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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dead artists at Mobile Museum of Art

Halloween is the time of year when the veil between the dead and the living grows thin. Which means in Mobile, the ghosts of famous artists come back to life.

The Mobile Museum of Art will host a Day of the Dead-meets-Night at the Museum Halloween extravaganza beginning at 6 p.m. tonight. The museum has partnered with AIDS Alabama South to bring about this family affair and will include performances from a number of community theaters as deceased artists come to haunt the galleries. There will be a gallery scavenger hunt, live music from Melissa Robertson, Day of the Dead altars made for artists no longer with us, sugar skull making, face painting and Tarot card readings.

Costumes are recommended. $5 donation requested.

Chere Coen is a travel and food writer who loves weird Southern stories, not to mention a ghost or two.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ulysses S. Grant finds a home in Mississippi, new book offers annotated edition of president's memoirs

Former Union General and President Ulysses S. Grant died in 1885, leaving behind memoirs, letters and other papers. In 1962, during the Civil War centennial, the Ulysses S. Grant Association was formed to collect those papers and publish them.

But they needed a home. What would be the perfect place to house this collection? Why Mississippi, of course!

The papers found a home at Mississippi State University because of the school’s Giles Distinguished Professor of History, Dr. John F. Marszalek, who replaced Dr. John Y. Simon as Executive Director and Managing Editor of the Grant Papers project. The papers were transferred south in 2008.

I found out about this unusual site for Grant’s collection when attending the Mississippi Book Festival this summer in Jackson and paused at the university table. Mississippi State having a presidential collection isn’t uncommon, but it is for a state that doesn’t relate to said president — or has a former violent disagreement with, for that matter. For instance, the University of Tennessee houses the Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson presidential papers, two men who hailed from Tennessee, and Texas A&M is home to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, a man born in Massachusetts but who lived in Texas.

Today (Oct. 23, 2017), Marszalek, David Nolen and Louie Gallo will launch their book, “The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant,” at Square Books in Oxford, Miss. An informal reception begins at 5 p.m., followed by the author's presentation at 5:30 p.m., with book signing both before and after the reading/talk. 

Their book is the first complete annotated edition of Grant’s memoirs and it represents Grant’s thoughts on his life and times through the end of the Civil War—including the antebellum era and the Mexican War—and his perspective on battlefield decision making, according to the publisher’s statement. His two-volume memoirs, sold door-to-door by former Union soldiers in the 19th century, have never gone out of print and were lauded by Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Matthew Arnold, Henry James and presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

As for the library, visitors may access the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library Collections or the Congressional & Political Research Center Collections of the MSU Libraries Special Collections department from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or by calling (662) 325-7679. All 32 volumes of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant are available in most major libraries and are now available online and searchable via the library’s Grant website.

Some of the items featured in the Presidential Library exhibit include:
  • A letter First Lady Julia Dent Grant wrote about the White House wedding of daughter Nellie.
  • Grant White House china reproductions.
  • Prints and portraits including ones of Mrs. Grant's father, Frederick Dent; President Grant's mother and father.
  • A reproduction of General-President Grant's death mask.
  • A rare, grand "salesman's sample" book of photographs from Grant's 1885 funeral featuring the work of some of the era's finest photographers, Matthew Brady, L.C. Handy, and Frederick F. Gutekunst.
  • A desk originally in the U.S. Supreme Court used by two justices on the bench during Grant's presidency.
  • A love seat and chair featuring designs commemorating Grant's military role in Mississippi created by Annie Coggan-Crawford, a former MSU professor in the College of Architecture, Art and Design.
Chere Coen is a travel and food writer who loves weird Southern stories, including a former Union general finding a home in the Deep South.