Mississippi & Beyond — The Merry Mansion

The Merry Mansion

In 1968 before the Urban Exploration photography trend evolved, I enjoyed taking photos of lonely and abandoned places for my college photography classes. While researching for my book The Gumbo Diaries: Mississippi & Beyond, I found some of my old negatives from a shoot of The Merry Mansion, between Gulfport and Mississippi City. © Diane Skelton.

I’ve discovered this blog is more about living along the Gulf of Mexico than it is a quest for the perfect cup of gumbo. My blog is a gumbo — a blend of festivals, cook offs, restaurant reviews, recipes, galleries, artists, authors and singers — people, places and things from the Florida Panhandle to the bayous of Louisiana. So when it came to finding a title for my first book, The Gumbo Diaries: Mississippi & Beyond fit perfectly.

While researching  – well, cleaning out closets, boxes, bins and old files – I discovered long-forgotten items that sparked memories for my slice-of-life essays.

Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the Piaggio’s dream house was designed by the architects Burton and Bendernagel of New Orleans. Note the 1960-era cars passing along Highway 90, an area that has twice been destroyed by hurricanes in my lifetime — Camille then Katrina. © Diane Skelton.

One of the greatest treasures I uncovered  was never-before-printed negatives I took for a college class in 1968, the year before Hurricane Camille ravaged a large portion of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Last month I had them printed, and these photos inspired “Abandoned Memories,” an  essay about the photo shoot and a dear friend.

“. . . I yearned to photograph an abandoned 1920s mansion on the Mississippi Gulf Coast but was afraid.
The Merry Mansion, located west of Gulfport, faced the Gulf of Mexico, separated from the beach by the heavily trafficked Highway 90. By 1968, the two-story sprawling white stucco and red tile roof residence had been vacant almost 15 years, sinking slowly into decay. . .  For that reason it was fenced off and plastered with keep-out signs . . . we had heard stories of the mansion’s World War II glory days as The Embassy Club, the officer’s club where all the young couples wanted to party. By the 1950s it was a posh night club bustling with dancing, jazz bands and casino gambling .  .  . ”

My book uses words to tell my story rather than photos. In fact, the only photo is on the cover, but these pictures of The Merry Mansion are so fascinating (well, to me anyway) that I wanted to share them. I haven’t seen anything like them in my research, so I’m glad I found the courage to go on the photo shoot — and that I never throw away negatives.

Inless than a year after I took these photos, The Merry Mansion was destroyed by Hurricane Camille.

Legend has it the original builder, Henry Piaggio of Italy, learned the timber export business in Pensacola, Florida, in the early 1890s near where I now live. He merged timber with shipbuilding and owned a shipyard in Pascagoula, my hometown. He settled in Gulfport right before World War I. Piaggio died before he and his wife could move in. She refused to live in the mansion and instead occupied a cottage out back. Less than a year after I took these photos, The Merry Mansion was destroyed by Hurricane Camille. © Diane Skelton.

By the way, on my birthday September 13, this blog celebrated its fifth birthday, and I sent The Gumbo Diaries: Mississippi & Beyond to the printer. It will be available on Amazon on National Gumbo Day, October 12.

HGTV and DIY televison channels could have built an entire series on renovating The Merry Mansion to its historic grandeur.

HGTV and DIY television channels could have created an entire series on returning The Merry Mansion to its historic grandeur. The trailer parked in the front had electricity, so maybe the remodeling team had arrived. From the looks of the car, they weren’t going anywhere soon. © Diane Skelton.

For more history about The Merry Mansion (Piaggio Mansion) and to see what remained after Hurricane Camille, read “Lost Splendor, Abandoned Grandeur””

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About thegumbodiaries

On the search for the perfect gumbo!
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11 Responses to Mississippi & Beyond — The Merry Mansion

  1. Scott says:

    Fantastic! I am drawn to old, abandoned homes like this–I love to imagine what the residents were like, what experiences they had. There was an old, abandoned house in Mobile (not nearly as grand as this one) where I liked to read for graduate school–and to imagine, of course.

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    • Maybe old places fuel the imagination of artists — writers, photographers — I never thought about it in that respect before. I can see you reading at the old abandoned house, though, flash light in tow! Thanks for reading.

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  2. Ruth Ann Black says:

    The Merry Mansion brings back so many memories. I was born in 1938 and as a child went there almost every weekend with my grandparents. They loved to play Bingo and would always let me play one of their cards. When I was nine I covered a card in a blackout jackpot and won (well my grandmother won really but I covered the card) fifteen hundred dollars. The winning number was 55. I was a winner too. My grandfather was a contractor and he used the money to build me a bedroom of my own.

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  3. Rafe Oneal says:

    My family built the amusement park FunTime USA on this site in the 1970’s. During excavation for the park we uncovered several pieces of the Merry Mansion, which are currently in my back yard!

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  4. Thank you so much for including my article about the Merry Mansion in your wonderful article about this lost, Mississippi Gulf Coast landmark. Good luck with your upcoming writing endeavors. Kind regards, Anthony (AMGB)

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    • Thank you for writing. Your article was very helpful to me, and I appreciate you sharing it. The postcard on it is fantastic and the post hurricane photos are stark reality. Thanks for reading!

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  5. Nora Canterbury says:

    Thanks for your Merry Mansion pictures from 1968. I lived nearby as a child and remember the ruins of the Merry Mansion. As kids, we dared each other to go up and touch the house but we were too scared that it was haunted!! This was around 1968. It’s nice to see these up close pictures of the mansion. Also I read that your birthday is today so have a great birthday and thanks again!!

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  6. BOB BRENNECKE says:

    My wife and I walked from our apartment on East Beach about 2 weeks before Hurricane Camille and climbed to the second floor on the west side of the house. We surprised someone hold up on the second floor and they jumped from the window. We beat it too thinking they would be back for all their stuff. When Camille hit, our apartment was the only thing left for miles East or West. We stayed throughout the storm and will never forget it.
    I would be glad to share the Hurricane Camille story if anyone wants to read it.
    contact me at robertbrennecke@hotmail.com

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