Each week, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel the United States, discovering the best each state has to offer in a variety of subjects. Today, we board a riverboat and sail down Old Man River (aka the Mighty Mississip), to explore the Magnolia State, named for both the State Flower and State Tree. Mississippi holds many treasures, so let’s get to the plundering:
Motto: “By valor and arms” – Someone’s looking for a fight!
Food: The Sip Advisor loves his dips, often wondering how much the item being dipped really matters. One I have yet to try is Comeback Sauce, a Mississippi favourite, mixing mayonnaise and chili sauce, said to put other dips and dressings to shame. It is typically used on fried foods and salads and originated at Greek restaurant, The Rotisserie, in Jackson.
Drink: Barq’s Root Beer was created by Edward Barq, in 1898. The beverage was produced in Biloxi, inside a small home used as the Biloxi Artesian Bottling Works. The operation remained in Biloxi, moving to a much larger facility, in 1936. The Barq’s brand is now owned by the Coca-Cola Company, which coincidentally, was first bottled in Vicksburg, in 1894.
Site to See: For a state that’s rife with a history of racial tensions, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is probably a good place to start your education. Located in Jackson, the state-sponsored museum opened in 2017 and features eight galleries to be explored. The Museum of Mississippi History can be found next door, so you can double down on the learning.
Street: The Mississippi Blues Trail is a collection of markers throughout the state, which highlight landmarks that greatly contributed to the development of blues music (much more on this subject throughout this article). From recording studios to the birthplaces of blues artists to performance locations, the route has it all and would make for a very interesting road trip.
TV Show: In the Heat of the Night, starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard Rollins, ran for seven seasons and 142 episodes, as well as four TV movies. The crime drama dealt with many serious topics, with race relations being examined throughout the show’s run. O’Connor, better known as the bigoted Archie Bunker, won an Emmy for his role and the series was recognized multiple times by the NAACP.
Movie: O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a crime comedy-drama, set in Mississippi during the Great Depression. Starring George Clooney, the story sees a trio of prisoners escape from their chain gang and go on the run, trying to get back a buried robbery score. The film is perhaps best known for its soundtrack, which won Album of the Year at the 2002 Grammys.
Book/Author: Playwright, Tennessee Williams, was born in Columbus. His most famous works include A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, both of which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and were adapted into successful movies. Williams was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame, in 1979.
Fictional Character: Kermit the Frog rose from the shadows of 2,353 siblings to become one of the greatest entertainers the world has ever known. He can sing, he can dance, he can do it all. Introduced in 1955, Kermit has been making kids (and adults) smile for 65 years. Toddler Sip has become a fan of the frog and that makes me feel like I’m doing something right.
Fictional City: Although the novel source material for In the Heat of the Night uses the setting of Wells, South Carolina, the movie, its sequels and the subsequent TV series, used the fictional Mississippi locale of Sparta. There’s actually a real Sparta in the state, but the In the Heat of the Night location is unrelated.
Actor/Actress: Jim Henson was seldom seen onscreen, but his acting chops could best be seen performing characters such as Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Ernie, Waldorf, the Swedish Chef, Guy Smiley, and many others on shows such as The Muppets and Sesame Street. Henson was born in Greenville, but raised in Leland, where the Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum and Rainbow Connection Bridge can be found.
Song: Mississippi is not the easiest state in the union to spell, as I have found while punching it out multiple times for this article. Thankfully, I have the M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I song going through my head and keeping me error free. The tune was first performed all the way back in 1916 and wasn’t intended to help people spell the state correctly, but because it was fun to recite.
Band/Musician: The King, Elvis Presley, was born in Tupelo, living there until he was a teenager. The hit maker, known for songs such as Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock and Blue Suede Shoes, also enjoyed a successful leap into films, including Viva Las Vegas and Blue Hawaii. The Sip Advisor’s teenage self is also demanding I cite pop icon, Britney Spears, born in McComb. While we’re throwing out honourable mentions, island escapist singer, Jimmy Buffett, is from Pascagoula.
People: Born in Kosciusko, media mogul, Oprah Winfrey, has gone on to become one of the most powerful women in the world, establishing the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), in 2008. Her rise to international fame was helped by her long-running talk show, as well as other projects in various media. The Oprah Effect was a term coined to show Winfrey’s ability to make something popular or reviled with a simple endorsement or condemnation.
Animal: Tukota, a rare white bison, was born and lived at the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo. White bisons are born at a rate of only one in every five million births and are considered sacred by many Native American groups. Unfortunately, Tukota had to be euthanized after sustaining life-threatening injuries after a fight with another bison.
Invention: Mississippi is the birthplace of Blues Music, thanks to notable artists such as Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Robert Johnson. One of the first mentions of the genre, came from an archeologist working in the state, who described the songs of black workers, including themes and technical elements.
Crime: In June 1964, three civil rights activists, working to register black voters, went missing. Three days later, their burnt out car was discovered and their bodies followed two months after that. It took 41 years for anyone to be charged in the case, with Edgar Ray Killen being convicted of three counts of manslaughter, in 2005, and sentenced to 60 years. The case was documented in the film Mississippi Burning.
Law: In Mississippi, it is illegal for a man to pretend to want to marry a woman, in order to woo her. Wouldn’t that put every guy ever behind bars!?
Sports Team: Without any professional teams to support, the sports programs of the University of Mississippi (aka Ole Miss Rebels) and Mississippi State University Bulldogs are the top games around. The two schools are great rivals, competing in many disciplines, most notably the annual Egg Bowl, which closes each football season.
Athlete: A bevy of NFL greats hail from Mississippi, including Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Brett Favre. The trio hold or held many of the records for each of their positions: Payton at running back, Rice at wide receiver and Favre at quarterback. Combined, the three have won five Super Bowl Championships and been selected to 33 Pro Bowls, among numerous other accolades.
Famous Home: The Elvis Presley Birthplace, in Tupelo, is not only where the legendary musician lived the first few years of his life, he was also born in the two-bedroom home. Today, the site includes the house, a museum, the actual church Presley first attended (which has been moved there), and a chapel. The entire complex is a stop along the Mississippi Blues Trail.
Urban Legend: Stories have long be told that Robert Johnson’s mastery of blues music was thanks to a deal he made with the Devil. The tale goes that Johnson met with a being at a crossroads or in a graveyard, who tuned his guitar and played a few songs before returning the instrument… in exchange for Johnson’s soul. Johnson’s unreported death by poisoning, at the young age of 27, only helped to further such legends.
Museum: There are four Grammy Museums located around the U.S., with one found in Mississippi. Opened in 2016, in Cleveland, the site was chosen thanks to the rich history of music in the state, as has been noted throughout this piece. Exhibits include iconic instruments and clothing worn by musicians on the red carpet, prior to Grammy award ceremonies.
Firsts: The University of Mississippi Medical Center achieved two major surgical firsts one year apart. In 1963, Dr. James D. Hardy performed the world’s first human lung transplant. He followed that up the following year with the world’s first heart transplant, when he put the heart of a chimpanzee into the body of a comatose, near-death man. The man lived for an hour with the new heart, but never regained consciousness.
Company: With no companies recognizable to me residing in Mississippi, I can point out FedEx was founded by Mississippian, Frederick W. Smith. During FedEx’s humble beginnings, Smith took the company’s final $5,000 to Las Vegas, hoping to keep the business afloat. Playing blackjack, Smith walked away with $27,000, good for another week of operating.
Events: Mississippi was the site of numerous Civil War battles, but what happened following the war may be how the state is best remembered. One year after the Civil War ended, four women decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in Columbus’ Friendship Cemetery. The act, known as ‘where flowers healed a nation,’ was originally dubbed Decoration Day, eventually turning into the national holiday, Memorial Day.
Miscellaneous: Mississippi is one of many words used as a placeholder to count seconds (one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc.). Nobody seems to know the origins of why Mississippi was chosen, but it is a lasting legacy of the state.
- 2 oz Cognac
- 1 oz Bourbon
- 1 oz Dark Rum
- Splash of Lemon Juice
- Pinch of Sugar
- Garnish with a Lemon Slice
This drink was created by the ‘Father of American Mixology,’ Jerry Thomas, also called “the greatest bartender in American history.” A number of variations of the cocktail exist, especially when it comes measurement differences. Thomas’ version called for a wine glass of Cognac and half glasses of both Bourbon and Rum… That would make for an impressive beverage!