Meridian, Mississippi has the nickname of the “Queen City.” Some people say it is because Meridian is the final resting place of a Gypsy Queen, but there is a bit of dispute about that being the origin of the nickname. It is possibly named the Queen City because at one time it was the second largest city in the state, next to Jackson – the King of the state, making Meridian the Queen.
There is no dispute, though, that a Gypsy Queen is buried in Meridian. I’d been to the cemetery before – back in the day when I didn’t know quite so much about photography and was just interested in documenting my trips around the state. I’m not sure where I heard about the grave in the first place. Hear about it I did, though, and I knew I wanted to both photography it again AND to learn more about it.
Kelly Mitchell, queen of the Gypsies, died in 1915 of complications during childbirth. I’ve read various accounts, but it seems to rather consistently say it was her 15th child, which is incredible to me. I know things were different, but 15. Holy crow, 15! By all accounts, her funeral and subsequent burial in Meridian were something to behold with over 20,000 gypsies flooding into the town for the ceremony.
Queen Kelly and her family came from various places – her husband from Brazil, other members of the tribe from Russia and Italy. Kelly Mitchell wasn’t just a “queen” – mother of her particular band – apparently she and her husband were the leaders – King and Queen – of all the Gypsy tribes in America at the time. It makes sense then that 20,000 people arrived to pay their respects to their queen. At this link, you can see actual photos of the funeral procession.
People leave all sorts of things on the grave – money, alcohol, tobacco, make-up, jewelry. The hope is that by leaving offerings for the Queen, she will intercede on their behalf – grant wishes, answer prayers, reveal destiny. I am not at all sure if that is the case or not, but out of respect, I left my quarters and made a small prayer for peace and tranquility for those who came seeking guidance.
There is something about the place – one of the articles said the air was thick with something – mystery, magic, something. At first I noticed a scent – spicy and heavy – and thought that maybe there was something to it all. Then I noticed the bottle of Shalimar, tipped on its side, the dark brown liquid slowly evaporating in the air, perfuming the place and lending credence to the lore and legends.
It is hard to not get caught up in the mystical nature of such a place, the power that we give to it, the meaning we impart to such things. I suppose in the end it is true that it’s not so much about what is but what we think it is. If we believe, then it is so. If we have doubt, then it loses its power. Whatever it is, it is because we make it so.
In the end, it’s about her – she’s the star of this show, even in her death. And so we raise our glasses to her…in tribute, in celebration, in remembrance.