Day 7: From One War to Another

Wednesday, 14 April 2004
Mobile Bay and Biloxi

Started the day early (5:30 a.m.) with a view of the crescent moon rising over the Gulf. Beautiful reflection across the water, like a shimmering path from the beach to the horizon. After breakfast we packed up the car and left Gulf Shores for New Orleans, with a few sightseeing stops along the way.

At Mobile Bay, we stopped to tour the WWII battleship USS Alabama. Three self-guided walking tours wound through the ship’s many levels, above and below decks. We all agreed there was much more to see on the ship than we’d expected. We also agreed we could never live on a battleship. Conditions were very cramped for the 2,500 men aboard ship. I had no idea there was so much packed into a battleship, though it makes sense when you stop to think that it’s really a condensed floating city—post office, butcher, photo lab, dental and doctor’s office, x-ray lab, soda fountain, and on and on. The ship’s huge turret guns could shoot at a range of 21 miles and there were many machine guns mounted on deck that were used to fire at incoming planes. The Alabama is set up to allow for a lot of exploring and it was well worth the stop.

We drove on for a bit until we came to Biloxi, Mississippi where we stopped at Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ Home and Presidential Library overlooking the Gulf. (Raise your hand if you knew that the only President of the Confederacy has his own Presidential Library. Yeah, me either.) The tour begins in the Library which houses a museum devoted to the life of Jefferson Davis. Very interesting, with lots of artifacts from his life (of which I knew very little,) including the funeral carriage that carried his coffin through New Orleans, where he died and was laid in state.

Next, we took a tour of the home where he lived with his family from 1877 until his death in 1889. The tour was really more of a brief speech by a guide before we wandered about the house in less than five minutes. The house was quite small and reminded me of the Clarke House in Chicago, where I used to be a tour guide. Same set-up, with four rooms, one on each corner, two each on either side of a wide hallway running the length of the house, with doors on either end that could be opened for ventilation. Unlike the Clarke House, Beauvoir doesn’t have a second story, but there were a few additional rooms in wings off the back of the house. The furnishings were beautiful (about 60-percent of which were from the Davis family when they lived there,) but the house was just a house, and we found the museum to be more interesting.

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We ended our self-guided tour with a walk across the property to the Veterans Cemetery, where Confederate veterans and their wives are buried, along with the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier. The grounds, with trees, a spring and bayou, and rose garden behind the house were beautiful. Jefferson Davis’ father is buried there, though curiously Davis himself is not. Apparently there was quite a bit of competition among southern states lobbying to be Davis’ final resting place. He’s buried in Richmond, VA.

We arrived in New Orleans in the early evening, checked into our hotel, quickly unpacked and rushed off to eat since we were all starving. We ate nearby at Adolfo’s, another perennial favorite, and once again it lived up to memory and expectation. In the four or five times that I’ve eaten there, it has never come close to disappointing. The fish, chicken and veal dishes are all named after people (Fish Gauge, Fish Michelle, Chicken Francis.) How better for a chef to honor friends and family? The décor hasn’t changed in all the years I’ve been coming to Adolfo’s, the waitstaff is as friendly as ever, and the kitchen is still the size of a postage stamp. Everything we had was delicious, including outstanding escargot and stuffed soft-shell crab to start.

Afterward, Jen called it a day, and the rest of us wandered around the Quarter, making our way to Café du Monde for a nightcap French Quarter style of café au lait and beignet.

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