The J.H. Gary House / Merrehope in Meridian MS

My WPA Mississippi book lists the house known as ‘Merrehope‘ in Meridian as the J.H. Gary House. It’s at 905 31st Avenue.

The historical marker says:
A 20-room Neoclassical Revival mansion completed in 1904, the house began as a small cottage which served as headquarters for Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in 1863. Merrehope is now a museum of local history.

My WPA book says that “the single-story ell, which extends to the rear, was the headquarters of Gen. Leonidas Polk, Commander of the Confederate troops stationed in Meridian.”
Merrehope, Meridian MS

Baymont Inn, Meridian

Room: This was our first time at a Baymont Inn. It got a decent rating in the last Consumer Reports (July 2004) rating of hotel rooms – below Hampton, but well above Sheraton Four Points and some other chains. CR got it right. This room wasn’t quite as nice as a Hampton (the biggest difference was room size), but was nonetheless clean and comfortable.

Lobby: No frills/pretty bare.

Service: Front desk staff was friendly.

Grand Opera House, Meridian MS

Opera House in Meridian, MS

 

Inside Grand Opera House (Under Renovation), Meridian MS

 

Gibson Girl, Opera Angel at Grand Opera House in Meridian, MS

Above are pictures taken last week at the Grand Opera House in Meridian, which we got to go in and see even though it is still under renovation. The Opera House is actually on the second floor of the Marks-Rothenberg building (which was a department store in the late 19th and early 20th century), and to get to the opera house, you had to walk through the store. The store built the opera house, so this was a “marketing opportunity”. 🙂

In the picture above, you can see the stage, the fire curtain, and some of the boxes.

The Opera House was leased to Saenger Theatres in 1923 and closed by Saenger in 1928 when they built “The Temple” theater. Really, although some renovation efforts have been made over the years, the theater was mostly just as it was in 1928 with the added decay of 75 years or so.

Mississippi State is heading up the project with plans to renovate the entire M-R building (and other buildings on that block) for multi-use, including a MSU campus, a Meridian Community College campus, a conference center, space for other exhibits/museums, a parking garage, and performances at the restored Grand Opera House.

I can’t wait to go once it is reopened in March of 2006! Yay!

Weidmann’s, Meridian

We enjoyed a hosted supper Saturday night with many, many friends at Weidmann’s in Meridian (MS). Weidmann’s has been a landmark in Meridian since 1870, and has operated continuously since then, except when it closed for renovations a couple of years ago.

How it used to be:
It used to be open from early in the morning to pretty late each day, and the servers, who most had probably been there decades, were real professionals. There must have been at least 100 options on the menu, and everything we ever had was excellent, excellent. It was the type of food you would fix at home if you time the time or inclination. There was a long lunch counter, a dining room in the back with hundreds of signed photographs of national and local celebrities – from governors and astronauts to flag twirlers and cowgirls – and a room to the left as you walked in that had a very rustic feel, and I believe it was called the 1890 room (or 18-something room). Since butter was in short supply during WWII, Wiedmann’s substituted and put peanut butter in crocks on the tables. The little crocks could even be purchased at the cash register (we have one).

Not a whole lot in updates had ever, I think, gone on at Weidmann’s. Nothing was ever new. If it wasn’t broke, there was no need in fixing it. Weidmann’s was never broke.

How it is now:
This isn’t going to be as positive as I like my writing to turn out, but…..
Weidmann’s reopened in 2003 with 58 investors. I’m sure these were well-meaning people, but what they did to the Weidmann’s institution is……wrong. Sure, if they were out to open a fine-dining establishment, well, you can do that in any town, in any either stand-alone building or even a strip mall. But to rip up a tradition and put in its place a business that would have the pretentiousness to declare on the front door that it is “dark Sundays” rather than “closed”, well, next time go.do.that.somewhere.else.

The new Weidmann’s is white-tablecloth. Dim lights. Brick walls. One-long-sheet-of-paper menus. Wine lists. Hushed voices.

The food is good. Quite good.

It is just as good, and the new atmosphere is just as good, as any other mid-sized town that has a restaurant you just wouldn’t feel right going into with bluejeans on.

Nothing remains of the old Weidmann’s.

Well, sort of. It seems that the *new* Weidmann’s wasn’t doing so well financially, and back in October or November of last year that a new party came in and saved the restaurant from what may have meant closing for good. Here’s an excerpt of an article about the transaction in the EMBJ:

But the operational end was not the only concern. The restaurant has failed
to court those who were loyal to the “old” Weidmann’s and those who continue to
perceive the restaurant as high-priced and “too formal.”

“When it opened I believe it was slightly above the market not only in some of the food items, but in some of the price points,” Wile said. “I think it was also played up that it was ‘fine dining,’ which to some people means you have to wear a coat and tie. That’s just not the case, at lunch or dinner. “Then I think the change alienated a lot of people who were loyal to Weidmann’s and had been all their lives. I think we may have underestimated the effects of that. While it retained
the name, it didn’t look, feel or taste like the Weidmann’s they knew.”

Though the “old” Weidmann’s is now gone, Wile said some changes being made will bring back some memories of those days. The peanut butter jars have returned to the tables — although without the peanut butter due to health department restrictions — and old photographs are being matted, framed and hung throughout the lobby and upstairs in the lounge.

Roma Royalty in Meridian

Kelly Mitchell, Queen of the Gypsies (Romas), Meridian, Mississippi

Marker of Queen Kelly Mitchell in Meridian

Above is the grave marker of Queen Kelly Mitchell in Meridian, MS. The story is that she died in 1915 while giving birth at a camp in Coatopa, Alabama (which is west of Demopolis). Her family brought her to Rose Hill Cemetery in Meridian to be buried. A recollection of that event can be found at this very good site that also refers to the rest of the family of Emil Mitchell, who was Kelly’s husband, the “King of the Gypseys”. The story goes on about the burial customs and the fact that the grave was reinforced with steel bars and concrete so as to discourage thieves (because apparently many fine things were buried along with her body for use on the other side of the Styx).

Kelly Mitchell, Queen of Gypsies (Romas); in Meridian, MS

collection of items left on Kelly Mitchell’s marker

I have heard that when the Roma come through Meridian, they leave items on Kelly’s marker. Visitors do as well (people seem to do that a lot…people leave all kinds of things in Montgomery at Hank Williams’ grave….guitar pics, whisky bottles, etc. Next time I go through, I’ll post a picture). This gravesite also seems to be a spot for people who do geocaching, so I’m pretty sure that some amount of this must have been left from them. Whenever we go through Meridian, we stop at Rose Hill to see what’s on the markers. It is different every time.

Along with Kelly Mitchell are buried her husband, Emil, who died in 1942 close to Attalla (AL), Flora Mitchell (Emil’s sister), Joe “Sharkie” Mitchell and Princess Diana Sharkey Mitchell, Slatcho Mitchell, Helen and Frank Mitchell, Mehil Mitchell, Lawrence Mitchell, Nicholas Gulumba, Costa George Bimbo, and Ovdoikia George Bimbo.