A Nobel venture, a royal welcome on the road to musical and literary genius.
Let’s start with the facts: the artists of the Mississippi Hills rocked the world, and the roll call of genius you’ll meet on this tour is pretty amazing: Artists like Faulkner, Elvis, Tennessee Williams, Howlin’ Wolf. On the page and on the stage, these giants created American culture as we know it, and here in the places where these icons were born, raised—and occasionally raised hell—you’ll get the kind of first-person feel that no mere biography can communicate. Along the way, you’ll also meet some pretty special people in friendly communities that have their own genius for making visitors feel right at home. The stories are great here, but so are the food and the hospitality.
Your first chapter unfolds in Oxford:
DAY ONE — OXFORD:
Faulkner claimed that “the tools I need for my work are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.” Maybe so. However, in Oxford he also found raw materials and role models that played crucial inspiration to his genius.
For serious admirers of Faulkner, Oxford is not just the place to see the sites but also an opportunity to play literary snoops (or is that Snopes?) in the tantalizing detection game of which porch, which pediment, which picturesque façade—and which family secret behind it— played what part in the Nobel-prize winner’s fiction. But the truth is, you don’t have to know the first thing about Faulkner to appreciate this charmingly novel town that combines a wealth of historic homes and haunts with a world-class academic campus offering its own rich architectural history. Throw in a thriving arts scene and hip town-gown vibe thanks to a range of restaurants, clubs and boutiques and what you’ve got well nigh defies description. Really, you’d need one of those endless Faulknerian sentences to fit it all in. But because your time here isn’t endless, here are just a few stops to fit into your schedule:
Rowan Oak, Home of William Faulkner
Old Taylor Rd. * 662.234.3284
Mansion of many stories. Rowan Oak is both a home and a testament to Faulkner’s talent for building more than fictional worlds. The 1844 clapboard house had no electricity, plumbing or even sound construction when Faulkner bought it in 1930, but the writer who had such a command of words could also wield a pretty handy hammer and did much of the renovation himself, even designing the study where today you can still see the grease pencil outline for A Fable scrawled on the walls. Details like that—and like Faulkner’s riding boots standing guard near a bedroom chair—yield both a stillness and a presence that makes this National Literary Landmark a personal milestone for the visitors who make the pilgrimage each year.
Saint Peter’s Cemetery (ca. 1871)
Jefferson at N. 16th St. * 800.758.9177
Marked for history: Saint Peter’s is the final resting place for many in the Faulkner family, including William and wife Estelle.
J.D. Williams Library
Eyes on the prize: Faulkner’s Nobel, along with paintings and photos of the writer are displayed in the library’s upper floor archives which also house the Faulkner manuscript collection.
Courthouse Square Historic District
Downtown Oxford * 800.758.9177
Go downtown Moses: Sure, there are trendy shops here, but this historic district, listed on the National Register, also offers a chance to step back in time. Faulkner family members and mentor Phil Stone once had offices here, and the movie version of The Sound and the Fury was shot here; the Confederate statue that Faulkner memorialized in his fiction (and that his grandmother donated to the town) still stands watch.
More sites of interest:
Center for the Study of Southern Culture
University of Mississippi Campus * 662.915.5993
Deeper South: This preeminent research center takes a broad and deep approach to its study of Southern music, history, folklore, literature and culture, all of it housed and headquartered in a restored antebellum observatory.
160 Courthouse Square (Site of the old Blaylock Drug Store, ca. 1866) 662.236.2262 * www.squarebooks.com
The word is heard: World-renown writers have made Square Books their own must-stop during the store’s 30-year run as one of America’s most famed independents. You may want to plan your visit around the store’s Thacker Mountain Radio Show—think Prairie Home Companion with true grits.
4A CR 338 * 662-236-1716
Tables of content: Faulkner used to ride horses on Old Taylor Road, and this historic grocery turned restaurant was a favorite of author and Faulkner admirer Willie Morris. Today, writers both established and aspiring like to stop to sample the catfish and leave their marks on the graffiti-covered walls.
Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference
Annually in late July
www.olemiss.edu/depts/south or 662-915-5993
All Faulkner, all the time: A week-long conference devoted to the study and appreciation of William Faulkner.
Music of the South Symposium
Annually in September
www.olemiss.edu/depts/south or 662-915-5993
Noteworthy: A weekend event that explores the origins and influence of Southern music.
Oxford Conference for the Book
Annually in March or April
www.olemiss.edu/depts/south or 662-915-5993
Paging readers and writers: A celebration of books, writing, and reading that also addresses the practical concerns of the literary and artistic future.
52 Courthouse Square * 662-232-8080
Eclectic new Southern cuisine.
721 North Lamar Blvd. * 662-236-6363
Features a raw oyster bar and contemporary Southern cuisine
309 C North Lamar Blvd. * 662-236-1144
Casual atmosphere featuring seafood, pastas, and steaks
Downtown Oxford Inn and Suites
400 N. Lamar Blvd. * 662-234-3031
A full service hotel located a block north of the historic Oxford square
Inn at Ole Miss
1 Alumni Dr. * 662-234-2331
The Inn at Ole Miss is located on the campus of Ole Miss directly across from the Grove
DAY ONE – NEW ALBANY:
New Albany made history the night William Falkner was born here, into a family that was both notable and notorious. And while the family home has gone, there’s still some background history here to explore, particularly in the downtown historic district that fills the bill with delightful shopping and delectable menus.
By the way, in case you thought you caught a typo in the sentence above, it was the writer himself who changed the family name from Falkner to Faulkner. No missing “u,” and here’s what you won’t want to miss:
Union County Heritage Museum
112 Cleveland St. * 662.538.0014
Mississippi planters: Forget the roses. Stop and smell the verbena in the Faulkner Literary Garden, the outdoor extension of the museum that also houses a variety of historical exhibits.
William Faulkner Historical Marker
112 Cleveland St. * 662.538.0014
Sign of interest: Just down from the Union County Historical Museum, the William Faulkner Historical Marker gives details of Faulkner’s early life in New Albany.
Other sites of interest:
The Park Along the River and the Tallahatchie Trails
Carter Ave. * 888.534.8332
Mississippi, naturally: In Faulkner’s fiction, Nature was often not a background so much as a central character. Here, the 1.5 miles of biking and walking trails through scenic forest land along the river makes for a refreshing stop.
108 West Bankhead St. * 662-534-6565
Authentic Italian cuisine in an eclectic and artsy atmosphere.
Main St. * 662-534-3250
Features plate lunches, haute cuisine, catering options and meals-to-go.
Miss Sarah's Inn
c. 1911. Furnished with antiques. Quiet, pecan shaded grounds with pool and spa. Full breakfast. 6 rooms.
307 East Main St. * 662.534.3200
Oak Grove Bed and Breakfast
c. 1907. Guests will enjoy the convenience of this lovely Victorian-style cottage, with kitchen, sitting room, private bath and access to pool and tennis court. Continental breakfast. 1 Cottage guesthouse.
1558 Hwy 178 East * 662.538.4494
DAY TWO – TUPELO:
Before Elvis bridged the racial and musical divide with his groundbreaking amalgam of styles, he soaked up those sounds right here in Tupelo, then a bustling city with a history that encompassed both triumph and tragedy in the form of a devastating tornado that swept through the city when Elvis was only a year old. The Presleys’ tiny shotgun house was spared from the storm and then spared from oblivion after Elvis became—Elvis.
While he left the city as a 13-year-old boy in 1948, in 1956, as the first global superstar, he returned with an electrifying homecoming concert on the city’s fairgrounds. Today, the old Fairgrounds have found new life as the Fairpark District, a masterpiece of new urbanism that has struck a chord with residents and visitors alike, drawing praise for its welcome mix of residences, shops, restaurants, clubs, hotel accommodations, and an arts scene now coming into its own. Today, at the Bancorp South Arena, some of the nation’s biggest stars are headliners; here are some headliners for your Tupelo debut:
Elvis Presley Birthplace
306 Elvis Presley Dr. * 662.841.1245
The gospel truth. Here’s where it all began in a two-room shotgun house that Vernon Presley built himself. Today, the birthplace complex includes not just the house, but also a park, museum, statue, memorial chapel, “walk of life,” and story wall. The Assembly of God church where Elvis and Gladys worshipped, and where Elvis was introduced to his first love, gospel, has recently been relocated to the complex, and features a multi-media interpretive experience of a young Elvis singing Jesus Loves Me.
114 W. Main Street * 662.842-4637
An open and shut case: Elvis wanted a shotgun; Gladys wanted to buy him a guitar. For Elvis aficionados, there’s nothing like standing in front the display case where that fateful decision was made, inside a picturesque hardware store that still sells nails by the pound.
Elvis Presley Tour
399 East Main St. * 800-533-0611
King cruise: The Elvis Presley self-guided driving tour leads to some of the most significant locations of Elvis' life in Tupelo.
Johnnie’s Drive In
908 E. Main St. * 662-842-6748
Tasty food with a side order of musical history: Feast like the King in the drive-in where Elvis used to eat. Chow down on the dough burger and drink in the Elvis memorabilia that line the walls.
Also of interest:
Tupelo Automobile Museum
1 Otis Blvd. * 662.842.4242
Elvis a-go-go: The Automobile Museum’s impressive collection of 150 classic automobiles includes an 1886 motorized carriage created by Karl Bentz,considered the world's first automobile—and a special Elvis display of the King’s Lincoln surrounded by the complete collection of original Elvis movie posters.
343 East Main St. * 662-842-5665
Creative American Cuisine
343 East Main St., Suite A * 662-680-3201
Chicken, Calzones, Salads, Fish, Steaks, Sandwiches & Grills, Specialties, Burgers
Hilton Garden Inn
363 East Main St.
662-718-5500 * www.tupelo.stayhgi.com
Hwy 45 at Main Street Exit in Downtown Tupelo
157 guest rooms (8 suites). Full service Great American Grill serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pavilion Lounge. Indoor pool and whirlpool. Workout facility. Complimentary 24-hour business center. Complimentary wireless high-speed internet access throughout hotel. Valet and laundry service. 1,200 sq. ft. of divisible meeting and banquet space to accommodate up to 150 guests. 10,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and banquet space for up to 1,300 people at the BancorpSouth Conference Center adjoining the hotel.
DAY TWO — WEST POINT:
While life wasn’t kind to the young Chester Arthur Burnett when he was born in West Point into poverty and a terrible family situation, the city of his birth has since been kind to his memory, thanks in large part to the efforts of the passionate Howlin’ Wolf Blues Society, which has erected a statue in his honor in the city park, helped establish the Howlin’ Wolf Blues Museum and continues to sponsor an annual blues festival as well as a “blues in the schools” program.
With its prime location on the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, West Point lets you dive into some of mighty fine boating, swimming and picnicking. But first you’ll want to dive into this:
Howlin' Wolf Blues Museum
307 West Westbrook St. * 662.605.0770
High notes: A labor of love and a northern highlight on the Mississippi Blues Trail, the museum features an interpretive garden along with significant blues artifacts.
Howlin’ Wolf Memorial Blues Festival
662.605.0770 * www.wpnet.org
Painting the town blue: The world’s greatest blues artists headline this annual musical celebration that delights and educates in equal measures.
Anthony's Good Food Market
116 West Main St. * 662-494-0316
A New Orleans — Delta Style Restaurant. The dining at Anthony's is always casual, the food incredible, and the atmosphere unique.
Prairie Wildlife Preserve Lodging
662.494.1235 * www.prairiewildlife.com
Come stay in our pre-Civil War cabin, "The Pleasant Home," built in 1845. Cabin has been updated with modern amenities to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable. The three bedrooms and two full baths can accommodate up to 8 guests. Additionally, a small pond, located just 150 yards through the forest offers an opportunity to fish, relax and enjoy the beauty of creation. 6,000 Acre preserve
DAY THREE –COLUMBUS:
It’s time to cue the romance as you head into Columbus, where dramatic architectural flair certainly helped set the stage for Tennessee Williams’ legendary Southern Belles. Although the playwright and his mother (and his doomed sister Rose) left the city while young Tom was still a child, the glamour of the town’s antebellum splendor had already made its mark on the budding writer’s imagination.
Lucky for you, today more than 200 of those gorgeous historic homes and structures still remain (many of them open for daily tours; some as bed-and-breakfasts) in a town that preserves both it’s architecture as well as its legendary charm and hospitality, with a downtown that’s a real beauty. This is a city that has its act together.
Here are a few starring sites:
Tennessee Williams Home & Welcome Center
300 Main St. * 662-328-0222
Welcome rectitude: This gingerbread-clad Victorian rectory is where the Reverend Walker Dakin lived with his daughter, and was the first home of Dakin's grandson, Thomas Lanier Williams (born March 16, 1911). Today the home serves as the city’s welcome center.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
318 College St. * 662.328.6673
A-spiring to beauty: The church where Walker Dakin served as minister and where he baptized young Tom is a historic gem in its own right, first consecrated in the 1830s.
Also of interest:
Mississippi University for Women
1100 College St. * 877.462.8439
First females, females first: This beautifully historic campus features more nearly two dozen buildings listed on the National Register. “The W,” as it is affectionately known, was America’s very first state-supported college for women, the school attended by Tennessee Williams’ mother (and Faulkner’s mother) as well as Eudora Welty.
Tennessee Williams Tribute and Victorian Homes Tour
Every year in September
www.muw.edu/tennesseewilliams * 800-327-2686
Parlors parlayed: A week-long series of events full of scholarly lectures, dramatic presentations and a tour of the Victorian architecture that helped inspire Williams’ works.
1587 Officers Lake Rd. * 662.327.4485
Distinctive food and atmosphere
210 5th St South * 662.243-1480
New Orleans styled fine dining in Historic Downtown
200 Main Street * 662.327.1639
Unique food and Southern hospitality in Historic Downtown
Café on Main
101 5th St South * 662.241.0045
Southern food and Southern charm in Historic Downtown
Front Door/Back Door
400 Main Street * 662.329.3693
Coffee and specialty dishes on Historic Downtown
Lincoln Home B & B
305 7th St South * 662.328.5413
Relax here and have a complementary tour of the adjacent historic home
408 7th St South * 662.244.7232
Relax in the oldest brick house in North Mississippi (c. 1828).
The Jackie O House
1700 9th St South * 662.327.5100
Historic and enchanting and quiet located in Southside
406 3rd Ave North * 662.574-2790
This historic home is in walking distance to Historic Downtown
4567 Hwy 182 East * 662.328.7213
Relaxing and charming nestled away in East Columbus
Note: visit the link below for more information on, and photographs of, these and other great Columbus accommodations:
DAY THREE – STARKVILLE:
You’ve visited the home places of past geniuses; now take a tour of the college and college town where current blockbuster writer John Grisham learned a thing or two before he became the best selling thriller writer on the planet. With its blend of high-tech academic research and both historic and historically inspired neighborhoods like the quaint Cotton District, Starkville offers its own unique flavor. In fact, from the Herzer Diary Science Cheese Factory and the A.B. McKay Food Research and Enology Lab (tours by appointment), you can bring home the college’s famously delicious Edem cheese and muscadine wine.
What could be better than wine and cheese for your next book club meeting? And of course, a few good stories when you take in these sites:
John Grisham Room
Mississippi State University Mitchell Memorial Library * 662.325.2559
Murder, he wrote. Here is where John Grisham—Mississippi State University alum/blockbuster novelist/former Mississippi legislator—displays all of his original manuscripts, fan mail, movie memorabilia and legislative papers.
Also of interest:
Charles H. Templeton, Sr. Music Museum
Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University * 662.325.0812
Tune-up: This music business museum showcases over 22,000 pieces of sheet music, records, and musical instruments from the late 1890's and early 1900's.
Cotton District Grill
106 Maxwell St. * 662-323-6062
Appetizers, sandwiches, and dinner entrees
The Little Dooey
100 Fellowship St. * 662-323-6094
Barbecue, chicken, catfish, and ribs
Cedars Bed and Breakfast
2173 Oktoc Rd. * 662.324.7569
Built in 1836, this historic antebellum plantation mansion reigns over a picturesque 183-acre estate dotted with forests, rolling pastureland and fishing ponds. Late Colonial and Greek Revival architecture prevail in this frontier home. Some of its architectural highlights include seven magnificent hand-carved fireplace mantles, ornate early 20th century electric light fixtures, early 19th century hardware, and hand poured glass. Full breakfast. 4 Bedrooms.
Hickory Hills Bed & Breakfast Cabins
1309 Camps Airport Rd. * 1.800.689.3983
These two deluxe cabins are surrounded by woods and overlook rolling prairie land and a lake. The cabins are fully equipped, quiet and comfortable. Cabins include a kitchen, full bath, and bedroom/ sitting room combination. Each cabin sleeps 2 to 4 people. 2 Cabins, deluxe Continental breakfast. Bed & Breakfast Association of Mississippi.