The 4th Annual Historic Costumed Tour at
Rose Hill Cemetery, Meridian, Mississippi
September 28, 2013 6 p.m.
When I began researching the Romani Travelers for my novel, Into the Free…particularly the “Queen of the Gypsies” Kelly Mitchell, I was honored to have the assistance of Leslie Joyner who has spent years compiling records and archiving stories about the history of Meridian, Mississippi. She works for the Lauderdale County Department of Archives & History where she is currently publishing her second book about this rich culture. I’ve invited Leslie here today to tell you all about an annual event they host in Meridian, and I hope you’ll enjoy visiting the grave of Queen Kelly Mitchell and seeing her “come to life” in the upcoming cemetery tour.
INSIDER’S NOTE: In the novel, Into the Free, I renamed Rose Hill Cemetery. It is called Hope Hill in the book, but I drew the details of the location and the funeral from working directly with many wonderful researchers in Meridian, including Leslie.
As you drive up the hill on 8th Street in Meridian, Mississippi you’ll see what to me is a huge cemetery surrounded by fencing. I had driven by this cemetery for years and always wondered about it. In 2010 I finally got the chance to get close and personal with the cemetery’s history, and the history of those that are resting there. My assignment from my supervisor, Ward Calhoun, Jr. in January 2010 was to research a list of about 20 people. At the time I did not know that a costumed tour was in the works so I began my research with focus.
I spent the next several months researching what to me looked like it would be the most interesting of the subjects, the King and Queen of the Romani (Gypsies), Emil and Kelly Mitchell. Exactly how did someone not from Meridian, and perhaps had never even been to the area come to be buried in this cemetery?
I found that the Queen had died in 1915 during childbirth with her 15 or 16th child in Coatopa, Alabama and Meridian was the closest town that had access to an ice plant which would be needed to preserve her body. It would be many weeks for Kelly’s family and other Romani to make the trip by foot, train, horse or horse drawn wagon to pay their respects to the Queen.
Since her death nearly a century ago, her people come through Meridian to pay their respects, and to leave gifts at her grave. A small publication on the Mitchell family was completed in October 2010 and is available for purchase at the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History, Inc. http://www.kithandkinofthesouth.org/rose-hill-books.html
Last month, I finally completed researching and writing everything that could be found on the other people that are portrayed in the tour: Lewis Ragsdale and John T. Ball, the feuding founding fathers of Meridian; John Taylor, Mayor of Meridian during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878; Mississippi Legislature and Confederate Officer William Patton; Marjorie Woods Austin, the founder of the Meridian Little Theater and so many more interesting individuals who helped to make Meridian a great city! The biographies of the people that are portrayed on the tour is called “The People of Rose Hill Cemetery: The Tour” and will be available on September 28, 2013 at our next tour!
You can keep up with the tour through our website and Facebook Page
If you do choose to go to the tour, be sure to arrive early…each year the crowds grow larger. Take a look at the line from 2011!
Julie’s bestelling, award-winning novel, Into the Free, is a coming-of-age tale set in Depression-era Mississippi. Many of the details are based on historical research from this region, including the Roma who caravan through town each spring to pay homage to their fallen queen. The sequel, When Mountains Move, launches SEPTEMBER 1. Learn more: http://juliecantrell.wordpress.com/order-books/