Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Robert Johnson's Grave and a Trip to Tallahatchie Flats

After leaving the Greenwood Blues Heritage Museum and Gallery, we set out to find Robert Johnson's grave. Although there has been much controversy over the years about where Johnson is really buried, the grave site just outside of Greenwood is believed by many, including Johnson historian and collector, Steve Lavere, to be the actual burial site.

As we drove out of Greenwood on the highway headed to Money, Mississippi ( yes, that is the town's name!) we neared the Little Zion M.B. Church and its cemetery where Johnson is believed to be buried. A Mississippi Blues Trail marker stands on the side of the highway near the cemetery, attesting to the influence of Robert Johnson's music on other Delta Blues musicians, including Son House, Muddy Waters, and Elmore James. According to the marker, Robert Johnson's early and mysterious death occurred in 1938 when Johnson was just 27 years old.

One of a number of Mississippi Blues Trail markers throughout the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere in the State of Mississippi.

Little Zion M. B. Church and Cemetery, where Robert Johnson is believed to be buried. The cemetery is located to the left of the church and is shaded by a number of large, old trees. Johnson's grave is near the back of the cemetery, under one of the largest pecan trees growing there.

The grave stone that marks the grave of Robert L. Johnson, Delta Blues Musician, is pictured above. Followers who visit Johnson's grave often leave flowers and other items to show their devotion to the man and the music that he left behind.

A close-up of Robert Johnson's grave marker that includes a fascimile of words allegedly written by Johnson shortly before his untimely death in 1928.
We left the cemetery and headed for Tallahatchie Flats, an interesting new overnight venue near Greenwood. The gravel road that turns off the main highway is marked by a simple black mailbox held up by part of a plow. The name "Tallahatchie Flats" was on the mailbox, so we knew our destination was not far away. Although the actual address does not appear on the mailbox, the physical location of Tallahatchie Flats is 58458 County Road 518, Greenwood, Mississippi 38930.

Situated only a few yards from the mailbox is a large sign, visible from the main roadway, that assured us we were headed in the right direction.

As we continued to travel down the gravel road marked by the mailbox and the sign, we saw yet another sign, this one made out of old-fashioned tin, that guided us around a curve in the
road on the way to Tallahatchie Flats.

As we rounded the curve, we saw a cluster of seven sharecropper cabins that told us we had arrived at our destination. According to Steve Lavere and George Vasquez back at the museum in Greenwood, Tallahatchie Flats is made up of cabins that were moved from their original locations onto this tract of Delta farm land. The location is a short distance from Robert Johnson's place of rest and is used for overnight accomodations for visitors and festival goers from around the world, all wanting to experience the feel of life in the Mississippi Delta. The unpainted and weathered cypress exteriors of the cabins remain unchanged, but the interiors have been
"modernized" with heat and air and "indoor plumbing," working appliances, and such, and each cabin has been decorated with furnishings reminiscent of the early-mid 1900s.

Individual cabins have been assigned names that are painted on a wooden marker above each
front door, including such names as "Red House" and "Tush Hog."

Pictured above is the larger of the two types of cabins that make up Tallahatchie Flats. This particular one has two exterior doors. Seen in the foreground of the cabin, just to the left of the walkway, is an in-ground pump once used to pump water for cooking and for baths.

Old-fashioned chairs sit on the front porch of this cabin, just waiting for the weary traveler to sit and watch the Delta sun set over endless flat rows of crops such as milo, soybeans, and cotton. A metal washtub is seen hanging on the left side of the cabin was used for many things, including laundry and baths.

Although this rental cabin now has a working stove inside, an antique one sits on the front porch as a reminder of the value of a wood stove. The stove was used not only for cooking, but it was used for heating the house in the winter and for warming bath water pumped by hand from an outside pump and carried into the house. Since electricity and gas were unheard of in most parts of the rural Mississippi Delta until the 1950s, kerosene or " coal oil" lamps were
used for lighting.

An iron wash pot and an old wringer washing machine, sitting on the porch of the cabin above, are remnants of a time gone by when laundry day really was an all-day chore. And that didn't include the time it took to hang all the laundry outside to dry. When clothes lines were not available, wet laundry was often hung on whatever was available, including the fence or porch rails.

The rural store pictured above, also made out of rough cypress lumber, looks just as it may have back in the 1940s. A "Royal Crown Cola" sign can be seen above the steps of the store, a reminder of the many cold soft drinks, all in bottles, that were sold at stores everywhere, even the Mississippi Delta, in years gone by. The only thing missing in this picture are the people who often lingered on the porch or the steps to drink RC, Grapette, Coca-Cola, or Big Red, at the end of a long, hot summer day.

For more information about festivals in or near Greenwood, including Rhythm on the River and Tallahatchie Flats Summer Music Festival, click here.

To visit the website for Tallahatchie Flats, click here or contact Les Shanks at 662.453.1854.
Next Stop: B. B. King Museum, Indianola, Mississippi
Source: All photos are from the Digital Photograph Collection (2009), privately held by Janice Tracy

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