Sunday, July 10, 2011

Crossing Borders

I started off in Mississippi and ended up in Louisiana. If I drove straight there, I would be in New Orleans in about 90 minutes. But I'm not driving straight there. More on that at the end of this post. Remind me.

This morning I went to Longwood Plantation in Natchez. They have a lot of historic homes that are open to tour, but I decided to only go to one. For a few reasons. First, the time to go to the historic homes is during Spring Pilgrimage, when all of the homes--not just some--are open for touring and their gardens are in bloom. Second, I plan on visiting plantation homes later. And Third, Longwood is unique among these homes for its shape and its unfinished state.

The house was begun in 1859. The man, Nutt, had lots and lots of money from his cotton plantation and wanted a grand house built. He hired a Northern architect and Northern workers to come down and work on this home. It was to be six stories and octagonal. The basement was family quarters, the first floor was bedrooms and entertaining spaces, second floor was girls rooms, third floor was boys rooms, fourth and fifth floors were just catwalks around the central gallery that opened to the center of the home. Where there was to be a glass mosaic and eight holes in the floor with frosted glass that would act as skylights to the basement. That was the grand plan.

Then the War came. The Northern workers dropped everything where they were working on it and went home. The structure was complete, but only the basement was finished. By the time the War ended, the man of the house was dead. The widow couldn't afford to finish the house. Their plantation was sold off because they couldn't pay the property taxes. They kept the house. Three generations kept the house but they could never afford to finish it. They finally gave up and sold it in 1968 to someone who restored the whole house--but didn't finish it--and then sold it to the historical society in Vicksburg. They maintain it now, but will never ever finish it.

 This would have been the breakfast room, I think. Now it's just storage.
 This is the first floor, and this is the central gallery.
 It goes all the way to the top.
 That's the frosted glass insert that would give light to the basement. The idea was light would reflect off the central dome all the way down.
 Workers paint cans, tools and supplies left behind when they walked off.
 Even a beverage bottle left behind.
 This is the view from the "entrance hall" into the gallery and some of the other rooms.
 The grounds.
 The home from the outside. If it had been finished, there would have been no exposed brick, it all would have been stuccoed. There were no windows in, but the historical society added some according to the architects design. The architect also didn't like shutters because they weren't aesthetically pleasing with opened, so this house was designed to have pocket door shutters, which is a very neat detail. There also would have been staircases on every side of the house where there was a veranda, but they only had one completed. There were no photos allowed in the finished basement and we didn't go to the upper floors, I'm sure they aren't stable.

This didn't come out well, but this is a picture of a cicada. They are huge and have creepy eyes. They don't do anything except make a lot of noise and startle you when they come out of nowhere or drop out of a tree.

 Out of order! This is the sunset on the Mississippi in Natchez last night.

 This was an adorable quilt on display at the Rural Life Museum. The cats are hand-stitched on.

 This was from the Rural Life Museum I went to today. That's a picture of the grain mill. I should have taken more pictures but I left my camera in my car and only had my phone.
This was an unfinished, authentic, slave cabin. It was left unfinished so that it was possible to see how it was constructed--with the bricks and the posts--and how it was insulated--with moss and mud. They had finished cabins, too, that had been built in the 1830s and were lived in until the 1960s. There were people living in a cabin exactly like this until 1960. Isn't that unbelievable?

I met a man at the museum and we ended up going through most of the museum together. He's from the area and told me a lot of stories about things we saw, including the cabins. He said he lived near people who lived in cabins like this when he was growing up.

My history focus is the Civil War, and I don't usually focus on the slavery aspect of it. I don't know why. But seeing things like this, and seeing how real and awful slavery was, and then how even after it ended things didn't get better quickly, it...I don't even know how to put it into words. But to lean into an old slave cabin that people had to live in 100 years after slavery you just think "Shit." And it's not eloquent, but there's just nothing else that comes up. It's eye-opening. You hear about it. And I think being from the North, and especially being from the Pacific Northwest--we weren't around during the Civil War, our local history can claim innocence from the whole ordeal--you hear about it and you talk about it in school and you know it's wrong and you feel good about yourself that you weren't involved, it wasn't you or your family that participated in it. And you can talk about it as much as you but when you see what it really was it just shuts you right up. Because until you see it you don't know, and even if you're on the right side of it--knowing slavery is the biggest scar on American history--you can't talk about it, really, until you know.

I don't know if that makes sense. I don't know if it's the right way to say it.

And people celebrate the end of the Civil War as the end of slavery. Emancipation as the end of it. And that's just not true. It's so obscenely untrue.

This is about to get even longer, brace yourselves.

That's one of the reasons I don't think the Civil War was a war over slavery. It was a war over ideals and lifestyles; it was very political. Slavery was a part of it, without a doubt. But Northerners weren't going to war with the aim of ending slavery, they were going to war to preserve the Union. Southerners weren't going to war to keep their slaves, they were going to war because they felt the North was bullying them and trying to take away their lifestyle--which included slavery, but it wasn't about the need to keep people oppressed, it was about the economics of it. Cotton is more profitable if the labor is free.

Northerners that did want emancipation were rarely ready to include freed men in their lives; many advocated shipping them back to Africa.

And if the war was about slavery, and about freeing the slaves, why did the Civil Rights movement even need to happen? It shouldn't have taken 100 years. The North won, and then didn't do much to set things right in the South. Wasn't their problem.

There's a lot more to say about this and I'm leaving my opinion on it very incomplete because this is too long already and I'm sure I've lost my audience.  But, know it's incomplete here, so don't form opinions about my opinions just based on this. The point is, it's crazy to see it and be near all of this when I grew up so disconnected from it.

I just saw a commercial that said "Make sure your biography has at least one interesting chapter." This is my interesting chapter!

Tomorrow I'm going to visit some plantations along plantation row, which is between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This is why I'm not driving straight through. But I am so close to New Orleans! I'm excited and scared. Still don't have a place, but saw a sublet that said "today-August 31" so I think I'll email them and say "be there Monday!" But I want to do a little of in-town searching before I commit to a sublet because I'd rather just get in a place and not have to worry about moving in 6 weeks. We'll see!

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