The sun has heated the asphalt vigorously. Anyone who crosses Beach Boulevard, as the entire coastal road is called here, barefoot to go to the beach, automatically hurries. You have to let a few cars through, then you stand in perfect white sand and marvel at the emptiness. There are more herons than bathers – although the trip took place before the corona pandemic.
Mississippi doesn’t necessarily come first as a beach vacation. That the US state has a beach life is relatively unknown. The locals call their coastline “The Secret Coast”. The secret coast. The approximately 100 kilometer long section on the Gulf of Mexico is a real discovery, because in many places you will find what many people long for on vacation: peace and quiet.
Many have a history of hurricanes
In Bay St. Louis, for example. Almost everyone here has their own “Katrina” story. Nikki Moon smiles as she tells hers. The 67-year-old survived the hurricane in a spectacular way, which not only hit New Orleans in 2005, but also over large parts of the Gulf Coast. The catastrophe, it becomes clear in many conversations, had a strong impact on people.
“Katrina” reached the artist town on the morning of August 29th. Despite warnings from the authorities, Moon had stayed, as had most of her neighbors. She wanted to stay in her bed and breakfast. With the purchase of the bed and breakfast she had fulfilled a dream. The house, built in 1899 directly on Beach Boulevard, had so far defied all storms, including “Camille” on August 17, 1969, the most violent hurricane to date.
“The water came at 9:15 am,” says Moon. The storm lifted the roof of their house, the tidal wave tore the rest with it. Together with two friends and her dog under her arm, the Scottish Terrier Maddy, she saved herself in a nearby tree. “We clung to the trunk and branches for four hours.” Millions of Americans witnessed the dramatic scenes, filmed by a CNN team. Moon felt her dog’s heartbeat and fear. But Maddy held still. “The animal knew what was important.”
“Katrina” killed 238 people in Mississippi. Thousands were left homeless. The storm not only smashed houses, but also roads and bridges, and almost all of the infrastructure near the coast. He couldn’t destroy Nikki Moon’s dream. She worked in nearby New Orleans for a few years. Then she said to herself “Do it again!” And returned. She rebuilt her bed and breakfast in the same place. Her new Bay Town Inn opened in 2013.
Today the remains of the tree are reminiscent of August 29, 2005. The dead oak, which was badly damaged by the salt water, is a monument. Moon calls it “The Angel Tree”. You look out to sea, see the rebuilt St. Louis Bay Bridge and the ruined trees. For Moon she is a symbol of hope, happiness in adversity and her own perseverance.
Mississippi is also home to the blues
Mississippi is best known for cotton fields and the blues. Many blues inventors like Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt or blues innovators like BB King and Muddy Waters were born in the so-called Blues Delta in northern Mississippi. Elvis Presley is from here too.
More and more tourists are coming for this musical legacy, traveling the Mississippi Blues Trail, with its more than 200 blues venues. Others are interested in the US civil rights movement, which awoke in 1955 after the murder of 14-year-old black Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi.
Civil Rights Museum takes you back in time
Mississippi is considered to be ground zero of resistance to racial hatred and racial segregation. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in the capital Jackson tells the stories of this struggle for a new Mississippi. Pamela Junior, the principal, wants every Mississippi student to visit her museum at least once. Without knowing the past, you don’t understand the present, she says. “Every young American can learn here what has shaped him and his country.”
South is known for its shrimp
From the Blues Delta you can drive to Bay St. Louis or one of the other eleven coastal cities in a good five hours. They are two completely different worlds. Cotton is grown in the north. Shrimp are fished in the south. 70 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States is caught here. “Nothing tastes like Mississippi shrimp,” say the Mississippians. You can buy the delicacy directly at the cutter or try it in one of the many new restaurants that have opened in recent years, for example in White Pillars in Biloxi, run by young top chef Austin Sumrall and his wife Tresse.
The 32-year-old cooks with regional ingredients. Many small towns in Mississippi, it is said, do not have a single fast food restaurant. You cook like in grandmother’s time and talk about it as if it were a new invention. When Sumrall introduces his concept of freshness and variety, you can feel the same enthusiasm that speaks from Nikki Moon. The two do their thing. A kind of “Katrina” fear doesn’t slow them down, both say. The people in this area are used to living with the risk of hurricanes.
Ocean Springs is an artist town
In Ocean Springs, an artist town, we get to know the work of Walter Inglis Anderson. A museum of his own has been dedicated to the painter and author, who died in 1965, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. There you can see the bicycle on which the artist rode thousands of miles from Mississippi. He has toured as far as Texas, Florida and New York, always looking for light and probably also for enlightenment.
A rowing boat hangs from the museum ceiling. With that he crossed over to Horn Island, an island in the Mississippi Sound, his refuge. The wall paintings that were created there in a small room in his holiday home are inspired by Psalm 104, a hymn to creation. You stand in the recreated Little Room, look at the pictures, the flowers and animals, the colors, the brightness, the naivety and can guess how much Anderson, who spent some time in mental hospitals, must have longed for clarity .
Tips for your trip to Mississippi
Getting there: Direct flights from Germany to Mississippi there is not any. The airports in the capital Jackson, in Gulfport on the Gulf Coast or Memphis in the neighboring state of Tennessee directly on the border can be reached with one change.
Best travel time: July and August are the hottest months in Mississippi, the temperature often rises to more than 40 degrees Celsius, and the humidity is also very high. During the remaining months there is usually milder weather. It is most pleasant in spring and autumn. In winter, the temperature rarely goes below freezing.
Essen: White Pillars Restaurant and Lounge, 1696 Beach Boulevard, Biloxi. Feines Farm-to-Table-Dining.
Attractions: Walter Anderson Museum of Art, 510 Washington Ave, Ocean Springs.