Who do you think should manage Ferriday water?|
Story Archives: Jeff Dickson & Natchez: Frozen in time and memory
- 2013 - 300 articles
- 2012 - 856 articles
- 2011 - 635 articles
- 2010 - 1276 articles
- December 2010 - 59 articles
- November 2010 - 56 articles
- October 2010 - 73 articles
- September 2010 - 128 articles
- August 2010 - 123 articles
- August 26th, 2010 (Thursday) - 28 articles
- August 25th, 2010 (Wednesday) - 4 articles
- August 24th, 2010 (Tuesday) - 1 articles
- August 19th, 2010 (Thursday) - 25 articles
- August 18th, 2010 (Wednesday) - 10 articles
- August 17th, 2010 (Tuesday) - 1 articles
- August 12th, 2010 (Thursday) - 18 articles
- August 11th, 2010 (Wednesday) - 3 articles
- August 5th, 2010 (Thursday) - 21 articles
- August 4th, 2010 (Wednesday) - 12 articles
- July 2010 - 137 articles
- June 2010 - 105 articles
- May 2010 - 103 articles
- April 2010 - 143 articles
- March 2010 - 136 articles
- February 2010 - 98 articles
- January 2010 - 115 articles
- 2009 - 1591 articles
- 2008 - 1763 articles
|Jeff Dickson & Natchez: Frozen in time and memory|
(16th and final in a series)
I first encountered Jeff Dickson--came to know about him anyway--in 1987.
My thoughts and activities were considerably devoted to Natchez and Fort Rosalie that year. I was busy researching the history of the fort and establishing the historical accuracy of its site. While this work was progressing, I became aware of a strange building located on the western edge of South Canal Street beside the fort site. This was the log building that would later house Fat Mama's Hot Tamales. Being interested in log architecture, this building caught my attention. However, it clearly wasn't a traditional log building. It appeared to be somewhat Disneylandish--someone's idea of log architecture based on a limited understanding of traditional practices. It was a clue that pointed to part of the fort's history that I was previously unaware of--namely its 1940s reincarnation.
I soon found out more about the history of the log building through a slide presentation on the life and career of Jeff Dickson as researched, composed, and presented by the late Sim Callon, Sr. of Natchez. The presentation, I think, was in the Eola Hotel and probably presented for the Natchez Historical Society. It was there that I first heard "the rest of the story" about the man behind the log building.
Many of you remember Sim. I remember him fondly as a gentleman, one who was ever courteous. He had a love of local history that resulted in his creating slide presentations such as the one on Jeff Dickson and an earlier one on Natchez's Goat Castle murder. He also co-authored books that included The Goat Castle Murder and an illustrated history of Natchez. He graciously allowed me to use a photograph of Dickson's reconstruction of Fort Rosalie for a booklet I wrote on the fort (available in the book store at the Natchez welcome center).
It would be two decades later before I began to investigate Dickson's life, in part due to my needing an interesting subject for this column. However, my deeper interest in Jeff went back to the site where our life's had converged, old Fort Rosalie.
About the time that I began researching this series, Sim Callon died, well into his nineties. His son Sim, Jr. was very helpful in letting me copy his father's papers. Through him I found that only the year before I began researching Fort Rosalie, 1987, Sim, Sr. played host in Natchez to Jeff's widow and only daughter. How I would liked to have met them. During the 1940s Jeff's wife had been known as Billie (her real name was Louisette), but by 1986 upon her return to Natchez she went by Lisa. After Jeff's death, she never remarried.
During the 1986 spring pilgrimage Lisa Dickson and her daughter Chris Dickson Hilger returned to Natchez after being away for 45 years. For Chris returning was like coming to a town she had never been to, after all she was only a toddler when she had first been there. But for Lisa it must have brought back many memories. The Callons accompanied the two through Natchez, visiting many old homes and viewing the Confederate Pageant. They almost certainly took time to view the ruins of the sites that Jeff had reconstructed and promoted in 1940-41. Lisa later recalled: "I had forgotten how really unique the town is. And the people seem to have loyalties and values not easy to find elsewhere."
Sim reminded Lisa of Jeff's old Natchez friend, Joe Dixon. The Dicksons were very close friends with the Dixons in the 40s. Mother and daughter paid him a visit. Lisa later wrote to Sim: "Most of all, I am grateful that you suggested going to see Joe Dixon. What a terrific man he is." She wrote to Joe that her daughter Chris "told me she felt much closer to Jeff after having met you and heard you talk so affectionately about him. (She has always been a little bitter that he left her to go to war)."
To my knowledge Lisa Dickson never returned to Natchez. She died on June 3, 2001 in Beverly Hills, California, where Chris lived.
Today in Natchez there is little to remind us of Jeff Dickson. One can still visit the cottage in which he was born at 306 North Pearl Street, and the home Rip-Rap on South Rankin which he leased in 1940-1941 while engaged in his whirlwind development of historic sites.
However, except for a few decaying remnants, his historical attractions have vanished. On the west side of South Canal Street there is the log building--now unused--that until recently housed Fat Mama's Hot Tamales. The lower three courses of its logs are rotten. This was the ticket office/gift shop for Fort Rosalie.
If you drive out of town-twelve miles south on Highway 61-you will see a grove of trees on the east side of the road. If you look closely amidst the tangle of vegetation you can see the last remainder of the White Apple Village, the large brick museum with a brick outbuilding on either side. The roofs have fallen in. Time passes and things change.
When Fat Mama's Hot Tamales was located in Jeff's log building I used to eat there quite often, partly because I like the food, but also because the location was special. I would sit there in the evening on the patio with a plate full of tamales covered with Tabasco sauce sipping on a "knock you naked" margarita. Images from the past would come back, images of the people who had passed through Fort Rosalie: Bienville, Du Pratz, Dumont de Montigny, Chopart, the Great Sun and the Tattooed Serpent, Governor Gayoso, and Andrew Ellicott.
Amongst them was Jeff Dickson.
Both Jeff and I had stood on the site, separated in time by 47 years, and dreamed of the historical forces that had converged there. We had both dreamed of interpreting the fort for public benefit. Although historical accuracy was not a priority in his reconstruction, I nevertheless found his imagination and enthusiasm contagious.
My favorite photographic image of Jeff is one that summarizes so much. He is seated at the piano in the house on Ellicott Hill in the town that he loved, Natchez. He is dressed in a Confederate uniform playing a lively tune. He was probably the life of the party that long gone night. His lovely Lisa in a hoop skirt at his side. Frozen in time and memory.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|