Thursday, July 31, 2014

Neshoba County Fair highlight the daily chair races

            Jan Risher is an author, freelance journalist and popular columnist for the Lafayette Advertiser in Lafayette, Louisiana. She’s also a transplant from southern Mississippi and loves to share her crazy state with readers. Crazy with deep affection, mind you, since no one in south Louisiana can throw crazy stones.
Photos by Neshoba County Fair
            This past week she shared stories and images from the Neshoba County Fair, which happens every summer about 25 miles from where Risher grew up. The annual event is more like a party, Risher explained, where people from the area come home and stay at "cabins" owned by residents. Camping, a few hotels and the Dancing Rabbit Casino are some accommodations available for tourists.
            “And basically, it's a giant reunion,” she said. “If you're from Neshoba County, you go home for that week and stay at the fair. If your parents are from Neshoba County that week, you go and stay at the fair.”
            Like most county fairs, there is plenty to do, including over at the racetrack.
Of course there's a pageant!
            “For the record, it is ridiculously hot there and people stay for the week, relaxing, watching horse cart races, riding rides, looking at the pickles and jam that won various contests and enjoying nightly performances (usually concerts),” Risher posted on Facebook. “This happens every afternoon when they open the racetrack for seating for that evening's concert.”
            When she posted, that night's show was the Miss Neshoba County contest.”
            The real fun, however, happens pre-show. When they open the area for lawn chairs at the afternoon and evening events, things get a little crazy — and we mean Deep South crazy. Participants wanting a good seat — and hauling their own lawn chairs — race to the best spot. It’s so funny, there are numerous videos on YouTube documenting this craziness.
            “The chair races are simply an afternoon ritual of Mississippians entertaining (and hurting) themselves to get the best seats for the nightly show,” Risher explained.
Chair races at the Neshoba fair.
            Want to see what the chair races looks like? Here’s a clip.
            According to Risher, cabins get all lit up and decorated for the event.
            “Years and years ago, National Geographic did a story on the Neshoba County Fair,” she said. “It's changed since then — for one thing, people have a lot more access to twinkly lights!”
            Just don’t forget it’s still Mississippi in July.
            “Those lights don't fool me,” Risher said. “I know how hot the fair is.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

The biggest dag gum yard sale of all!

            The South’s not alone is loving to recycle, reuse and re-buy stuff, but we sure have the best massive yard sales.
Photo courtesy of DeKalb Tourism
            In fact, the World’s Longest Yard Sale takes place in the South, this year from Aug. 7 to 10 along a 690-mile route that begins in Gadsden, Alabama, and travels along the Lookout Mountain Parkway into Chattanooga, Tenn., and all the way to Addison, Michigan, along Highway 127.
Fentress Cty Chamber of Commerce
            OK, you got us, it’s not all South, but you know the best part is down here. For instance, the 93-mile Lookout Mountain Parkway has been touted a “Must See” by Reader’s Digest, the National Geographic and Southern Living magazines, and the headquarters for the sale is the Fentress County Chamber of Commerce in Jamestown, Tenn.
            This year (2014) marks the 27th anniversary of the sale, which gets bigger every year. Vendors come from all over, including foreign countries; Alabama tourism folks estimate there will be 1,000 vendors in Alabama alone!
             Vendors are typically up and at ’em by 8 a.m. and sales go late into the summer twilight. Some are locals spilling out their used goods on front lawns, while others are sophisticated antique dealers. In addition, local restaurants and shops offer more great finds.
Photo courtesy of DeKalb Tourism
            The sale began as a way to get tourists off the interstates and along the back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee, which offers beautiful scenery, Civil War history, railroads, music, and so much more. After a few years, the Lookout Mountain Parkway Association asked to be included, and before long, the route was 690 miles long!
            For more information regarding the annual Hwy. 127 Corridor Sale, visit Lookout Mountain tourism has a wonderful FYI page as well. For lodging information, directions, road closures and more information in Alabama and Tennessee, visit or call DeKalb Tourism at (888) 805-4740 or Greater Gadsden Area Tourism at (888) 565-0411.
Fentress County Chamber of Commerce

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hemingway's Key West cats — and we’re not talking poetry readings

            American author Ernest Hemingway spent part of his life living and writing in Key West, first at Casa Antigua at 314 Simonton St., then at the Spanish Colonial home at 907 Whitehead St., that is now open for tours. While Hemingway was penning some of his best-known works in the southernmost point of the continental U.S.A., he was presented with a white six-toed cat by a ship captain.
            Hemingway named the unusual cat Snowball.
Six-toed Harry Truman at Hemingway House in Key West.
Photo by Rob O'Neal photography.
            Today, about 40 to 50 of Snowball’s descendants reside at the home, named after famous people in the tradition of Hemingway (not sure who Snowball was named after, however). About half of the cats have six toes but they all carry the polydactyl gene in their DNA, according to the home’s web site; the gene allows those with only four and five toes to mother or father cats with six. The web site claims, “The polydactyl cats are not a particular breed. The trait can appear in any breed, calicos, tabbies, tortoise shell. white, black, etc. They vary in shapes, sizes, colors and personalities.”
            The historic property known as the Hemingway House also hosts its own veterinarian, Dr. Edie Clark, who performs routine health care for the Hemingway cats.
             While you’re visiting Hemingway’s Key West house and his menagerie of felines, check out the city’s first in-ground pool, which was built for $20,000 in 1937-38. Hemingway felt the pool’s cost was so exorbitant that he took out a penny from his pocket and placed it in the wet cement on the pool’s side. “Here, take the last penny I’ve got,” he is rumored to have said. The penny is still there, located between flagstones at the north end of the pool.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pageland offers a spitting good time

            What makes a Southern town of 3,000 grow to 25,000 people without it being football season?
            In Pageland, South Carolina, it’s the lure of the sweet sweet watermelon.
            Known as the Watermelon Capital of the World — yes we said worldPageland offers a Watermelon Festival every July to celebrate the magic fruit. This year’s fun will be Friday and Saturday, July 18-19, and include contests for seed spitting, watermelon eating (where you have 90 seconds to eat a watermelon with your hands behind your back) and the best watermelon outfit. In addition, there’s arts and crafts, live music, amusement rides, beauty pageant, Melon Mile 5K, children’s activities, parade, car show and rodeo, among much more.
            Best of all it’s free!
            This fun not-for-profit festival has been happening in Pageland since 1951! That’s a lot of seeds to spit.
            Pageland is located about an hour from downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, and 90 minutes from Columbia, South Carolina.
            Alcohol laws are lifted during the festival to allow patrons to bring their beverage of choice to the nightly concerts, but no beverages are served.
            For information on the Pageland Watermelon Festival, visit

Monday, July 14, 2014

Raining art in Houston

            Who says you can’t touch art?
            There’s an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston that encourages visitors to touch, photograph and immerse themselves within — in a very big way. It’s kinetic artist Jesús Rafael Soto’s final piece before his died, one of the few Soto created for indoor use and the only one designed as permanent.
            Titled the Houston Penetrable, the exhibit consists of 24,000 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) tubes individually hand-painted and tied. These tubes hang down 28 feet from the ceiling to the floor in the Museum’s Cullinan Hall, located in the city’s Museum District.
            From a distance, visitors can see the design that exists within the thousands of tubes, a soft yellow oval. Up close and inside the exhibit, the tubes feel like rain falling as visitors walk through.
            On any day, you’ll find people enjoying Soto’s unique exhibit, sometimes lying on the floor and looking up, many times capturing selfies and adding the exhibit hashtag (#SotoSummer) as they post to social media. (If you show your #SotoSummer photo at Bosta Wine & Coffee, 1801 Binz in the Museum District, you will receive $1 off the exclusive #SotoSummer passion fruit and white chocolate ice cream created by Cloud 10 Creamery.)
            The Penetrable was commissioned in 2004 specifically for the Houston museum and took almost a decade to come to fruition with architect Paolo Carrozzino and producer Walter Pellevoisin working in tandem with Atelier Soto, Paris. The piece took three months to install. In addition to the Penetrable, there are eight pieces on display from Soto’s career, including his Plexiglas boxes and selections from his Agujas (Needles), Ambivalencias (Ambivalences) and Vibraciones (Vibrations) series.
            Don’t miss this. The exhibit ends Sept. 1, 2014.
            Want to see a video of the exhibit? Click here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ho-Hos are not something created by Hostess

            People know Rose O’Neill for her famous Kewpie Dolls, created at the beginning of the Twentieth Century and more popular at the time than Mickey Mouse.
            The multi-talented O’Neill was so much more — a novelist, regular illustrator with magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, suffragette and America’s first female cartoonist. Her Kewpie Dolls began as illustrations in periodicals, then were established as dolls when the public demanded them.
            After all that success O’Neill created another figure, that of the Ho-Ho, something akin to a laughing Buddha. Like her Kewpie dolls, they came in different shades of skin, much like humans. She was a woman ahead of her time, in that regard, creating dolls for both white and African American children. 
            The Ho-Hos didn’t make it with the public, however, and O’Neill abandoned the idea.
            You can see examples of these cute, laughing figures at Bonniebrook, O’Neill’s reconstructed home built on the original foundation outside of Brandon; the house burned in 1947. The Bonniebrook Historical Society offers tours of the home with some of O’Neill’s furnishings, plus a museum showcasing the life of this amazing but little-known artist, writer and activist. And her Ho-Hos.
           Rose died pennyless in 1944 at the age of 69, but according to the Historical Society, "she had made nearly 5,500 drawings, innumerable paintings both in oil and watercolor; she was a sculptor, suffragist, inventor, business woman, philosopher, poet, novelist, children’s book author, and even a musician. 
           As the web site so proudly proclaims, "There is no mistaking that she lived an extraordinarily rich and productive life."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Massive Star-Spangled Banner a highlight of the Smithsonian — and that's not weird

Photo courtesy Smithsonian
The last time we visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum ofAmerican History was back in 2009, and we enjoyed Julia Child’s entire kitchen, as in her entire kitchen, on display as part of the exhibition Bon Appétit! Julia Child’sKitchen at the Smithsonian. Child donated her 14-foot by 20-foot kitchen from her Cambridge, Mass., home in 2001 when she moved to California. Smithsonian curators and historians carefully disassembled the kitchen, packed up the pieces and reassembled them expertly within the Washington, D.C., museum, down to the exact placing of Child’s refrigerator magnets.
Photo courtesy Smithsonian
The National Museum of American History had just reopened after a two-year renovation in which a new grand staircase and skylight was added to the museum’s core and the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the National Anthem, received a more appropriate environmentally-sensitive gallery with an expanded exhibit.The 200-year-old Star-Spangled Banner flag stretches 30 feet by 34 feet but was originally 42 feet long; over the years the owner cut swatches from the giant flag to give to people as souvenirs.
On this July Fourth weekend we encourage you dear readers to visit Washington, D.C., and take in this magnificent flag that inspired our national anthem, a massive undertaking back in the day and also impressive to be so faithfully restored.
A docent explains size of Star Spangled Banner
While you're there, check out the weird items the museum has collected over the years, ranging from pop culture to a mailbox collected from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. One of the museum’s goals is to collect living history as well as objects from the distant past. Some of the articles on display include Jerry Seinfeld’s “puffy shirt,” Kermit the Frog, Cheech and Chong’s Los Chochinos record album (for you Baby Boomers, that’s the one with the pot in the side of the car), Minnie Pearl’s hat and a section of the Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter that inspired sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement. A current addition to the collection was the costumes from the X-Men series. 
Photo courtesy Smithsonian
The most popular exhibits in the National Museum of American History, we were told, are the Star-Spangled Banner flag, the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the First Lady gowns
Did you know?
There are 200 curators working at the National Museum of American History, all examining different subjects of the nation’s history.
 Julia Child’s maple kitchen countertops are a few inches higher than standard counters to suit her 6-foot, 2-inch height. 
 President Lyndon Johnson often walked to the National Museum of American History from the White House to enjoy the museum and to greet people.
            The Museum owns three million objects.

            Happy Fourth of July everyone!