Before JATRAN: Jackson’s trolley system as told by MissPreservation.


My father has an excellent collection of interesting coins.  Many are valuable, but the most interesting ones have no value in the usual sense.  Case and point can be seen in this little gem:  a public transit token from the days when Jackson had a rail car system similar to the one found in New Orleans.  Until I came across this token, the only evidence of trolley’s existence for me were stories my grandmother told as we drove over some bad bumps on capital street.  I was told that during the recent Capital Street Project, some of the tracks were actually unearthed.

It’s been far too long since the last Jackson Obscura post, and I thought this would be a great topic.  After a quick search, I realized it would be hard to do a better job than this post by Frank Brooks:

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Sing “Tammy” for Me: Cid Sumners, Mississippi Writer

by Jesse Yancy

In 1949, Twentieth Century-Fox released Pinky, a film that would have a lasting impact on the American film industry. The movie was based on Quality, a novel by Jackson native Cid Ricketts Sumner.

Cid Ricketts grew up on North State at a time when Woodrow Wilson wasn’t even a president, much less a street. She taught at both Jackson High School and her alma mater Millsaps College (where she graduated summa cum laude at the age of 16) before attending medical school at Cornell University. There she took classes under James B. Sumner, who shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1946. They were married in 1915 and divorced in 1930. They had four children.

Sumner’s first novel was published in 1938. Her second, Quality, was published in 1946; her third, Tammy Out of Time, was published in 1948.

Writer, director and film scholar Melanie Addington says, “Sumner’s childhood is much more similar to her lighter fare (the “Tammy” series), than it is from her most important work, Quality, where she got to the heart of Southern life.”

Filmmaker and attorney Anita Modak-Truran explains, “Pinky tells the story of a light-skinned black woman who passed as a white and trained as a nurse up North, where she became involved in a romantic relationship with a white doctor. When she returns to the South, her grandmother tries to help her figure out where she belongs in society as she nurses the dying white domestic tyrant Miss Em.”

Pinky premiered in the same year (1949) as Intruder in the Dust,” Addington says. “Both films and novels explore legal and societal racism. Mississippi novelists at that time were helping to create some of the earliest arguments against racism and Hollywood was enamored with the idea.”

“While Pinky may have its controversy that could limit its effectiveness, like casting a white actress (Jeanne Crain) as the lead instead of a black star like Lena Horne, the film reaches into the center of American sentiment and finds a way to move us,” Addington says.

Variety reported that Pinky was one the top-grossing films of 1949 and observed that though the story “may leave questions unanswered and in spots be naive, the mature treatment of a significant theme in a manner that promises broad public acceptance and box office success truly moves the American film medium a desirable notch forward in stature and importance.”

Addington says that though an aristocratic white woman helps Pinky move towards pride in being a black female, “This leads to a more interesting conclusion for the film, given the patronizing attitude that she would listen to a white woman and not her own grandmother. Ethel Barrymore’s character (Miss Em) notes, ‘Nobody deserves respect as long as she pretends to be something she isn’t,’ and the line resonates with Pinky.”

“Hearing the truth about ourselves from strangers often helps us stop perpetuating our own myths.”

When she dies, the enlightened despot Miss Em leaves her estate to Pinky, and rumors swirl that Pinky may have killed her. Accused, she stands trial. “Much like Lucas Beauchamp in Intruder in the Dust,despite her innocence, society still finds a way to shun Pinky for ‘causing trouble’,” Addington says. “This is evident in the hushed courtroom as she slowly makes her way to freedom. Pinky, in love with a white man from the North, must choose to leave but instead realizes that she must remain in the South to claim her identity.”

Pinky stays and turns the estate into a nursing school for black women. “The film falters in the final scene, which shows Pinky standing alone and misty-eyed,” Addington says. “The adaptation avoided the ending that made Quality such an interesting original story. In the book, the home is burned to the ground by the Klan, a much stronger and more dramatic ending. The studio scrapped that outcome to provide a ‘tragic heroine’ ending that left audiences feeling good about racial issues in the South. Ricketts, not Hollywood, actually got it right with a much darker truth to an ending that sadly was too real for too many.”

“Pinky is Tammy hopped up on the steroids of social injustice,” Modak-Truran says.

“Producer Darryl F. Zanuck was progressive; he believed that audiences accepted social issues that were swept neatly into a love story. By today’s standards, the movie and its plot seem like ancient history, but it wasn’t so long ago that I overheard people discussing the mixed race of President Obama. Pinky was the first big studio picture to tromp into the race issues, and for that alone, it was groundbreaking.”

The movie garnered Academy Award nominations for the three female leads, Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters, who played “Pinky’s Granny”.

“It also led to an appeal before the United States Supreme Court in Gelling v. Texas,” Modak-Truran says, “and a victory for the local movie theater owner who screened the film over a local decree censoring it from public viewing.” The June 3, 1952 edition of The New York Times reported, “The Supreme Court today struck down a motion picture censor ordinance by which the city of Marshall, Texas, disapproved the showing of the film Pinky.”

Sumner’s third novel, Tammy Out of Time (1948) , an unabashedly romantic tale of a Mississippi girl, was a significant departure from the tense realism of Quality, but doubtless due to the success of Pinky, the studios took a look, and between its pages found an iconic figure for mid-century America.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of movies adapted from novels by Cid Ricketts Sumner is a romantic comedy featuring a cuddly Mississippi-bred cutie-pie who is head over heels in love with the perfect bachelor,” Modak-Truran says. “I wonder if the Tammy novels were Sumner’s way of placating Southerners from the sting of Quality. Or maybe Sumner simply wanted to return to simpler roots after the audacious and gut-wrenching Quality.”

In either case, the heroine of Sumner’s third novel, Tammy Tyree, provided a generation of young ladies with a smart, charming role model. One critic described Tammy and the Bachelor as a “whimsical romance for middle America, which started Hollywood’s last series of proletarian family appeal before the family was entirely forsaken for four-letter words.”

Sumner wrote three “Tammy” novels, which provided fodder for four films as well as a television series over a ten year period. Tammy was played by both Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee, and the supporting casts of the films included Leslie Nielsen, Walter Brennan, Fay Wray, Adam West, Macdonald Carey and (in his first feature role) Peter Fonda. Denver Pyle, who played Uncle Jesse in “The Dukes of Hazard”, portrayed Grandpa Tarleton in the television series (1965-66).

Writer Jill Conner Browne says, “As I was writing the first book (The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love), we decided that a modicum of anonymity regarding some of the tales might be in order, so we decided to select stage names for ourselves. As it turned out, since we are all Of A Certain Age and grew up watching and loving all of Tammy’s exploits (she was way better than Cinderella and seemed much more attainable to our young minds) we ALL wanted to be “Tammy.”  Believing that it was unfair for one to be allowed to use the name that ALL wanted, we simply decided that we would ALL be ‘Tammy.’”

“In my preteen years, I couldn’t get enough of Tammy’s romantic dalliances and watched all of the films countless times,” Modak-Truran says. “Back then a sweet-tempered country girl falling in love with a sophisticated young man was enough for girls like me to have sugar-coated pipe dreams of ‘happily ever after’.”

The movie also spawned a Top 40 hit in 1957, “Tammy”. Music historian Brian Hargett says, “The song, which Reynolds herself describes as a “sweet, simple ballad”, went to #1 for three weeks beginning August 26, 1957. The #2 song that week was ‘Teddy Bear’, by a young man from Tupelo named Elvis Presley.”

“At the onset of the youth revolution, it was possible for a 25-year old like Reynolds to have a hit record sung rather simply without studio gimmickry,” Hargett says. “Until the Beatles came along, record companies happily recorded talent like Debbie Reynolds. After 1964, ‘older’ acts like Reynolds were quickly dropped off record company artists rosters.”

“The studio first recorded ‘Tammy’ with just piano backing, but Henry Mancini sweetened it with strings, and Hollywood liked it enough to put it in the movie,” Hargett says. “The Ames Brothers sang it as the thematic introduction to the film, and they had a fair hit with it, too.” The song was also nominated for an Oscar.

Though the movies based on the works of Cid Ricketts Sumner are noteworthy, Sumner’s literary achievements seem more than modest by Mississippi standards; she garnered no literary laurels, and she is largely forgotten, even in her hometown. Still, she was a remarkable woman. She married a Nobel laureate, wrote 13 books, toured Europe on horseback, and when she was 64 she was the only woman in a group of eight who made a 31-day rafting trip down the Colorado River.

Sumners was bludgeoned to death at the age of 80 in her home in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Her 16-year old grandson, John R. Cutler, was charged with her murder. A hammer ended the life of Cid, short for “placid”, a family nickname she was given for being such a contented child.

This article originally appeared on Jesse Yancy’s blog, Made in Mississippi.

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Jackson on the Big Screen: The Beast Within

With the recent premier of The Help, a movie set and mostly filmed in Jackson, I thought it might be timely to start a series about Jackson’s forgotten cinema connections.

Almost thirty years ago, Jackson was the location of the filming of The Beast Within, a gory thriller set in the backwoods of the deep south.  An adaptation of the bestselling novel by Edward Levy, the movie was released in 1982 to dismal reviews.  Critics said it was “cheap and exploitive”, which is still true today.  Somehow it managed to gross over $7,000,000 at the box office, which is not too shabby for being up against E.T.  Today the film enjoys a resurgence in indie horror circles, where bad films are celebrated.

The premise of the movie is this:  A young couple in on their honeymoon in the fictional Nioba, Mississippi.  After some night-time car trouble they are separated, and the woman is attacked and taken advantage of by some sort of locust creature.  Fast forward 17 years:  The couple has raised a healthy teenage son, but he’s starting to undergo some very strange changes.    Suspecting the events of the past, they travel back to Nioba to investigate.  Here the boy finishes his gruesome transformation into a cicada monster in order to continue the cycle.  But can he be stopped?

The movie may be obscure, but check out this star-studded cast:  Ronny Cox (banjo player #2 from Deliverance),  R.G. Armstrong (the general from Predator), Boyce Holleman (MS state senator turned actor) and leading lady Bibi Besch (Captain Kirk’s mom in Wrath of Khan).  Look out Emma Stone!  I can only imagine the paparazzi circus that must have been here.

Is it worth putting this movie on your netflix cue? Tough call.  For me it’s greatest highlights are the clearly recognizable scenes around Jackson, particularly the swamps of Lefluer’s Bluffs State Park and the old train tressel (see Belhaven’s Hidden Trail).  The downside is that it’s 98 minutes of your life you can never get back.  I suppose the film is unique in that it is based on the reproductive cycle of the cicada.  It’s also the only movie I know of set in Mississippi that doesn’t depend on racial tension, though there is a slightly offensive “drunken Indian” character.  Perhaps the trailer can help you decide.

The film seems to be marketed and written around the 10 minute gruesome effects sequence of the boy turning into a cicada.  In an effort to preserve the dignity jackson obscura has after this post, I’m not going to link to it, but with a little searching you can watch it for yourself.

It’s pretty remarkable for 1982.  It’s still gross in 2011.

I’d probably go see The Help instead.

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Lost Bridges of Hinds County part 2

by Jessica Russell

(continued from previous post)

Not two miles in, a wooden sign for “PIG EARS” and “HOT FISH” launched an impromptu dinner at the Family Reunion Shack, which turned out to be everything one could ever want in a rural, roadside club. There was blues in the jukebox; grease in the kitchen; pool tables on pressboard floors; and a large painting of the Last Supper.

Also on display: An impressive collection of blues album art, old photographs, and numerous signs discouraging such unruliness as dancing on pool tables, smoking at the cash register, and using profanity.

It is, after all, a family operation. The couple in charge moved to Terry from Jackson many years ago. And they can cook. The pan trout, in particular, is not to be missed: battered and seasoned to Southern-fried perfection. On Saturday nights, the menu offers pickled pig’s feet, among other specials. There’s no doubt this cloven-hoofed offering would please even the most discriminating connoisseurs of pork fat and vinegar; apparently, I’m just not one of them. At least now I know.

One weathered regular asked how we got there. We shared our tale of finding the historic bridge on Rosemary Road, and actually driving over it.

He informed us we did no such thing.
“That bridge is out,” he said. “You weren’t on that bridge.” Turns out, as impressed as we were with the Vaughn Creek bridge, the main attraction is just beyond it: A bigger, through-truss bridge that crosses the Pearl River. And it is, by all accounts, “out.” (As we would soon discover, the Rankin County approach is completely gone, but the Hinds County side is still walkable.)

With little daylight left, we drove back across Vaughn Creek in search of the other lost bridge on Rosemary Road. This time, we found it, in all its rusty, rickety glory. It was closed in 2009, after standing since the 1950s—or before, some locals say.

Whatever it’s age, it’s old enough to have its own ghost story! Legend has it that the ghost of a woman who was murdered there long ago still walks the bridge at night. We were there from dusk till nearly dark and didn’t see another soul, living or otherwise. Perhaps we were too early.

We did, however, see a beautiful view of the river, and that alone was worth the trip. But, beautiful and historic as it is, it’s unclear what will become of it. With a newer bridge just a few miles away, the city is unlikely to ever repair this one. But, by the same token, it’s just as unlikely they’ll ever tear it down.

So while it’s entirely possible that we’ll one day lose this landmark to neglect, who knows? If enough people care to preserve it, it could get a new life—say, as a great highlight on a walking or biking trail, perhaps—and bring new value to nearby communities.

If you like, grab your camera and imagine the possibilities for yourself. If you get hungry, you know where to stop!

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Lost Bridges of Hinds County part 1

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part post. We will return soon with more of David McCarty’s Welcome to East Jackson.

The only thing that makes a summer day hotter is spending it in the city.  I’m told the “urban heat island effect” can raise the ambient air temperature a full 10 degrees above what out rural neighbors are experiencing.  This belief led a friend and I on a quest for adventure out-of-town.  We had heard a report of a bridge, somewhere close to Terry, that state had deemed “structurally insufficient” and later closed to traffic.  Interestingly, some time passed between these two events.

Armed with only the vaguest directions and the blower set on MAX AC, we wound through and past quant downtown Terry, under some railroad tracks, and finally onto Rosemary, a beautifully hilly and wooded road.  As the woods thickened and the road narrowed, we approached a large ravine with a strangely proportioned one-lane bridge.  To our surprise, there was nothing blocking the bridge, and after some deliberation about the “structural sufficiency” of the it, we decided to drive across.  The wooden decking creaked under the weight of our car as we crossed safely onto the other side.  According to, this pony-truss style bridge was built in 1950, and has a sufficiency rating of 27 (out of 100!).  Apparently sufficient enough for a Toyota Camry.

Almost immediately we encountered a group of men and boys in camouflage with hunting rifles in tow.  We sheepishly asked if we could park to snap some photos of the bridge.  They consented, and we began to explore on foot.

Standing on the bridge, you have a great view of two very different water features on Vaughn Creek.  Upstream from the bridge is a slow and mysterious cypress swamp, which funnels into a fast flowing creek that spills across a sandstone slab visible on the other side of the bridge.  The sound of rushing water was so inviting that we decided to scramble down the steep poison ivy covered bank of the creek.  What we found was bittersweet.  A small waterfall (impressive by MS standards) was no more than 50 yards from the bridge.  Unfortunately, the area around the waterfall was trashed.  The drop off the bridge was far too convenient(and probably entertaining) of a place to make trash “go away”.   I was saddened as we stepped around broken TV’s, tires, and kitchen waste.  This was a reminder of my least favorite trait of my home state-littering is a hobby in MS.

We walked down the creek to its confluence with the Pearl River and enjoyed some breath-taking views of sandbars and herons until, abruptly, gunfire echoed through the woods.  Our friends from earlier must have found something.  It made for a good time to hustle back to the car.

Convinced we had found the bridge we came to see, we headed back to town.  But, as we would soon find out, the adventure on Rosemary Road was far from over.

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by David McCarty

In which we visit a Lost City long gone:  a world where bootleggers were demigods, whiskey was good as gold, and the blues ruled supreme.

Let me tell you a story about a Lost City just a few minutes from where you’re sitting right now.  A place where millions of dollars changed hands; where blood was spilled; where the legends of blues and r & b played.

To find it, head over to Hal & Mal’s, and maybe grab a glass of Southern Pecan.  Then head south down Commerce, and hang a left on Old Brandon Road.  You’ll cross the Pearl, low and brown and muddy in its summer doldrums, and then the impeccably pruned levee on your left.  You’re in Rankin County now, but you can still catch a glimpse of downtown’s skyscrapers in your rearview mirror.

Go slow; there’s speed traps sometimes, although there’s little traffic.  There’s some tumbledown shacks on your left, an old-timey gas station, and then you’re at Flowood Drive, not far from Trustmark Park and a M-Braves game.  If you bear left a bit and snake down Fannin Road you’re still only five minutes from downtown.

What you didn’t see on that stretch was an invisible city called East Jackson, the Gold Coast of Mississippi.  From the 1920s until the mid 1960s it was a haven for no-label Mason jar whisky, illegal blackjack, and the finest music in the country.  For forty years it reigned supreme as a haven for wildness and lawlessness, a miniature burst of New Orleans, complete with its own river.  East Jackson was so spectacular it earned its own theme song in 1928 by a local bluesman.

In 1919, the United States banned alcohol, and the nation was completely rid of intoxicating liquors.  Rid of them in theory: in reality, bootlegging was such a huge business that entire economies sprung up around it.  One of those was our lost city of East Jackson.  Mississippi had gone dry in 1908 and stayed dry even after the federal ban on alcohol was lifted in ’33.  We just had a little 10% tax on whisky sales, is all, even if selling whisky was technically illegal.

One thing you have to understand about Jackson is that the physical nature of the City hasn’t changed much in the years since old Louis LeFleur pitched camp on a bluff in 1821.  The downtown has hewed to the same general roads since it was laid out.  The main thing that’s changed is the Pearl River, and the role it plays in the City’s life.  One of the main reasons the City even exists is because you could navigate the Pearl to get here.  Cars have only been common for a few decades, and the highway system as we know it now is less than sixty years old.  If you wanted to travel, or wanted to move goods, you used water.

And if you wanted to sell whisky, you did it on the Pearl.  LeFleur’s Bluff was picked as the state’s new capital (over Natchez) in part because it was the most central part of the state that wasn’t a complete swamp.  By the 1920’s, you could ride that Pearl Highway right up to East Jackson to an astounding collection of juke joints, dance halls, restaurants, and gambling outfits.  There were dozens of businesses running in a completely parallel economy to the rest of Mississippi, to the rest of the United States.

 The businesses ran on bootlegged hooch, tumbling dice, and blues.  All that decline-of-empire finery was soaked in cash and spilled blood.  East Jackson wasn’t wholly outside the law but it was close, and fights and even murder were constants in the calculus of the locale.  East Jackson was considered not just bad but Wrong; a cradle of sin.  There’s a 1939 Mississippi Supreme Court murder case that talks about how one tough (convicted of stabbing a fella to death after a bar fight) had first drove across the Pearl River over to the Gold Coast to pick up a half pint of liquor, after which they drove around Jackson drinking it.  You can almost see the arched eyebrow of the justice writing the case.

In other words, it was probably the damned grandest place our grandparents and great-grandparents ever snuck off to.  It was so stellar that when Bo Carter sang about it in 1928, he murmured that “some people say that East Jackson blues ain’t sad.”

Even the blues could be happy in East Jackson.  But not for long.

Next:  The Music of the Gold Coast; the Governor Declares War on East Jackson; and the One Day That Killed a City. 

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Belhaven’s Hidden Trail

In the friendly tug-of-war Jackson plays with its suburbs over residents, the suburbs have seemingly developed an unlikely edge:  networks of biking and walking trails that can actually take you from place to place.

While Jackson doesn’t officially have any commuter trails (yet), the more active and adventurous residents of Belhaven and Belhaven Heights have been using a secret trail system for years.  An abandoned rail road track, with a section of rails removed from High St all the way to the Pearl River, makes a perfect forested get away right in the city.  It is not uncommon to find dog walkers, mountain bikers, or the occasional 4-wheeler using the clear and level packed gravel trail.

While this “trail system” can be accessed in a few different places, it is most commonly accessed in Belhaven Heights on Greymont St or behind Laurel St park. After passing the Water Works Plant, the trail terminates as it approaches the Pearl River.  As the earth drops off, the rail bed remains level, supported from beneath by a system of creosote trusses.  This creates an unusual condition where you are walking in the canopy of the forest, some 25 ft above the ground. The bridge becomes impassable due to a mysterious fire that was allowed to burn a few days before Katrina struck.  While you can still get close enough to the river to catch a glimpse of the structural elegance of the old train trestle, you are no longer able to walk across onto the Rankin county side.

This section of rails traces it’s history to the now defunct Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad, which seems to have acquired it during the late 1920’s.   During it’s operation, this line was able to move people and cargo from Union, MS to Mobile, AL via Jackson.  There was a large switch yard on High St where some of the service buildings still stand.  GM&O was bought by Illinois Central, and in 1996, closed this section of rail as well as many others due to redundancy in routes.  Interestingly, a private speculator now owns the bridge, while thankfully the old rail bed is owned by The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation.

While most of the story of this piece of obscura is one of neglect (and possibly arson) there is a silver lining.  Through a community partnership between Bike Walk Mississippi, the Jackson Bike Advocates, and The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation, plans are underway to create the Museum-to-Market Trail.  This will take the existing trail to a whole new level.  In addition to making the trail official, it will be extended to allow someone to walk, bike, or rollerblade from the MS Farmers’ Market on High Street all the way to the Natural Science and Children’s Museums without ever crossing a single street!  The volunteer trail clean-up day is happening Saturday, May 7th from 9am-12.  Please come out and help make this vision a reality.

(Special thanks to James Tatum and the Central Mississippi Model Railroad Association.  This group operates a working scale model of the old GM&O line at the Ag Museum, and totally deserve to have a Obscura post of their own.  For more history and maps of the GM&O visit

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