I learned a long time ago that the power of words, along with facts and events that unfold and stories that depict and chronicle those events, shape and mold our lives, and have lasting consequences for the times in which we live.
For long after the smoke has cleared from the battlefield and the winners have taken their spoils and removed their wounded from harm’s way, and the vanquished have buried their fallen dead and retreated behind enemy lines and to their respective corners, the results of those battles are then placed in the hands of others … namely the historians who will have the last say.
We live in a place like Mississippi, a place where our Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner said is a land where the past is not dead, it’s not even past … it is alive and co-existing with us here in the present. The past shapes our world, and in Mississippi, it even infuses the very air that we breathe along with the dust, the pungent smell of wisteria and honeysuckle, the sweat of horses, dank, wet fields after a summer rain and the faint scent of magnolias on a gentle, sultry breeze. The past is ever with us … its ramifications, its impacts on our lives are long lasting. For history to truly come alive and exist as a living thing, it must be retold time and time again. Those ancient stories of traveling to this region, clearing the land, encountering the Native Chickasaw and Choctaw, building houses, setting up shop, whether general stores, blacksmith shops, barbers, wagonmakers, silversmiths, lawyers and doctors’ offices — all of that is part of our story here in DeSoto County, which was carved from the Chickasaw territory in the 1830s and has now grown to become the fastest-growing county in all of Mississippi.
History, you see, is not a fixed moment in time. We make a grave mistake if we simply fold our tents and rest upon our laurels and past achievements. We make a major miscalculation if we feel that we have seen it all and done it all. We must continue to move forward, to explore new frontiers, cross new rivers and climb even higher mountains if we are to achieve our fullest potential.
After more than a half century of living, I have concluded that history is an ever-living thing. It is constantly evolving. Take the recent completion of Interstate 269, which for better or for worse, will completely transform our county. History is organic. It breathes and walks among us.
We at the DeSoto County Museum are charged with preserving and chronicling much of that history. We have been voted as “Mississippi’s Best Small Museum” for successfully telling our story which reaches back more than 183 years. That’s nearly two centuries. We are only three decades younger than the American Republic herself.
Your museum turned 16 years old this year, and this year alone, we are poised to eclipse all previous records for museum attendance. We have at least six brand new exhibits on display, including the Unknown Child Exhibit, which honors the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust and is a companion exhibit to our local Jewish history exhibit we opened this year, which tells the story of the Goodman family for whom Goodman Road is named and other Jewish families who came to our region during the 1860s, 70s and 80s.
Additionally, we have artifacts ranging from the Mississippian period or objects belonging to the ancestors of our native American tribes, weaponry from the Civil War and stories and images from the Civil Rights era. Among our collection is Rock N’ Roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis’s piano, his anniversary watch from Sun Records, fringed jacket he wore on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and other memorabilia, jerseys, helmets and other sports memorabilia from our professional athletes and a prized collection of artifacts from our veterans serving in World Wars I, II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Enduring Freedom, the War in Iraq and Afghanistan and other conflicts.
Whether in person or via the internet, we have more than 26,000 visitors a year which view our collections and displays. Just this year, we opened our brand new East Room Gallery which features a life-size mural of people, places and things that have shaped our county during the past 180 years, a room made possible by several individuals such as the Pittman family, Bill and Lolly Bailey, Lee Ashcraft and heirs of the late Sylvia Long Fulgham among others.
The mural has sparked stories and spurred recollections from veterans, old-timers and even fellow historians who have added to the museum’s collective memory. It is a treat for old and young alike. Our young people are coming to the museum in record numbers. Just this past week alone, more than 1,000 youngsters from combined classes at DeSoto Central Middle School and Hernando Hills Elementary School came through and viewed the many exhibits at the museum. Later this week, the museum will welcome more than 350 additional students from Olive Branch Intermediate School. A group from Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Olive Branch will visit on Nov. 14-15.
On Nov. 3, the DeSoto County Museum, in partnership with DeSoto Family Theatre, which is lending us costumes, will host the annual Springhill Memorial Gardens Candlelight Tour during All Saints weekend festivities.
Future living history demonstrations are planned at Edmondson Cemetery in Southaven, Blocker Cemetery in Olive Branch, and a living history tour around the historic DeSoto County Courthouse Square on Nov. 9.
In February, during “Black History Month,” a staging of a one-act interpretation of “To Kill A Mockingbird” is planned.
This past month, the DeSoto County Museum and the DeSoto Arts Council, along with the Krewe of Hernando and others, held a very successful bluegrass benefit concert on the grounds of the Historic Crumpler-Ferguson Log Cabin. Efforts are underway to completely restore and refurbish the cabin so that other concerts and events can take place.
There is a great deal happening at your award-winning DeSoto County Museum and we urge you to stop by, either on your lunch break, school or church outing, or for any of our special events.
The DeSoto County Museum is truly a place where history comes alive!
Robert Lee Long is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum