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Some were hardly noticed: The 11 presidents who visited Vicksburg

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Bunting, flags and huge pictures of the president decorated the Old Court House, and throngs lined the terraces to hear President Theodore Roosevelt speak on Oct. 21, 1907. Roosevelt spoke from a platform on Monroe Street. Photo from the Old Court House Museum collection.

When President Donald Trump gives a speech, his audience usually numbers more people than the population of Vicksburg. He’s never been here, but at least 11 others who have held that office have. Some came before they were president, others after and some during their time in office. A few drew large crowds, and some were hardly noticed. None came seeking votes.

The first was a mere lad of about 19, working on a flatboat on its way to New Orleans. That was in the 1820s, when the main attraction of the river town was the mint that grew wild along the bayous or springs. Legend has it that men who worked on the river stopped to gather mint to put a sprig in their whiskey, which was the forerunner of the Mint Julep. The young man on that trip was from Illinois. His name was Abraham Lincoln. When he ran for president, he got no votes here as his name was not even on the ballot.

Andrew Jackson came to Vicksburg probably before and after he was president. He lived in Claiborne County, got married in Jefferson County and had in-laws in Port Gibson. He was definitely here in January 1840 on his way to the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.

The battle was fought on Jan. 8, 1815, two weeks after the end of the War of 1812, and as long as Jackson lived, the date was a national celebration. That was long, long before it was the birthday of Elvis or before Jimmy Driftwood in Timbo, Ark., wrote lyrics to the fiddle tune, “Eighth of January” and appropriately renamed it “The Battle of New Orleans.”

In 1840, the Mississippi Legislature chartered a steamboat, The Vicksburg, loaded it with notables including the aging Gen. Jackson, and headed downriver. One overnight stop was in Vicksburg where Jackson stayed with a longtime friend, William McKendree Gwin, who had a townhouse on Grove Street behind the building that is now the Attic Gallery.

The trip was a nightmare, for Jackson was old and sick. Every breath was torture, but he was determined to carry on, saying, “I have long found that complaining never eased pain.”

It was in 1849 that Vicksburg was host to a president elect: Zacharay Taylor. The hero of the War with Mexico, Taylor was living on his plantation in Jefferson County, south of Rodney, when the Whigs nominated him. His first official stop was Vicksburg, where he made a speech on Court Square where the Old Court House now stands. His son-in-law, a local resident, was Jefferson Davis.

Taylor was enthusiastically received. A reception was held for him at a local saloon, and then he was feted with a banquet. In Washington, he was inaugurated a day late because the official date was on a Sunday, a day on which he refused to take the oath.

Vicksburg celebrated “Taft Day” for William Howard Taft, one of 11 U.S. presidents to visit the city. This 1908 postcard with a photo of Taft and the U.S. Capitol proclaims him to be “Our Next President.”

The next to visit the city was Millard Fillmore, who ascended to the presidency upon Taylor’s death. Fillmore had left the Whig Party and joined the American Party, nicknamed the Know Nothing Party. At the time of his visit, every elected official in Vicksburg was a Know Nothing. (I’m not going to comment on that one.)

When James Knox Polk visited Vicksburg in the spring of 1849, shortly after leaving office, he didn’t receive the respect a former president was due—but it was an accident. A proper reception had been planned at the waterfront including a salute by cannon fire. A crowd waited, and when a boat came into view, the booming of the cannon announced Polk’s arrival.

But it wasn’t Polk. It was the wrong boat, and on board was Henry Clay, a long-time political opponent of Polk’s. When Clay realized that the military salute wasn’t for him, he quipped, “I hope, gentlemen, I am not stealing Mr. Polk’s thunder.” Polk wryly wrote in his diary that the welcoming committee told Clay they “had a plenty of powder for both.”

Gen. U.S. Grant was here during the war, as we are well aware, but he came back in 1880 after his presidency and a tour of Europe. Grant addressed the people of Vicksburg from the east portico of the Old Court House and was politely received. He was introduced by Col. William H. McCardle, a newspaper editor who had been on Gen. John C. Pemberton’s staff during the siege. McCardle assured Grant that though he had not been welcome 17 years earlier, it was an honor to have him visit the city. When asked if he would like to go to the site of his greatest victory, Grant declined, but he did place flowers on a grave in the National Cemetery.

On May Day in 1901, President William McKinley made a visit to Vicksburg, accompanied by his wife. He toured the National Cemetery and made a talk near the entrance in Waltersville. A reporter guesstimated that a crowd of 15,000 turned out to greet him. McKinley also made a speech on Court Square from a wooden platform build next to the Cherry Street steps.

McKinley was a Union Army veteran, but when his carriage ride took him down Grove Street, someone hung a Confederate flag from a second story window, and he doffed his hat in respect as the crown cheered. (I shouldn’t have revealed that story, for there are people who may want to impeach him posthumously.)

On an October day in 1907, a carriage on Washington Street passed beneath a cotton bale arch with a large sign: “Mississippi Greets America’s President.” (A similar arch was built for McKinley’s visit.) Flags were flying, bands playing, people cheering and suddenly, a child, Homer Smith, ran to the carriage and handed the president a bouquet of flowers.

When President Roosevelt returned to Washington, D.C., he had this teddy bear sent to the Vicksburg child who had given him a bouquet of flowers: Homer Smith. The bear is on display in the Old Court House Museum, a gift of Mrs. Lillian Smith, Homer Smith’s widow.

The president was Theodore Roosevelt, who had made history in the area in 1902 when he refused to shoot a bear tied to a tree near Onward in Sharkey County. From that event, the teddy bear was born. During the 1907 visit, Roosevelt had his staff find out the name and address of the child’s parents—the child who had given him the flowers—and when back in Washington, he had a teddy bear sent as a gift. That teddy bear in now on display in the Old Court House Museum.

Roosevelt climaxed his 1907 visit with a speech at the Court House. In that appearance, he was flanked by former Confederate Gen. Stephen Dill Lee and U.S. Sen. John Sharp Williams, who introduced him. (The senator, who was president of the Senate, was from Yazoo County. He was the grandfather of Ann Flowers and Betty Bullard.)

Roosevelt was a wise politician. He was from New York and had once been very critical of Jefferson Davis, but in Davis’ hometown he made complimentary remarks about him. Roosevelt’s family was divided during the Civil War, like many in America, his mother’s people being active in the Confederate cause.

Next to come was William Howard Taft, weighing in at more than 300 pounds. Taft Day was proclaimed in Vicksburg, but the president’s train was a day late, and there wasn’t much of a celebration.

It was July 4, 1947, before another man who would become president came. He was Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, who spoke in front of the Warren County Court House. The event was a celebration in thanks to God for the victory then ended World War II. It was hailed as a time when Vicksburg rejoined the Union, for the Fourth of July had not been officially celebrated here since the city surrendered on July 4, 1863.

The occasion was also the time when Eisenhower, in answer to a reporter’s question, said that if offered the nomination for the presidency, he would not refuse it. Until that time there was speculation about whether he would run.

I know of three vice presidents who came here. Vicksburg hadn’t been thought of when Aaron Burr passed downriver in 1806. John C. Calhoun came in the 1840s when he was running for the presidency, and John C. Breckinridge was here in 1862 as a Confederate general.

Presidents Washington, Madison, Polk, Lincoln and Grant each had relatives here, kin either by blood or marriage.

I didn’t mention Jefferson Davis, who was an American president, though not of the United States. When he was secretary of war under Franklin Pierce, he was sometimes called the “acting president.” Many volumes have been written about him, and he spent most of his productive years as a Warren County resident.

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VIDEO – Vicksburg trolley seen on Washington Street

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(photo by David Day)

One of the old Vicksburg trollies made its way up Washington Street Thursday on its way to its temporary home in the Blackburn building.

It was the first time a trolley had been seen on Washington Street in more than 80 years.

Owners of the trolley are hoping to restore the car for public viewing. It had been used at a hunting camp for decades.

Read and see more about the trolley.

(Video by Paul Lynn, used with permission)

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Remembering Charlie Faulk: the best boss I ever had

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Charlie Faulk (photo courtesy Gordon Cotton)

Friday, Oct. 16, was or is (depending on when you read this) National Boss’s Day, and it caused me to reflect on some bosses I’ve had but especially on the best one.

From the time I was a little boy, I knew that Charlie Faulk was special. Country folk, before the days of paved roads, rural phones, electric lights or indoor plumbing, were mighty proud of one of their own who made something of himself.

Charlie Faulk fit that mold.

He was born near Redbone, Mississippi, to Charles and Alice Hullum Faulk and grew up between Glass and Yokena, went to school at Jeff Davis and Jett, went to church at Wayside, and in 1935 traveled the gravel road that became U.S. Highway 61 to Vicksburg.

He found his niche at the Vicksburg Evening Post and for more than half a century — 55 years, I think — he was on the newsbeat in Vicksburg, much of that time as managing editor. You might say he swapped his overalls for a coat and tie, but Charlie Mitchell said it best: “He never forgot his country connections and those growing up years where he learned the values that guided him through life — hard work, honesty, fairness and compassion. He sometimes reflected on those earlier years with a nostalgic longing for a simpler life, yet he would not have traded his career for any other. At the end of a half a century as a newsman, he reflected that it had been ‘America at the grassroots. The greatest 50 years of all time, in the greatest profession of all time. I call it life in the fast lane. Life on the wide screen. Three dimensional.’”

One of his greatest traits was his love of (and sometimes patience with) people. He respected each as an individual, not a statistic, though those he met ranged from presidents and governors to factory workers and sharecroppers.

He could detect when someone had a spark for journalism. He said the spark had to be there before one could start a fire. He encouraged anyone who had bent toward a career in the news business.

He gave me my first break in a published piece for which I was paid when I was about 16. It was a story in The Progressive Farmer magazine about the Jeff Davis Community Center. He willingly took time to come to the country and with his bunglesome old Speed Graphic Camera, took photos to illustrate my story — all without charge, I might add.

He started me on my career at the typewriter by encouraging me to go to junior college in Summit where I could work part time at the Sunmit Sun, and “where you’ll learn more in one summer from Mary Cain than you will at Ole Miss all year,” he told me.

Many years later, after I’d held various jobs in the newspaper world, he called and asked if I could run the Saturday night desk that put out the Sunday paper until he could get someone. That was in October 1965.

Ten years later he got someone else for the job when I was offered the post as director and curator of the Old Court House Museum.

I’ll never forget his reaction. I had not sought the job, but it was offered to me, and Charlie said if I was going to leave the Post, he didn’t know of any other place he’d rather see me go than to the museum.

My relationship continued with the newspaper as I wrote a Sunday column, usually about local history, for more than 30 years.

Working for a daily paper means hours both long and sometimes weird, because news doesn’t happen on an 8-to-5 schedule. No newsman wants mistakes in the newspapers — that’s what proofreaders are for — but sometimes bloopers will slip past. If they are not serious, what do you do? You laugh along with your readers.

I remember a few that made Charlie laugh, such as the story of the Italian ambassador who spoke to a local club about “the high cost of’ loving in Rome” — or maybe it wasn’t a mistake!

One booboo was in an obituary for someone being buried at St. Paul Catholic Church. An “r” was printed instead of an “f” in the “Mass or the resurrection.” Faulk said he wasn’t going to miss that funeral, and he was taking his camera.

It was late on a Saturday night when Charlie put a headline on a story saying that Fred Jacoby had died. On Sunday morning as Charlie approached the First Presbyterian Church, who was standing on the porch waving the paper but Fred Jacoby! He had retired, not died. Fortunately, Mr. Jacoby thought it was funny.

Charlie told me once that readers would forgive you for almost anything except getting their names wrong.

Some items in print were funny but not mistakes. He relished the story from Tensas Parish — the headline read “Man Drowns In Waterproof Lake.” (In case you don’t know, Waterproof is the name of a town).

He was also good at his own quips. One Friday afternoon a fellow reporter, Dot Steen, was lecturing me on the benefits of marriage, one being that “Married men live longer,” to which Charlie replied, “No. It just seems that way.”

At his desk he gave needed attention to stories that today’s TV anchors call “breaking,” such as the Clear Creek Bridge collapse in 1939 where a number of people drowned. Or perhaps it was a political rally at city park or the annual chicken and spaghetti supper at Jett High School.

For several years, he wrote a Sunday feature, “Neighborly Yours,” where he borrowed events from the past — some serious, some humorous, most personal. He often wrote of people who never sought recognition but should be celebrated. He might write seriously of the cyclone at Yokena or of Mr. Massie who “Grew Hay, Minded His Own Business” or of Jim Houston, “A Man Who Transcended Racial Lines.”

He could take a mundane event such as how his Uncle Romey waved or how Grandpa Faulk shaved, or the story of how he disappointed his mother on Mother’s Day and create a story that captivated his readers.

To me, his best was about a little boy at Christmas, waiting and watching for Santa, but finally falling asleep only to be awakened when Santa’s whiskers brushed against his face. Some said it was only the cat’s tail, but the child knew better because the next morning there was the red wagon he had wished for. The little boy was Charlie Faulk.

Charlie received his share of accolades, but he never took time to bask in the glory. It was his work that primarily won the Pulitzer Prize for The Vicksburg Evening Post, but he treasured most the honors that came from the readers, for he was a wordsmith, and they loved his way with words.

With the typewriter and a camera, he captured in print and on film images of life in the South, especially Warren County.

He usually had a smile on his face which reflected his warm and friendly personality and also a delightful sense of humor. He was always kind and understanding. He was the kind of boss everyone on the staff was eager to please.

Shortly before his death on March 30, 1990, he talked to me about life and the quality of life. Just being alive didn’t make life worth living.

Charlie Faulk certainly made my life better, and I’ll always love him for it.

I never had a better boss.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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The widow Bourne and her ‘terrifically terrible’ tale

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Mary Maybin Bourne was the object of two men’s affections. (Photo source: Old Court House Museum collection)

She told a tragic tale: Her name was Marie, and her husband had been a Union soldier who moved to Vicksburg and married her after the Civil War. He had been murdered by an unrepentant Rebel, shot down in cold blood just because he was a Yankee.

The woman and her three small children had moved to New Orleans. When the children grew up, she told them the story, and they repeated it from one generation to the next.

Wanting to know more of the family history, a lady and her college-age son came to the Old Court House Museum some years ago for genealogical research. They didn’t find what they expected. The lady was mortified, and her son laughed heartily, for the Vicksburg newspapers in 1884 told a different tale from what Marie had said.

The not-very-grieving widow had changed not only the facts but also her name. In Vicksburg she was Mary, not Marie, and according to the newspaper accounts, she was the cause of a double murder.

Joshua Bourne, who first came to Vicksburg as a captain in a Missouri Union regiment, came back after the war and married 14-year­-old Mary Maybin. During the carpetbagger rule he was elected chancery clerk of Warren County.

The other man in the triangle, James. T. Metzler, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but grew up in Vicksburg. He was a member of Swett’s Battery in Confederate service, performing with “marked gallantry and bravery.” He did not marry, lived at home and after the war was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi.

The Bourne’s were having family problems, and Mary filed for divorce and moved out of the house. Joshua Bourne went to court, seeking custody of the children. It was rumored that Metzler was the cause of the separation, but he said he simply represented Mary Maybin Bourne as a business agent and that Joshua had been a brutal husband.

Both men went armed, and rumors were rampant that things would come to a head — and they did on Sept. 5, 1884, a Friday morning. Metzler was downtown chatting with a friend when Bourne approached, drew a pistol and opened fire just 5 feet away, the bullet penetrating Metzler’s bowels. He fled to the Famous Dry Goods Emporium nearby, Bourne in pursuit, pistol in hand, firing rapidly.

Metzler got behind a counter, managed to draw his pistol, and both fired until their guns were empty. Then they clutched one another in a death grip until bystanders separated them. Metzler had struck Bourne twice, wounding him above the heart and in the abdomen.

Clerks and customers screamed and fled in what the Herald described as “terrifically terrible” and “perfectly appalling.” Bourne was left on the floor as it was thought he would die any moment, and Metzler was removed by carriage to his parents’ house on Jackson Street. Bourne was later taken to the Madrid House, a hotel on Veto Street, but before that, lying in a pool of blood, he had asked to see a priest and his wife and children. Father Picherit and the two oldest children came, but Mrs. Bourne chose instead to go to the bedside of her supposed lover.

The Vicksburg Evening Post reported that it was a “pitiable and touching sight” to see the children and the priest kneeling beside the dying man. The scene at the Metzler house was equally tragic as his “gray-haired old parents” stood beside their mortally wounded son.

Both Bourne and Metzler died the day of the shooting. Their funerals were expensive, and both men were buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery. Mary Bourne paid for her husband’s funeral, but records don’t state whether or not she attended.

More than a century later, her descendants found out that family history isn’t necessarily what has been repeated, but stories such as that of Mary Bourne make it a lot more interesting.


Jeff and Marion Richardson own the former Bourne home on Fort Hill Drive. If it were ever put on tour, what a story they could tell.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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