“The rest of America don’t mean jack shit, you in Mississippi now…”
— Mississippi Burning, 1988

Mississippi is a weird place. Just absolutely strange.
I originate from Florida. As of this writing, I have travelled to 49 states (only missing Hawaii; and I feel the need to mention here that I drove to Alaska — from Florida, read more on that odyssey here), 11* of the 13 Canadian territories, and 24 other countries on 5 continents.
I have never been anywhere else like Mississippi.
Because I don’t think there is anywhere else like Mississippi.
For instance, when you hear the word “Mississippi,” does anything, other than a river, come to mind? Who’s the most famous person from Mississippi? What’s the most famous landmark in Mississippi? What is Mississippi even known for in these times?
For a state that, as a member of the USA alone, has existed for over two centuries† (1), it would seem that this defies the natural order of things.
A State with a Long Past, but Lacking Icons
When I hear “California,” I think of the gold rush, the “Hollywood” sign, the Sunset Strip, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Haight-Ashbury. “Texas” conjures up images of Lone Star flags, football, Pantera, the Astrodome, and the Alamo. “New York” would be Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Brownstones, and the Bronx Bombers. “Arizona” invokes images of silhouetted saguaro cacti framed by a glowing sun, the Grand Canyon, and the shootout at the OK Corral.
I would think that the images these names evoke for you do not land that far from mine.
To the contrary, when I hear “Mississippi”…I can’t say that I think of anything…anything current, that is…anything current and so unique and specific to that state, that I would have to travel there to experience it. Yes, cottonfields and magnolias are certainly emblematic of something, but who, by nature, exclusively associates them with Mississippi? To emphasize this point, I cannot think of a grove of magnolias, or even a single magnolia, recognized as being symbolic of this “Magnolia State,” and the only Cotton Bowl that I know of is located in Texas. Of course, I’m familiar with Faulkner, Yoknapatawpha County, and Yazoo City, but if somebody were to ask me, “What’s there to see in Mississippi?” would it really make practical sense to respond with “William Faulkner’s house”?
Mississippi historical marker for William Faulkner's house at Rowan Oak, Oxford, MS

William Faulkner's former residence at Rowan Oak in Oxford, MS

The Delta in full bloom, near Clarksdale, MS

Bright, Bold, and (potentially) Beautiful Main Street, Yazoo City, Mississippi

This is somewhat staggering when one considers that Mississippi has been a state since 1817 (1). It was the 20th state admitted to the Union(1), and keep in mind that we started with an original set of 13 (2). That means that Mississippi owns an “American” history that outstrips the bedrock states of Illinois, Missouri, Michigan — and of course, my home state of Florida.
Yet, until the most recent years, I wouldn’t have been able to offer up even a single, legitimately iconic landmark from this OG state of the deep south. Of course, many would proffer “the river” as a conspicuous response to that observation, but can you even think of one “iconic” image of the river? Neither can I. My inclination is to assume that everybody’s “image” of the river is a winding, thin blue line doubling back on itself in a series of hairpins as it courses North to South on a map, bisecting the country in the process. Furthermore, as it also delineates the borders of Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky (where the river borders the New Madrid bend on 3 sides (3)), Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, is it really accurate to view the river as “belonging” to Mississippi?
On the subject of state landmarks, there isn’t a Gateway Arch, nor a Sears Tower. There are no picturesque churches in the vein of St. Louis cathedral in New Orleans or St. Patrick’s in New York City. There is no Bourbon Street, Beale Street, Sunset Boulevard, or Broadway. There are no natural wonders either like the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Everglades of Florida, the Great Lakes of Michigan, the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, Niagara Falls in New York, or even Natural Bridge in Virginia. Furthermore, even the state’s official symbols strike me as ambiguous and lacking distinction, with the state’s official tree, bird, and reptile being the Southern Magnolia, the Northern mockingbird, and the American alligator, respectively (4). I really wonder how many people in California even know what a Southern Magnolia looks like, and at least one other state in just the Southern United States also claims the Northern mockingbird and the American alligator as its official bird and reptile, respectively — Florida (5).
Very strange indeed.
Mississippi: Pop-Culturally Deserted
To be fair, geologic formations, skyscrapers, and state symbols aren’t everything — I have no idea what the state reptiles of New York or California are, or for that matter, if they even have official state reptiles — but, I wouldn’t place Mississippi at the avant-garde of all things pop culture either. For instance, on the very popular subject of sports, one should note that this state is home to no franchises belonging to the NFL, NBA, or MLB. Mississippi is also the home state of Walter Payton (6) and Jerry Rice (7), but you probably had to be reminded of that. Moreover, no storied sports stadiums of note, not even ones whose cachet could be framed in a regional context like Legion Field, Neyland Stadium, or Rickwood Field, are located in Mississippi. In fact, I cannot think of a single NASCAR track located in Mississippi either, like I can of Talladega in Alabama or Darlington in South Carolina — a fact that I find very noteworthy considering that stock car racing is autochthonous to the southern United States, and that those 2 states are not home to a single NFL, NBA, or MLB franchise either.
Unfortunately, I think this pop culture anonymity can also be extended to music. Mississippi owns an inimitable music history, but in that statement a cruel irony lies — music history — as in past and not present.
This is the birthplace of Robert Johnson (8), Muddy Waters (9), Howlin’ Wolf (10), Elvis (11, the most famous person born in the state to address an earlier rhetorical question, but certainly someone more synonymous with Memphis), and of course, Blues itself (12). However, it appears that “Blues” has traced an analogous trajectory through music history as Latin did in linguistics — that is, “Blues” doesn’t exist today, only elements of “Blues” exist today…as part of something else.
On this last point, I understand entirely how the phrase omnia mutantur, nihil interit (“everything changes, nothing vanishes”would apply to the story of Mississippi Blues, but let’s remember that dinosaurs used to rule the Earth. They aren’t around anymore, but their fossils signify their time here. With respect to the Mississippi’s place in music history, sadly, I know of no hallowed “House of Blues” to visit, like Tipitina’s in New Orleans, the former CBGB in Manhattan, The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, and the Whisky a Go-Go in L.A. 
Although it can certainly be stated that all of the previously listed venues were the settings of what would be considered modern, latter 20th Century, music waves that were contemporaneous with an era of widespread radio and record stores, whereas Delta Blues recordings were contemporaneous with the Great Depression, I can also point out that a clearly marked section of Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans, Congo Square, is recognized as the as the birthplace of Jazz — and dates back to the 18th century. 
On the contrary, the list of Mississippi Blues trails markers is a litany of places I’ve never heard of. For example, the crossroads where Robert Johnson bartered his soul for 6-string superiority could be one of a thousand places between Cleveland and Clarksdale, and the opening line of the Mississippi Blues Trail historical marker at Dockery Plantation — the “Birthplace of Blues” — states “the precise origins of the blues are lost to time.” (13)​​​​​​​
“The Windsor Ruins?...I’ve Never Heard of Them…”
Up to this point, the motif of this story has been the dearth of destinations in the state of Mississippi, and prior to 2019, producing evidence to refute that judgement would’ve been hard to come by. 
However, that changed abruptly that year during a routine search on Pinterest. I don’t remember what I was searching for, and it seems very likely that I had just landed on the front page that was showing recommended results based on what I was viewing in my previous sessions. My best guess is that during the previous session I was searching for Clarence John Laughlin photographs, therefore, upon landing on the homepage for a subsequent session, I would be recommended photos related to that search criterion.††
All I know is something caught my eye. In my mind, it evoked the image of a cappricio painting of the Roman Forum ruins by Giovanni Paolo Pannini (14) that I used to gaze at frequently in my Wheelock’s Latin textbook –– but from my “visual sense” of the photograph I knew this wasn’t anywhere in Europe.

The Roman Forum ruins by Giovanni Paolo Pannini (15)

“What is that place and where is it?” I said to myself.
When I selected the thumbnail, the answer to the first question was revealed: The Windsor Ruins.
“The Windsor Ruins...,” I read out loud astonished. “I’ve never heard of them...”
Fortunately for me, I had a wikipedia entry to address the second matter:
“Windsor Ruins are in Claiborne County in the U.S. state of Mississippi, about 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Port Gibson near Alcorn State University.”(16)
The entry went on to describe “the ruins” as a set of 23 Corinthian columns that represent all that remains of the largest antebellum Greek Revival mansion ever built in the state. The wiki narrated it’s historical arc as being completed in 1861, occupied by Ulysses S. Grant’s forces in 1863, surviving the war to still be in use during the postbellum Reconstruction era, only to be destroyed by fire in 1890, with perhaps the most intriguing detail being that for over a century –– not until the early 1990’s when an 1863 sketch made by a Union soldier was discovered –– what constituted the mansion’s intact appearance remained a mystery. (16)
That backstory is unparalleled, and the scene was something sui generis. For example, I’ve been to a few historic plantations in Louisiana, namely Oak Alley and Houma’s House, and although both are unique and charming in their own manner, I have never felt authentically “in the past” when visiting those locales. The experiences at times were somewhat stale, tantamount to being in an open-air museum, but the exhibit that I wanted to “see” had a shelf life that long passed. There the concept of time was delimiting, not unlimited.
I had also seen phantom columns prior to this, as there is a set on campus at the University of Missouri in Columbia that remained standing after Academic Hall burned down in 1892 (17). My comrade and I visited them en route to Alaska back in the spring of 2013. Although a notable landmark, I would describe the Academic Hall columns as stoically standing sentinel at the center of the campus. Their appearance was neat and clean, and they bore no indications that they were once the face of a much larger structure — there was nothing eerie or ghostly about them. In contrast, the Windsor Ruins appeared isolated, mysterious, macabre, foreboding — but, more than anything else, they were alluring.
Thus, in 2019 after returning from Rapas das Bestas in Galicia, on my drive back to Texas from Florida, I set out to set eyes on these Windsor Ruins...in the state of Mississippi.
In Search of “Misstery”
I entered Mississippi from Memphis via Interstate 55 and drove this highway all the way down to Jackson. From Jackson I headed due west on Interstate 20 to Vicksburg, then south on US-61 until I reached the turn right before what appeared to be the “downtown” are of Port Gibson that would take me right to the ruins. I find it worth mentioning that I left out the name and/or number of that specific street because the only reason why I knew to turn on that street was the gps was alerting me to. Even if I knew the name of the street, I’m not even sure there was a street sign posted at the turnoff anyway, and if I’ve got any mnemonic capacity left in my brain, there wasn’t a historical marker nor a “Mississippi History” road sign of any sort that pointed an arrow in my direction declaring “Windsor Ruins 10 mi” either.
I remember this quite well not because of what I was seeing, but because of what I was feeling — uneasiness. As it didn’t take long before Port Gibson had slipped away and I found myself on a desolate two-lane road, with no cars in front, no cars behind, and no opposing traffic. Furthermore, I had no phone signal, and the vista that lie ahead was just a strip of pavement cutting through a dense forest that was blanketed by the thickest layer of kudzu I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and considering the fact that I’m from Florida, that statement should carry some very significant weight. As long before I reached the ruins, the kudzu itself, fulfilling its reputation as the “vine that strangled the south," (18) became a sick, supernatural spectacle — the virid shroud of death veiling the features of the trees it was strangling to death underneath. The entire landscape looked like an uninterrupted, seemingly endless green soup of forms melting into that tangled tarp of leaves.
Kudzu — the vine that strangled the south (19, Photo credit:Scott Ehardt via Wikipedia). This specimen is mild compared to the extensive growth I saw on the approach to the Windsor Ruins.
As I was counting down the miles, at this point having just eclipsed mile 7 — still without even having seen a single indication of any sort that I was headed in the right direction — my mind was slowly traversing a threshold of trust. As the hypnotic effects of driving through a sea of verdancy took hold, gradually, the thought that this place didn’t even exist was crystallizing. That regrettably, I'm now caught up in some Deep South skullduggery that has me chasing ghosts across the megamorass of southwest Mississippi.
Keep in mind, this journey started with a single photograph and a wikipedia article. In other words, I didn’t even know another person who had even heard of this place, much less been there. Furthermore, considering that this was 2019 and I had never seen another photo of this place anywhere else on social media, the thought of the Windor Ruins being a “phantom location” was beginning to gain traction in my wild imagination. Then suddenly, just as I closed out the 10th mile from Port Gibson, the foreboding forest opened up and there they were, standing alone in a clearing, at the end of a gravel trail maybe an eighth of a mile from the road, corralled by a chain-link fence, and only accompanied by the (now) negative space arrangement “joining” them.
It was surreal, and very, very eerie. No one else was there, and I was very much hearing the silence. Observing the columns, I could readily see why the intact image of the mansion remained unknown for so long, because I was completely lost as to where the “front door” would’ve been located, much less what embellishments would’ve constituted the façade of the mansion
Unexpectedly, the ruins were not as conspicuous as I was led to believe based on the photograph that sparked this voyage. They did not “dominate” the landscape. What they did dominate, however, was the mood of the landscape, because even when I gazing in the complete opposite direction (at a very disquieting old oak tree located halfway between the ruins and the road), I could always feel their presence. It was as if, not someone, but something, was there with me.
The Windsor Ruins near Port Gibson, MS

The Windsor Ruins

Not as imposing on the surrounding landscape as I was expecting

This oak tree was "haunting" me the entire time

This is in stark contrast to other “ruins” I’ve visited around the world including Stonehenge, which is quite surprising considering that the neolithic monument carries a 4,800-year head start on the Windsor Ruins in the “history” category (20), and whereas we know the entire life story of those columns in Mississippi, the details of Stonehenge’s biography remain a secret. Yet having been to both, I can unequivocally tell you that I felt an “aura” at the Windsor Ruins. In contrast, the only thing I felt at Stonehenge was the windchill ripping through the layers of clothes I had on in December in southern England. Most ironic is the fact that although Stonehenge had served as a burial ground since at least 3000 B.C.,(21) only in Mississippi did I feel like I was in the presence of something supernatural.  ​​​​​​​
To elaborate, in Mississippi, it didn’t feel like I was looking “through a window” to the past — it felt like I was looking at the past. Conversely, at Stonehenge, I had an insipid experience of feeling like I was just staring at a bunch of rocks in the middle of a sheep farm — and nothing else. I did not reach a “higher plane of understanding” nor was I able to establish a telepathic link with Crom while standing on the Salisbury Plain — falling well short of fantastical expectations from my childhood. However, what was established near the muddy banks of the Mississippi was that these columns, still standing (coincidentally or otherwise), conveyed something to me — the concept of a future “already passed.”
This being the acknowledgement that we’re already gone...just in the future.
More nihilistically put, as the skeletons of the Capuchin Crypt will “tell” you:
“What you are now, we used to be; what we are now, you will be...”
Counternihilistically expanding on this motif of Memento mori, it is my personal interpretation that death does not annihilate life — it just represents crossing a threshold to a different state on the same continuum of existence.
Arriving at that notion led me to recall a quote that Nate read in a Six Feet Under episode that was credited to the Bhagavad Gita, but since the quote was of course in English, and I am not able to read Sanskrit, I cannot vet that the quote is accurate or even accurately cited from that text. What I can vet is that, accurately from that text or not, it struck a chord with me:
“All that lives, lives forever. Only the shell, the perishable, passes away. The spirit is without end. Eternal. Deathless.”
Therefore, the product of my perception with the above quote, distilled through a counternihilistic column yielded the following:
Existence will always exist in some form — or another.
The Windsor Mansion is long gone. It’s ruins serve as a reminder that, “under the magic spell of memory,” (21) it  — and everything else — will always exist...somewhere.
I left the ruins and continued south in the same direction I arrived in. I was headed to Natchez, and fortunately for me, that was the direction I had to head in to get there. Being completely honest, I wasn’t keen on returning to the same disquieting stretch of road I already journeyed down to get to the ruins. While not exactly “well traveled,” the route leaving the ruins turned out to be nowhere near as imposing as the previous stretch, and once I started seeing signs for locations and distances (including one for Alcorn State University, a place I had actually previously heard of through the football exploits of Steve “Air” McNair), my anxiety dissipated. Although, I also have to admit that the experience would not have been the same had I entered from Alcorn as opposed to Port Gibson.
I arrived in Natchez about two hours before dusk, and stopped to observe its antebellum character and the falling sun casting a glowing reflection on the river. From there I crossed the US 84 cantilever bridge into Louisiana and continued across the central region of that state until stopping for the night in Alexandria. The next day I resumed, on a “south by southwest” trek to traverse the Sabine by means of the Burr’s Ferry Bridge,14  receiving gratifying confirmation from the inscribed stone marker that I had touched down on the easternmost point in the Lonestar State.

Dusk in Natchez, MS

The easternmost point in Texas

I reached Austin later that evening. It was August 7th, 2019.
On August 13th, 2019, I was at the Manchaca Library just after 10am, preparing to complete my weekly Tuesday assignment for ABC that had a 2pm deadline, when I received a call that my father had died suddenly that morning of a heart attack.
A Sui Generis Experience
In my time (of dying), I have been to a lot of places, but, without a doubt, I have yet to find another experience like that.
Thus, I wanted to conclude by stating that if you carry an innate fascination with the past that we were never here for, and long to evoke a refracted sense of it, this is the only place that I know of that can provide that experience –– and you’re going to have to go to Mississippi to live it.
*I have been to the Newfoundland, but not Labrador.
† If one were to subtract the secession years of the Civil War, and the transitional years following it, Mississippi has been a member of the union for 198 years.
†† Ironically, I have confirmed that he captured photos of the Windsor Ruins at some point, however, I have also confirmed that that was my first time seeing any image of the ruins, as any photos that he took of them were published outside of my copy of Ghosts Along the Mississippi — that and the liner notes of Down Nola being the sole sources of his work I ever saw prior to Google and Pinterest. 
1. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Mississippihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi.
2. Wikipedia. (n.d.). United Stateshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States.
3. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Kentucky Bendhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kentucky_Bend.
4. Wikipedia. (n.d.). List of Mississippi State Symbolshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mississippi_state_symbols.
5. Wikipedia. (n.d.). List of Florida State Symbolshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Florida_state_symbols.
6. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Walter Paytonhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Payton.
7. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Jerry Ricehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Rice.
8. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Robert Johnson. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Johnson.
9. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Muddy Waters. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muddy_Waters.
10. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Howlin' Wolf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howlin%27_Wolf.
11. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Elvis Presley. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvis_Presley.
12. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Delta Blues. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_blues.
13. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Dockery Plantation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dockery_Plantation.
14. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Giovanni Paolo Paninihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Paolo_Panini
15. Artvee. The Roman Forum (1740). https://artvee.com/dl/the-roman-forum-4/.
16. Wikipedia. (n.d.) Windsor Ruinshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windsor_Ruins.
17. Wikipedia. (n.d.). The Columns (Columbia, Missouri). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Columns_(Columbia,_Missouri).
19. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Kudzuhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kudzu.
20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonehenge
Ghosts Along the Mississippi.

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