Monday, July 14, 2008

Searching for Robert Johnson

This weekend, my significant other, Keith, and I searched for the grave site of the king of the Delta blues singers, Robert Johnson, in the Mississippi Delta.

Mr. Johnson:

Now for those of you who know Keith and me, we are polar opposites on most accounts except for our dry sarcasm, unnatural obsession with sports of any kind, our love of Southern history, and, of course, our enthusiastic appreciation for Mississippi blues. Case in point, Keith took me to Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club on our very first date.

For those of you who are not familiar with Johnson, he is the famed Mississippi bluesman from Hazelhurst who supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for talent to sing the blues. This exchanged occurred at the "Crossroads" near Clarksdale. Johnson died at age 27 in Greenwood after being poisoned by a woman's husband after his wife's alleged affair with Johnson. Read more about Robert Johnson.

Just as mysterious as Johnson's life, his final resting place is very ellusive. In fact, there are three different cemeteries where his tombstone sits.
So, we paid homage to all three.

Now, we know he died in Leflore County, Mississippi. And lucky for us, all three grave sites are also in Leflore County.

Our search began at Tallahatchie Flats, three miles north of Greenwood. Keith and I reserved our very own shack for the night to get to the heart of Johnson and his life. We stayed in the Tush-Hog House, named for the man with Johnson when he died of strychnine poisoning.

Our House:
The back porch overlooked a soy bean field and the Tallahatchie River. Keith was jealous that his beans did not look so good.

As a matter of fact, it was Mr. Bubba, the proprietor, who suggested we try to find all three sites is we were true enthusiasts.

Our first destination: Itta Bena. We were searching for the Quito Plantation. There in the church yard of a chapel was the first marker. Surrounded by other Johnsons, a simple flat tombstone lay with the inscription, "Resting in the Blues." Keith felt it fitting to share a beer with him.
Quito Plantation, Est. 1904

The church in Itta Bena with the first marker:
More Johnsons live in the area: We thought it had to be the real thing -- a family cemetery.

That was until we got to Morgan City. South of Itta Bena is a small cotton community known as Morgan City. Keith actually did an internship here while he was in school. He would drive out to Morgan City twice a week to check cotton.
We could not find a church, but a nice lady at the Morgan City Grocery gave us directions.

I read that Johnson was buried at Mount Zion Church, and if we did not pull straight up to Mount Zion Church. A large marker sat near the street, and we knew immediately that it was his. The obelisk was inscribed on all four sides.
The second marker:

This was the REAL one, I told Keith. He agreed.

A photograph of Johnson was inset on the monument. And fans from across the globe have paid tribute. This was proved with a British pound placed at the base of the stone.

On our way back to Greenwood, we came upon this -- the big ass bridge in the middle of nowhere.
Big Ass Bridge in the Middle of Nowhere:

View from the Bridge:

The YA-YA-Yazoo!

It was just too interesting not to mention. It crosses the Yazoo River.

Near Tallahatchie Flats, we found the last of the markers. It was under a pecan tree at the Little Zion Chapel. An eye witness supposedly saw Johnson buried in this spot. After finding out she never received a dime for her story, I was inclined to believe this was the spot.
The third marker:

Of course, after discussing the matter further over dinner at Lusco's in Greenwood, we don't know what the hell to think. (We had the porterhouse for two, Lusco's famous fries, and the chocolate sin with chocolate bourbon sauce, yum!)

You can take the boy out of the delta, but....

Chocolate Sin....oh, yeah!

It certainly is fitting that Johnson's final resting place is just as mysterious as the man.


Dana said...

Wow, dinner and a show! Or should I say history lesson? I'll bet MS is full of little towns like that!

Felicia said...

Who says you have to go far away to have a nice get away and learn something along the way? I live in Hattiesburg but Louisiana is home.The south is full of interesting places to see.My dh loves blues and has mentioned Morgan Freeman's place. Maybe one day. Looks like fun!

Medbie said...

It IS fitting that his resting place be mysterious. I love the Blues and really enjoyed seeing your photos and reading about your trip!

Anonymous said...

What a great story.

That shack you stayed in? Did it have A/C? ; )