The Lady in the Window
By Morgan Gates
This is Halloween week and I do conduct a ghost tour, so allow met to depart form our usual format to with a story from an upcoming book.
As progressive as our world is today in many ways we are as insular and as narrow minded as we always have been. Science has become the dogma of our modern times, science has expanded our body of knowledge in ways that could not have been imagined a few centuries ago and remember man has walked this earth for at least two thousand centuries. Science can; however, be as rigid and unyielding as the Spanish Inquisition once was! Science allows only hard measurable fact that can be experimentally proved and anything that does not submit to this standard is burned at the stake of public opinion! A case in point is those gifted with certain intangible gifts, those who can see or sense things beyond the scope of our usual five, over the years they have been called many things; witches, mediums, psychics. These individuals have often been ridiculed because of their ability to see things invisible to others but are their claim all that fantastic really? today we know that one in 40,000 are people are born with achromatopia or total color blindness the inability to see any color their vision is effectively black and white it is a well-known and well-studied visual defect. But what if the numbers were reversed and only one in 40,000 could see color? Would those with full-color vision be considered blessed, or cursed, would they be celebrated for being gifted or punished for being different?
In truth, there have always been those among us more sensitive to the paranormal than others and just as some people’s eyes a sharper than others there are some in which the gift is exceptional! One night not too long ago a truly gifted lady took one of our tours. Now Vicksburg is a town particularly rich in spirits, a website known as the “Haunted Traveler” once called Vicksburg the most authentically haunted small town in America and with good reason, epidemics, slavery, dueling have all left their physic scars but nothing can compare with the Civil War! America has been marvelously blessed among the countries of the world, our wars have been largely fought on foreign soil and most American cities have never felt the wrath of war, but not Vicksburg, not poor Vicksburg she stood the full wrath and might of the U.S. Army and Navy, for 47 days shot and shell rained from the sky by the thousands and while little physical evidence remains today, other than huge military cemeteries and mute monuments those scars never truly heal. As we conduct our tours, we tell the stories of these men and women so long dead, who were not so different than you and I. These men and women who lived through the unimaginable horrors of this bloodiest and most personal of America’s wars, who mourned their losses buried their dead and somehow picked up the pieces and went on. We speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves, or can they? Most nights the spirits are there only in the stories we tell occasionally, they will make themselves known to our guests in some way In an image captured in a photograph, a touch, a sound, or even a smell but most nights they are happy to just watch and listen while they remain quiet and invisible to all but a gifted few! My dear wife, who has often been my assistant as we walk the darkened streets spinning our tales of long ago, is herself somewhat gifted for she often has knowledge of things -- things that I have not yet told her of! Although gifted, she is not so gifted as some but I digress. One night, not too long ago we had a very gifted lady on the tour -- sensing perhaps my wife’s own gift, she opened up to her and began pointing out the spirits she saw all around us but alas my wife’s gift was not as acute as hers and she could not see what our exceptional guest could. At one point she became very excited and pointed to second story window in a very old house, my wife looked up but could see only a darkened window and told the lady so, this guest then put her hand on my wife's shoulder and immediately a light came on in the window and she could plainly see a woman silhouetted by a yellow light such as might be cast by an antique oil lamp, the light stayed on for a moment and then went out and the window was dark the tour moved on, at the end of the tour wife my shared with me what she had seen and asked me who lived in the house? I told her I was pretty sure the house was vacant at the moment but I admitted someone might have recently moved in without my knowledge. She wanted to drive back by the house on our way home, so we did the house was dark and there was no car in the driveway, we stopped our car and we got out. I asked her to point out the window in which she had seen the light and as she pointed to the window where she had seen the light she suddenly froze, for you see not only was there no light in the window there was no window! This particular house had taken a direct hit during the Siege of Vicksburg by a huge mortar shell weighing over 200 pounds! The explosion had pretty much leveled the home to the ground and the current house had been rebuilt after the war. While I am told the house was rebuilt with the same floor plan, apparently, they omitted that particular window! Strange things happen in Haunted Vicksburg!
African-American History in Vicksburg
By David Maggio
The African-American's story in the South is one of both tragedy and triumph brought to this part of the world in chains or born into bondage. They none-the-less made great contributions to the tapestry of the Old South. Even after freedom in the post Civil War era they struggled against all odds and became a vibrant and thriving community. Today African-Americans along with every other ethnic group are part of what make Vicksburg such a special place.
The history of African-American people in Vicksburg is, just as other ethnic groups, diverse and intertwined within the pulse of the community. Slavery in America started in 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 African slaves ashore in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. In our area, the first European settlement in the area was French and located north of the city in Warren County called Fort. St. Pierre. Also known as Fort St. Claude and the Yazoo Post, it was established in 1719, and served as the northernmost outpost of French Louisiana. Black slaves accompanied many of the earliest immigrants to Warren County, and in 1729, a black servant of the French Jesuit, Father Soule, was baptized at the settlement and was later killed by the Yazoo Indians when they destroyed the fort, never to be rebuilt.
Between 1774 and 1804, many states abolished slavery, but there were a number of slaves across the entire United States at the time; it was in the rural south where many captured Africans were brought by slave ships to be sold into slavery. Tobacco was produced in the Upper South, rice was along the coastal plains areas and sugar was cultivated along the Gulf Coast. The tobacco market was notoriously unstable, rice demanded substantial irrigation and needed an exceptionally long growing time, and sugar cultivation required intensive labor and a long growing time. Cotton would not start to be the lucrative cash crop of the south until 1794 when Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin, a machine that revolutionized the production of cotton by greatly speeding up the process of removing seeds from cotton fiber. With this invention, the slave population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years.
In 1800, there were 3,489 enslaved laborers in the Mississippi Territory and 182 free blacks, but this started to change greatly as Whitney's Gin was incorporated into the Southern cotton culture. Many slaves to this point were house servants or worked for railroads, but as the production of cotton grew, so also did the population of slaves. In the publication, The Root, on 3/04/2013, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., reported that in the year 1830, the year most reported, the total slave population of the 26 states was 2,009,043, of which 13.7% - 319,599 – of the black population in America were free. Of these freed blacks, 3,776 owned 12,907 slaves. The percentage of freed black slave head of families by ownership of slaves was 26% in Mississippi. By 1840, the population of Vicksburg was 1968 whites and 1065 slaves.
The Civil War took a great toll on the Vicksburg area, with Union forces coming to the city in mass in the summer of 1863. Their explicit reason to be in Vicksburg was to open the Mississippi River to northern commerce. After a prolonged siege, the city fell to Northern forces, and the river was once again open to trade. After the fall of the city, many former slaves flocked to the city, "going to freedom," and the population of Vicksburg grew from about 5,400 to nearly 15,000 with this influx of former slaves. For many of these freedmen, life was hard in that very few had received any form of education, and with so many people of like background, finding jobs was very hard. Vicksburg did prosper again and quickly grew because of its location on the Mississippi River. Cotton produced by the new owners of the plantations, using indentured servants, fueled the production. But many of these newly freed people chose to remain in Vicksburg, and became draymen, blacksmiths, carpenters, and various other occupations; they also worked in brass foundries, cotton-gins, lumber mills, and various other endeavors.
Even before emancipation, many slaves attended church with their owners at Christ Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church, and Catholic Church. But there were also churches belonging to the African-American community. Bethel African American Methodist Episcopal Church was the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in Mississippi, organized by Reverend Page Tyler in January 1864. The church is known as "The Mother Congregation of African Methodism in the state of Mississippi."The original 1828 building was formally the First Presbyterian Church. The first African American Masonic Lodge in the state was organized in the church in 1875. In 1890, Campbell College, with branches in Frair’s Point and Vicksburg, became the first African American college in Mississippi to be established without the aid of whites, was organized. Campbell College moved to Jackson in 1897, and later became part of Jackson State University. The original church was demolished in 1912, and the present church on Monroe Street was constructed.
In 1846, the Methodist Church at Cherry and Grove Streets was given to the African American Methodist when Crawford Street Methodist Church was built and renamed Wesley Chapel Methodist Episcopal. In 1860, this church moved to 1318 First East Street and a new church dedicated in 1865. In 1886, this building was demolished and a new one dedicated. The first African American Boy Scout Troop in Vicksburg was founded in Wesley.
In 1863, Holly Grove Missionary Baptist Church was located on Warrenton Road, where Jett School was located (editor’s note: just south of I-20 on Warrenton Road), and the cemetery behind. In 1860, a one-story frame building was purchased for the Baptist African Americans on the southeast corner of Farmer and Crawford Streets. This became King Solomon Baptist Church in 1869. These and other churches of various denomination helped establish a vibrant religious community for people of color in the City of Vicksburg.
At the conclusion of the War, things in Vicksburg were on a fast track to change. In March of 1865, the headquarters of the Freedmen’s Bureau moved from Memphis to 1001 Cherry Street in Vicksburg, where it remained until the bureau was abolished. Hiram Rhodes Revels came to Vicksburg with the Freedmen’s Bureau and was, in 1864, the minister of Bethel AME Church. In 1870, he became the first African American United States Senator in the United States, filling a post previously held by Jefferson Davis. He later became the first president of Alcorn State University.
The National Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, Freedmen’s Bank, was established in Vicksburg in 1865 at 1100 Washington Street. Organized and controlled by whites, the Freedmen’s Banks statewide closed in 1872, with the bank in Vicksburg holding the 10thlargest deposits of all the 34 branches. In 1902, Lincoln Savings Bank, located at 1106 Washington Street, became the first of twelve African-American owned banks to open in Mississippi.
Through business ventures, many African-Americans became prominent business persons in the city. W. H. Jefferson’s Funeral Home, shoemaker Thomas Broadwaters, Cox and Harris Barbershop, Confectioner W. E. Robinson, tailor A. H. Johnson, the Union Grocery Company became one of the largest African-American owned grocery stores in Vicksburg, owned by Thomas Dillon, Edward Williams, William Ware, Albert Judge, and Ferdinand Sims. Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana and lived in Vicksburg until 16, created specialized hair products for African-American hair and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire.
These along with many other businesses, help the city prosper.
The former slaves were anxious to obtain an education, and they did not leave this important task entirely in the hands of strangers. The African American community instituted a voluntary tax upon themselves that was used to help pay educational costs for blacks in the city. By November 1865, over 2,200 black students were taking courses in Vicksburg, in subjects ranging from elementary reading and
arithmetic to high school offerings. Soon African American children were attending Magnolia Avenue School (later to be Bowman School), McIntyre School, the Vicksburg Industrial School, and St. Mary's Catholic School, as well as others.
Mississippi is the Birthplace of the Blues, and the African American influence of this genre of music was deeply embedded in Vicksburg. As one of the greatest American songwriters of all times, Willie James Dixon, was born in Vicksburg in 1915, moving to Chicago at age 17, helping the Blues evolve from the 1940's through the 1980's. One of the most storied night spots in the South, the Blue Room, at 602 Clay Street, was operated for more than thirty years by flamboyant owner Tom Wince. Ray Charles, Fats Domino, B. B. King, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, and Little Milton were among the many stars who played in the club.
From St. Pierre until today, the African American population has contributed to the growth and prosperity of Vicksburg with businesses, professions, educators, musicians and a variety of other offerings. Vicksburg would not be the city it is today without the input of not only the African American community but all of the various ethnic groups that have made 2018 Vicksburg.
And You Thought You Were Walking Alone…
When you walk the streets of Haunted Vicksburg, you are not alone! We share these hills with the spirits of over five centuries of history, some good, some bad, some downright terrifying! Long before the Old Courthouse loomed above the modest skyline of our quaint little city. The Mississippian Culture lived in villages and cities built around earthen mounds. Today only their mounds remain as mute testimony to their presence here on earth, reduced to near extinction by waves of European diseases they did not understand, in “The Time of the Great Dying”! In the late 1700’s the Old Natchez Trace was haunted by ruthless outlaws that preyed on unwary travelers on this shadowy forest road. One of the worst, had a home at the base of a big forested hill right in the middle of what would one day become the City of Vicksburg! The Highwayman survived an ambush by Spanish soldiers only to meet his end at the hands of the one who loved him the most! On the eastern edge of the city, a quite modern minister has an encounter with the early founders of his church in “A Chapel in the Woods”! In 1835, 1863, and again in 1876, Vicksburg encountered the worst of the human spirit has to offer and forever has left Independence Day a “Dark Holiday” in Vicksburg!
All this and more have left Vicksburg the most haunted small town in America! My book “A Walk on The Darkside” explores the Dark History. Legends, and Lore behind the Haunted Vicksburg Ghost Tours.
Come join me at Lorelei Books (1103 Washington Street, Vicksburg MS) on Wednesday, October 24th at 5:30 pm for a book signing and discussion of the Vicksburg’s haunting history.
The Rich Jewish History of Vicksburg
By David Maggio
The first Jewish people settled in the area of Walnut Hills in 1821, and by the time Vicksburg was incorporated in 1825, the Jewish population numbered about twenty families. Most came up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, and had their origins in the Germanic lands of central and Western Europe (Alsace-Lorraine, Baden, and Bavaria), fleeing political and religious persecution and seeking new economic opportunities. Mostly peddlers by trade, Jewish merchants established themselves in Vicksburg, an area reminiscent of their homes along the Rhine, and contributed greatly to the area's importance as a leading trading and commercial center on the Mississippi River.
The Sartorius brothers, Phillip and Isaac, were one of the first Jewish families to arrive in Vicksburg. Quite pious, the Sartorius brothers brought two Torahs with them to America, which became the first Torahs in Vicksburg. With strong attachments to their religion, these families at first conducted worship services in private homes, and then later in larger halls of various buildings as their community grew. At first, the congregation first met at the home of Bernard Yost, a cotton broker in the city. They originally met at his business, and then at his home on Zollinger Hill. In 1841, the Jewish Congregation of Vicksburg was established and given the name “Anshe Chesed” (literally translated from Hebrew as “Men of Kindness"). The congregation was incorporated and chartered by the State of Mississippi in1862 when the number of families had grown to more than fifty. Its founding and charter made Anshe Chesed a permanent part of the religious life in Vicksburg, although the building of a synagogue had to await the end of the Civil War and better times.
The pattern of Jewish communities in the United States indicated that in most cases, cemeteries for the burial of their dead were established even before a congregation for worship was founded. Therefore, it may be assumed that a Jewish Cemetery pre-dated the one now located at the end of Grove Street in Vicksburg. It is believed that the earlier Jewish cemetery was located at the corner of Zollinger Hill and Jackson Road, on the land of Bernard Yost, the first president of the Anshe Chesed congregation. From available records, it appears that the current Anshe Chesed Cemetery came into being in 1864 when on August 23rd, the parcel of land was deeded to the Board of Trustees of Anshe Chesed Congregation for the purpose of establishing a burying ground for the benefit of its members and their families. The land was owned at that time by the Kinsey Brothers, who had purchased the land for the purpose of developing into home sites, but with the advent of the Civil War, the location was turned over to the Confederate Army, and the Second Texas Lunette was located on the site. After the fall of Vicksburg, the land was in such bad condition, it was sold to the Temple for their cemetery. Shortly thereafter, bodies were removed from the old cemetery at Zollinger Hill and re-interred. The first burial at the present cemetery was on May 25, 1864, when Mayer Mayer was buried in grave No.1. This shows the cemetery’s creation to be almost 40 years prior to the establishment of the Vicksburg National Military Park, which now surrounds the cemetery. Buried in the cemetery, are eight Jews that died in the service of the Confederacy. Others might also be buried that served the South but are not accurately marked as such. In the yellow fever epidemic on 1878, a large number of Jewish children died, and because so little was knowing about the disease, many felt those that died in the epidemic should be buried away from those that had died of other causes, so in the cemetery today is a section called Boys Row, where are buried the male children that died in the epidemic. It is not known is if any females died and are buried elsewhere.
Because of lack of anti-Semitism in Vicksburg, Jews were readily accepted into the community, and many fought and died for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Philip Sartorius who had brought the Torahs from Europe to Vicksburg was the first soldier to be wounded during the Battle of Vicksburg; he was shot by a Union bullet at Milliken's Bend.
With the end of the Civil war, Vicksburg, unlike many other cities in Mississippi, experienced new growth as a great river port and commercial center. The Jewish community grew both in numbers and affluence. Many of these recent Jewish immigrants came from Prussia as well as Poland. The merchant class in the highly agricultural area, they thrived by providing goods and services to local farmers. These Jews became an important part of Vicksburg’s civic and economic life. Jews owned dry goods, furniture, jewelry, hardware, food, and drug stores, as well as several other businesses. Bazsinsky Road, Kiersky Street, and Marcus Street were all named for prominent local Jews.
As the Anshe Chesed congregation continued to grow, the need for a strong political leader became apparent and a search was initiated. A very able rabbi, Bernard Henry Gotthelf, from Louisville, Kentucky, was offered, and accepted, the pulpit of Anshe Chesed. Interestingly enough, Rabbi Gotthelf had been the second Jewish Chaplain with the Union Forces in the Civil War.
To accommodate the growing congregation, a lot was purchased on Cherry Street, between China and Clay Streets. In May of 1870, a magnificent Temple was completed, and very elaborated dedicatory services held, attended by leading religious and political leaders of the community and state, including the governor. This synagogue on Cherry Street served as the Anshe Chesed congregation for a full century.
Seeking social outlets for the youth, the affluent Jewish community in Vicksburg organized the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Association in 1871 (later to become the B’nai B’rith Literary Society). In 1892, a beautiful building was built on the corner of Clay and Walnut Street to house this association, only to be destroyed by fire in 1915. Completely rebuilding the structure, the social life of the Jewish community continued there until the building was sold to the city of Vicksburg in 1967.
Over time, traditional Judaism became increasingly difficult to observe in a community so far removed from the mainstream of Jewish life in the U.S. cities of the East and the North. The spirit of reform was in the air among many of the German Jews in the United States, and its impact reached the Anshe Chesed congregation in Vicksburg. In 1873, a Union congregation of American Hebrew Congregation was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, and one year later, Anshe Chesed of Vicksburg was admitted as a member of this group of congregations under the banner of Reform Judaism. The largest Jewish congregation in Mississippi, Anshe Chesed moved rapidly to adopt the changes of Reform Judaism and a proud and prosperous Jewish community greeted the turn of the century and the years ahead.
With few exceptions, Jews from Eastern Europe did not settle in Vicksburg in the great wave of immigration from 1880-1920. In 1876, the Mississippi River, upon which the city was founded and from where the city derived a large portion of its income, changed courses and moved away from the city front. The cities growth became stagnant, as did the water in the old bed of the River at the waterfront. However, the city survived, and when the Yazoo Diversion Canal again brought a waterfront to the city, the downtown community was viable again. In the 1930's most of the businesses in the city were owned by the Jewish community, but after World War II, many young men came back from the war and did not enter into the businesses their families had had for generations. This, along with the Jewish immigrants preferring to be among like-minded kinsmen who followed traditionalist (orthodox) religion, helped to reduce the size and influence of the Jewish community in the city.
By the late 1960’s, the magnificent temple on Cherry Street had also fallen on hard times. A new temple was erected at the end of Grove Street on land adjoining the Jewish Cemetery and was dedicated in 1970. The temple today still used the Torah given to them by the Sartorius’ brother before the Civil War. Three other Torahs also located at the Temple, are used in services. Very valuable to the congregation, both religiously as well as monetarily, the Torah very seldom leaves the Temple. The Temple on Cherry Street, no longer used for temple services was occupied for a short time as a church, but then in the late 1970's was torn down, and Vicksburg lost one of its most beautiful structures. With the destruction of the oldest Temple in the State of Mississippi, the catalyst for the preservation of historic building in the city was initiated, and many structures are saved today, because of the loss of the Anshe Chesed Temple. The oldest Temple in the State today, is the Temple in Port Gibson, Mississippi.
Editors Note: David has harvested the passages above from several sources on the Jewish history of Vicksburg. The local Jewish population has dwindled away as children have moved away to bigger cities, someday soon they will be only a memory. Anshe Chesed is now under the care of “The Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park.