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