Old Man River
When I thought about the Mississippi River, I imagined Huckleberry Finn and Jim on their way to freedom. I imagined steamboats and explorers and history steeped into the very water. Yet standing by the edge of the river in the midday sun watching cars pass by on their way in and out of Tennessee and Arkansas or the occasional boat float by, I did not feel that elusive connection to everything the river embodies. It was a river, plain and simple, and from our limited vantage point, not a particularly beautiful one. Fortunately, The Mud Island River Park and Museum provide the perfect remedy.
Old Man River
Here we all work 'long the Mississippi
Here we all work while the white folk play
Pullin' them boats from the dawn 'til sunset
Gettin' no rest 'til the judgment day
Don't look up and don't look down
You don't das make the white boss frown
Bend your knees and bow your head
And pull that rope until you're dead
Let me go 'way from the Mississippi
Let me go 'way from the white man boss
Show me that stream called the River Jordan
That's the old stream that I long to cross
Ol' Man River, that Ol' Man River
He must know somethin' but he don't say nothin'
He just keeps rollin', he keeps on rollin' along
He don't plant tatters and he don't plant cotton
And them what plants 'em is soon forgotten
But Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin' along
You and me, we sweat and strain
Body all achin' and racked with pain
Tote that barge, lift that bail
Get a little drunk and you lands in jail
I gets weary and so sick of tryin'
I'm tired of livin' and I'm feared of dyin'
And Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin' along
The physical representation of the river gives you a first-hand tactile experience with just how massive and grand the Mississippi is, and reveals the interconnectedness of the waterways in the US. Along the edges of the river replica are walls which shows the states whose rivers feed into Old Miss.
You are transformed into a giant among men as you stride from one end of the country to the other, splashing in the eddies and ripples created by the river's flow. Occasionally, there are towns to tower above, and always, there are stories. The history of the river comes alive as you stand in the places where the history happened.
Lady Chatterly and her compatriots raced their shoes and leaves down the river while Sir Talks A Lot, a newly minted 15 year old, meandered along the shore taking photos.
It was nearly impossible to take pictures in the museum because most of it was dark and flash photography was not allowed. Every aspect of the Mississippi was explored from its earliest inhabitants to trade and commerce to river legends, tall tales and traditions to bridge and levee building.
One part of the museum was devoted to an interactive full-sized model of a steam boat where you could walk through and imagine yourself as a guest on the ship. You could hear the murmur of conversation, the rumble of the engine, and the instructions of the captain to his assistant. You could peer into a berth or walk through a ballroom. Below deck, you walked through the coal storage area and imagined the people feeding the giant maw of the machinery.
In another exhibit, you could experience a view of the river from a captains perspective, and in yet another, you found yourself in the cannon room of a ship engaged in battle. A short walk up a ramp later, and we found ourselves on a battlement facing the very ship we had just been in listening to the boom of cannon fire. The civil war display was brief, but informative, and marked another transition in our journey.
Next, we boogied and shimmied our way from the slave calls in the fields down the river to a speak easy and out into the land of Elvis. By this time, it was almost time for the museum to close. We were met by a docent who loved Elvis and was happy to share information about the King. On our way out, she introduced us to the biggest, most ornery catfish I've ever seen. Taller than Lady Chatterly, the albino fish glided through the murky water, tail whipping in agitation.I captured one last picture as the sun started setting, and we got in the car and headed home.