Tuesday, November 27, 2012

All Their Christmases Are White

Southern Winter Wonderlands Day 3
Passing through Biloxi
We take the coastal route from Mobile to New Orleans today, and this lighthouse in the boulevard median in Biloxi beckons us to stop.  Here’s what we learn. 

The Lighthouse was constructed of cast iron in 1848, and has stood its ground against numerous storms that have buffeted the coast over the years.  It had many civilian keepers, including one woman who served as keeper for 53 years.  Katrina engulfed it, loosed bricks from its inner walls, and broke some of its windows, but it remained standing, while scores of other structures along this stretch of the gulf coast were reduced to rubble.  Now($400,000 in repairs later) the lighthouse has become a symbol of the resilience of the people of Mississippi, appearing on state license plates and promotional materials.

 The Visitor Center that stands behind the light is a semblance of a house built on this site by a prominent Biloxi family in 1849.  That house was damaged by an early 1900s hurricane and its renovated incarnation was smashed to smithereens by Katrina in 2005.  When it was rebuilt this time, it was elevated 22 feet above sea level on strong piers with the hope of keeping it intact through future storms.

The 26 mile long stretch of pristine white beach that guarantees residents a white Christmas is actually a man-made multi-million dollar phenomenon. It was begun in 1959 as a way to draw tourists to the Redneck Riviera, and as long as there are winds and waves, its maintenance will be a perpetual effort. 
A historic marker commemorates the “wade-ins” that occurred here in 1959, 1960, and 1963, protesting the segregation of the beach--when “white sands” had a double meaning.  It took a federal court ruling in 1968 to open this public beach to all citizens.

The contrast between the tranquil water and immaculate white sands of the beach on one side of the road and the devastation that Katrina wrought on the other side is jarring.  Most of the debris has been cleaned up, but there are many vacant lots with nothing left but a concrete driveway pad, a brick stairway to nowhere or pilings with nothing atop them.  And, there are a lot of brand new homes, built on pilings that seem to be extraordinarily tall to keep them safe from any flooding or storm surge short of a tsunami.  We say a little prayer that our little island never meets the fury of the ocean this way.


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