working farm, the WinShape Retreat Centre and the Roosevelt Cabin named for Pres. Theodore Roosevelt who dined there in 1910. Travel + Leisure named it one of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses and on the day we visited, we spotted a bald eagle in the tree canopy. The natural landscape is the reason why “Remember the Titans” and “Sweet Home Alabama” were filmed here.

The liberal arts school was founded by Martha McChesney Berry in 1902 to educate children in the rural South who might not otherwise get an education. She enlisted the support of American celebrities of her time: Henry and Clara Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Charles Dana and Thomas Edison. Visitors can tour the Martha Berry Museum and gardens, also located on campus.

Chere Coen is a travel and food writer who loves strange and unique Southern locations and traditions.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Happy Southern New Year 2018!

New Year’s in the South means fun and unique — sometimes weird — happenings. Here are a few to consider:

Mount Olive Pickle's New Year's Eve Pickle Drop
Watch a pickle fall from the sky in Mt. Olive, North Carolina, at the annual Pickle Drop. At 7 p.m. Eastern Time (midnight Greenwich Mean Time), the New Year’s Eve three-foot lighted pickle comes down the flagpole into a redwood pickle tank while thousands celebrate. Naturally, there’s music, refreshments and more. 

Razorbacks and MoonPies
Other weird New Year’s Eve drops include the MoonPie falling 34 stories from the top of the RSA Bank Trust Tower in downtown Mobile for the Mobile New Year, and the Late Night Fayetteville celebration, which includes the Hog Drop in addition to live music, family fun, Sacred Somatics performers and much more. If you're wondering why a MoonPie, the southern Alabama town throws the Chattanooga-based sweet treat at Mardi Gras. As for the hog, Fayetteville is home to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

Rat Pack New Year’s Bash
Ring in the New Year at Messina Hof Winery in the Hill Country of Texas with the winery’s Texas Sparkling wine, music and contest for best dancer at the Rat Pack New Year's Bash. Dress in your best vintage outfit and bring your dancing shoes. General admission is $30 and you can stay at the Messina Hof's Manor Haus Bed & Breakfast. 

Jack and Music
New Year’s Eve in Music City means music at the Jack Daniel's Music City Midnight event. Look for the likes of Keith Urban, Maren Morris, Cheap Trick, Carly Pearce, Jonny P, Larkin Poe, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers in Nashville this New Year’s Eve, along with the midnight Music Note Drop and fireworks outside the State Capitol building. Need more convincing? Watch Keith Urban urge you to visit.

Courtesy of
Weird, Wacky and Wild South is written by travel writer Chere Coen who loves a strange and unique Southern place or tradition. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

For a child happiness once came in a small metal box — the Lunchbox Museum of Columbus, Georgia

Who can forget those metal containers we hauled off to school, each containing something scrumptious — we hoped, at least — inside? And no matter that it was our lunch we were bringing, filled with nutrients to get us through the school day, it was the outside of those boxes that mattered most.

Those metal lunchboxes are a thing of the past, surpassed by plastic, then soft, safer materials. After all, swinging a metal lunchbox at the schoolyard bully could result in a broken nose and a suspension.

Still, don’t you miss them?

You can relieve your childhood memories at the Lunchbox Museum in Columbus, Georgia, where Allen Woodall has assembled on display around 1,000 lunchboxes of all shapes and sizes and each sporting popular culture icons, among other artwork. There’s the 1935 Mickey Mouse lunchbox, Marvel superheroes, TV shows like Charlie Angels, Scooby Doo and Laugh-In and so much more! 

Nancy Giles (one of my favorite on-air reporters) recently spotlighted the museum on CBS Sunday Morning and explains how the fad began in the 1950s and continued until 1985 when Rambo sealed its fate after some Florida moms felt the metal boxes were weapons of destruction during kid fights.

Click here for the Sunday Morning video.

The Lunchbox Museum, featuring the largest collection of lunchboxes in the world, is located inside the Rivermarket Antique Mall in Columbus.

Check out more photos (courtesy of Visit Columbus) below.

Weird South is written by travel and food writer Chere Dastugue Coen who always loves a weird and unusual place. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Visiting Angels on the Bluff in Natchez

Tickets go on sale every year on Aug. 1 for the annual Angels on the Bluff, the long-running candlelit tour of the Natchez City Cemetery. And folks in the know have this date circled on their calendar. Tickets sell out quickly and its easy to understand why. Local actors and musicians in period costumes channel historical figures from beyond the grave — and the town has its fair share of colorful people who have passed.  

Robert Stewart
I was honored to have been a part of this years celebration, held Nov. 9-11, 2017. There were 16 shuttles the evening I participated, meaning 16 busloads of ticket holders being shuttled from the Natchez Visitors Center to the cemetery on the north side of town. All proceeds benefit the cemetery.

We were the 6 p.m. group and we filled the school bus to capacity. Once at the cemetery, we followed our leader dressed in a jacket with reflector tape and holding a flashlight. The trails we were meant to follow were lighted by luminaries and several of the live oak trees were lighted from below, casting eerie shadows about. Some of the angels atop gravestones, including the famous Turning Angel, (more about her later), were also illuminated and stood out in the darkness as if serving as our protector.

Lilly Granderson
First up to tell her story was Katherine Grafton Miller, the founder of the Natchez Pilgrimage, who described how she saved the town with tourism in the 1930s. We then met cabinetmaker Robert Stewart who once also served as one of the citys undertakers.

L.S. Cornwell, a local merchant and brief publisher of The Eagle newspaper in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, was played by an Angels veteran, a humorous actor accompanied by the dead mans wife, who also gave a humorous tone to the storytelling.

Lilly Ann Eliza Granderson was an inspiring story, telling how she rose from house and field slave to a woman who operated a secret school where she taught other slaves to read and write.

Many people know of Florence Irene Ford because of her unusual grave. Florences mother comforted her in life when thunderstorms hit — she was deathly afraid of them — so when she died at the young age of 10, her mother built a stairway into the ground and a window next to her coffin so that she may visit Florence and comfort her when storms arrived.
The Turning Angel

Back to the Turning Angel. One of the nights storyteller was John Carkeet, a plasterer and undertaker who was the 11th victim of the 1908 Natchez Drug Company Explosion. The downtown building exploded and burned due to a gas leak and five young women were among the casualties. Their bodies are buried beneath the Turning Angel and the angel watches over them. Its said that when you walk near the statue, the angels eyes will turn and follow you.

Greg Iles, a New York Times bestselling author who lives in Natchez, once used her image on the cover of one of his books, appropriately titled "Turning Angels."

Other fun aspects of the night included a fiddler at a Civil War soldier gravesite, reliving the dancing life of Lillie Vidal Davis Boatner and a dance around a campfire by gypsies.

Sound interesting? Mark your calendar for Aug. 1 and nab those tickets fast. For more information on this historic and beautiful cemetery, visit