I’d like to thank the prosecutor’s wife

I ran into a bad cop 42 years ago. It didn’t discourage me in the end because I have always known that most are good people, ethical, and very professional. Heck, I know a few. This guy, Jack Demeo, was anything but that. If you look at his résumé, it’s filled with untruths. He was never supposed to be involved in law enforcement again. My story is exactly as it happened. His sidekick, Rich, is someone I knew for years. Eventually, he left that profession. I have no need to impugn him, but Demeo? I will never get over what he did to me. I want no retribution at this stage in life. I do want you to know that there are people like him out there. In uniforms. With guns. And I don’t mind identifying them. If this article happens to fall into the right hands, so be it.

It’s a long one. I hope you find it interesting enough to read to the end. I last published it in 2014.

INTRODUCTION

In 1975, I was 23 and the spirit of youth was still in full bloom. It was a great time in my life except for one harrowing experience with the Delaware Township Police Department, located in central New Jersey. I had gone out that night with a friend of mine, Ken [Redacted.] We hit a couple of bars and settled in at a place in New Hope, PA, called John & Peter’s. There’s a café in front and a small listening room in the back. As small as it was (and still is,) they had some pretty big name bands perform, like Iron Butterfly and The Chambers Brothers. One of the local favorites back then was a group out of Philly called Johnny’s Dance Band. Some nights, you just didn’t know unless a barmaid let you in on the secret of who it would be. It didn’t matter who was playing the night we showed up. We didn’t go out for that. We didn’t even go out to drink much. We just went out to have a good time until he dropped me off at my apartment…

THE BUST

My place was right in the center of Sergeantsville, a very rural community with one blinking light. You were in and out town before you knew it. Directly across the street was the municipal building and home of the police department. We sat there for a few minutes discussing what the rest of the week was looking like, sort of like planning another night to run around, drink a few, and hit on some babes. Slowly, a police car crept up across the street and parked. Two officers got out and started to walk towards us. I wasn’t afraid of anything. Neither of us were drunk and we certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. I recognized one of them, Rich [Redacted,] from my high school days. I got out and stood at the front of my friend’s Dodge van. Rich and I greeted each other, shook hands and talked about what we had been up to since those earlier times. The other officer went over to the driver’s window. Both Rich and I were oblivious to what was transpiring until we both heard, “I smell marijuana. Get out of the van right now! You are under arrest!”

Rich and I looked at each other with surprise. I turned to face the other officer and said, “Hey, what are you doing?”

He stared at me and said, “You are under arrest, too!”

He made my friend get out of the vehicle and ordered us over to the police car, where he demanded that we empty our pockets. I didn’t respond in the split second time he wanted, so he thrust me down on to the hood of the car, knocking the wind out of me. In two seconds flat, I was in handcuffs and he was emptying all of my pockets, where he found a frog, a couple of marbles and a secret agent compass. Maybe some pocket change, too, but absolutely nothing illegal. As a matter of fact, nothing of interest was found in my friend’s pockets, either. I asked this overzealous cop what we were being arrested for. He hesitated and said, “For being drunk and disorderly!”

I knew right then and there we were being charged with something trumped-up. We weren’t drunk and we weren’t disorderly. Had we been drunk, this stupid officer, John “Jack” Demeo, should have been smart enough to charge the driver with a DUI (or DWI back then.) The keys were in the ignition.

The cop commandos marched us up the stairs and into the police station.

“Watch them,” Demeo said to Rich, giddy with delight, as if he had just apprehended serial rapists or something. He went outside and returned with the ashtray, dumped it on his desk and went picking through the tightly packed butts. Lo and behold, he pulled out a marijuana roach that amounted to…

2/10 of a gram!

Whoa! The biggest bust of the century! “Ha, ha, ha…I gotcha now!!!” An obvious glee and an evil grin had overtaken him, as we were soon to be facing life in prison in his eyes. “So, on top of being drunk and disorderly, I’ve got you on a CDS charge, too!”

“What’s CDS?” I asked.

“Controlled Dangerous Substance,” he snapped back, with a sarcastic snarl. That roach could have been in the ashtray for weeks, for all we knew. The ashtray was packed with butts, but had we known it was there, we would have smoked it long before the cops showed up.

After sitting for what seemed like an eternity, I had to pee. I asked Demeo if I could go. “NO!” I asked him several times and got the same commanding response. Finally, I pulled something out of my head…

“As a U.S. citizen and subject to rule number 17 of the U.S. Constitution, Section C, Part 203, I am allowed to use a restroom facility when I consider it necessary, under penalty of law.”

“Take him into the men’s room,” he ordered Rich, “but watch him.”

As I was peeing, he was apologetic. “Hey, Dave, I had nothing to do with this.”

Demeo was filling out paper work interrogating my friend when we returned. He looked at me and attacked like a junk yard dog. “Where’d you get this stuff?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell me!”

You’re going to bust us with that? You’re a joke.”

After about a half hour of brutal questioning, he realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere, so they loaded us into the back of the squad car and drove us to the Hunterdon County Jail. The entire ride consisted of Demeo making wise cracks and telling us we were the lowest and vilest sub-humans of the community. We laughed. Oh, how it angered him more.

DELIVERANCE

Finally, we arrived to the fanfare of the hungry jailers. They took our mug shots and fingerprints. One of the guards was a high school teacher who moonlighted at the jail and remembered us. He took us upstairs and put us in a holding cell, It was just me and Ken.

“I’ll come back and put you in a better cell as soon as we get rid of these asshole cops,” he said, and he did. When we awoke the next morning, the TV was showing an old science fiction movie. Yes, it was high-class. Color, too. There was another guy who was already there. We introduced ourselves, shook hands and I asked him what he was in for.

“Murder.”

“Oh.” I didn’t want to pursue that conversation, so we just settled in. At one point, he got up and switched the channel to American Bandstand. I wasn’t about to say, “TURN IT BACK! I WAS WATCHING THAT MOVIE!”

Later that morning, the jail doors were opened to freedom, fresh air and sunlight, and our nightmare was temporarily over. $50 later.

THE PLOT THICKENS

We knew we had to get legal representation. My friend got a lawyer and I talked to an attorney friend of mine, Jay Thatcher. We were in the JAYCEES together. I told him I didn’t have money to hire a lawyer. He asked me to tell him what transpired that evening. I told him. He said, “Dave, this is the most ridiculous injustice I’ve ever heard. I’m going to represent you for free.”

Jay was a great guy and a very good friend. I was so glad he decided to help out someone in need. He got in touch with the other attorney and they both agreed to file a Motion to Suppress Evidence, a request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.

The judge at our arraignment hearing was Thomas Beetel. Years earlier, my Aunt Bertie worked for him when he was in private practice before being appointed to the bench. We shared the same last name and they didn’t get along. I think he might have fired her. I wasn’t aware of any connection at that time – I was told later – but he should have recused himself on grounds of prejudice. He did not. Our respective attorneys requested that both officers not be present in the courtroom together when each was to give their own testimony. The judge did allow that. Both cops gave conflicting reports of what transpired that fateful night. I assumed my old high school “friend” would set the record straight. He did not. He lied through his teeth even more than the arresting officer did. I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, Demeo told the judge he was trained by the Marines to smell marijuana better than a dog. When I took the stand, I noticed the judge was doodling stupid little pictures, as if he wasn’t paying attention, and had already made up his mind. I guess he did because he sent it on to trial. Motion to Suppress Evidence denied!

THE TRIAL

On the morning after our arrest, the judge we were going to be facing, Jacob Chantz, was attending a funeral with my grandfather, Reverend George W. Landis. They were very close friends. He should have recused himself, too, because of that friendship, but he didn’t, and I guess I am thankful for it. The evening we went to trial, it was one big family; the two officers, the prosecutor, our respective attorneys and us. My close friend, Frank Foran was sitting in the gallery, along with my parents. Our trials were to be handled separately, but together, if that makes sense. Our attorneys approached the prosecutor to work out plea deals.

After minutes of whispering, Jay came back to me and said, “Dave, this is what the prosecutor wants. He’s willing to drop the drunk and disorderly charge if you plead to the CDS charge. It means that after a year, you can apply to have your record expunged and it’s completely erased. It’s as if you were never arrested. You pay a fine now and there is no jail time. What do you want to do?”

“No way am I going to plead guilty to anything. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Great! That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear you say.” He went back to the prosecutor with my response.

“Oh no,” the prosecutor told him, and there came a very special AHA! moment. You see, prosecutors can be moved around to different jurisdictions if the need ever arises. The need arose that particular evening.

“What do you mean?” my lawyer asked.

“My wife is 99.9% pregnant. I came up from south Jersey. I’m filling in for the regular prosecutor, who’s on vacation. She could have the baby any minute. I just want to get this over with and go home. How long is this going to take?”

“At least seven hours as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to pick every legal trick out of my hat on this one.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, I am not. My client is 100% innocent of these charges and I intend to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

“This isn’t all that important of a case to me. Let’s just drop the charges.”

That was it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my guilt or innocence. Case dismissed. All on account of the prosecutor’s wife being pregnant. Now that was justice.

My friend had the drunk and disorderly charge dropped but the prosecutor said someone had to take the rap for the 2/10 gram of Mary Jane. It was his vehicle, so he did and a year later he did have his record expunged.

So went my first foray into the legal system. The judge later told my grandfather it never should have reached his courtroom. It should have been dropped at the Motion to Suppress stage and, if not, he had planned on dismissing the charges against me anyway.

AFTER ALL THIS

Oh, yeah. Good old Jack Demeo. He got himself into a little trouble about a year or so after our trial. He was accused – on several occasions – of flashing his badge out of his territory and for trying to pick up women he pulled over. He should have been dealt with for breaking the law but he wasn’t. Cop. Good old boy syndrome, I guess. I also heard he had been planting pot in cars to make busts, but had he done that to us, I’m sure more than 2/10 of a gram would have been found. The clincher that finally sealed his fate and brought his law enforcement career to a screeching halt was when he was in Atlantic City inside a casino, Unfortunately for him but lucky for the rest of the country, he flashed his badge at the wrong people at the wrong time. He told a dealer he was with the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and he was doing an investigation. What kind of favors can you do for me? The manager of the casino got involved and promptly called his brother-in-law, who worked for the ABC. Why is one of your guys trying to bribe me?

The agency launched an investigation faster than a poker player folds on a five high hand, and dispatched agents to the scene immediately. Jack Demeo was arrested on the spot. Because of that, his credentials were stripped and he was told he could never be a police officer again. The former police chief of Delaware Township, where I was arrested with my friend, told me he did try years later, but the retired chief, the late Warren Peterson, put the screws to that. My guess is that he’s probably assistant head of security at a Dollar General store somewhere in Podunk, Arkansas. I did run into Rich a couple of years later and he wanted to extend an apology for what had transpired. I told him that, “as an officer of the law, you were there to tell the truth. You didn’t. I’m having a tough time with what you put me through.”

Quite obviously, that experience was still on my mind. One day, he approached me at the Weiner King in Flemington, where I was the manager, to tell me he could get me a really good deal on a Jaguar XKE. He had hung up his gun and went to work for a car dealer. The car had just come in and it wasn’t even prepped yet. I took him up on the offer, it was a great deal, and I forgave Rich after all. I think he just got caught up in the cop ego trip thing and eventually let it go. All was well between us and I know it ate at him all those years. He really wanted to make things right, and he did. I don’t hold a grudge.

EPILOGUE

I learned my lesson that you can’t always trust a man with a badge and prosecutors don’t always work for true justice. I’ve known a lot of police officers and a few prosecutors over the years and most of them are honest and hard-working. Never again have I run into a bad cop like Jack Demeo, but that one time was all it took to keep me on my toes. Fortunately, most guys like him are eventually weeded out of police departments, but not always.

Oh yes, one more thing. The guy we spent the night in jail with who was charged with murder? He was found not guilty. He had a different prosecutor, too.

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My job as a professional newspaper reader

I wrote this just after the Casey Anthony trial ended. It’s still one of my favorite stories..

Years ago, I was a hardline artist for an ad agency in Orlando. Everything we created was for the Belk department store chain, based out of North Carolina. Hardline included shoes, furniture, electronics, and other items unrelated to fashion. I would never consider myself a fashion artist – then or now, but I worked there for 11-years.  I also designed and built ads that ran in a good number of newspapers throughout the state. Previous to that job I was mostly in the restaurant business. Soon after I started working at Stonebrook Advertising, I saw a fast food restaurant up the street called Beefy King. Since I had come from a background in that industry, I thought it would be a nice place to eat and meet new people. It didn’t take long for the owners, Roland & Sandee Smith, and I to become good friends.

One of the interesting, if not quirky, aspects of my job was our daily morning ritual. My boss insisted that we come to work at 8:30 am, but he (almost forcefully) encouraged us to take a break from 9 to 10. Go out for an hour! Enjoy yourself! Strange, but that was Mr. Stone’s way of doing business. Because of his edict, on most mornings, I would drive up the street to Beefy King, make myself a sandwich and pour a cup of coffee. Black. No sugar. Sometimes, I’d help slice meats or whatever, but most of the time I’d just stand at the front counter reading the newspaper. I guess it depended on whether they needed a little help that particular day. Mind you, I was always glad to pitch in. Since they didn’t open until 10, I never interfered with any customers.

On one particular morning, there was a man working on an ice machine that had broken down. I’d say he was, what you might call, pleasantly plump and he had a personality to match. In other words, he was a very nice fellow. The next morning, he was still tinkering on the ice machine. Good thing the restaurant had a spare. On the morning of the third day, he finished his work and quietly talked to Roland about the bill and something else that caught his attention. As they stood in the hallway between the dining area and the back room, he whispered, “Hey, that guy up there. He’s been here every morning, just standing there reading the newspaper. Doesn’t he have a job? I mean, what’s he do for a living?”

The acoustics were just right and our jovial buddy had no idea I heard every word. “Why, he’s a professional newspaper reader,” Roland replied.

The guy said, “No way. There’s no such thing.”

Roland said, “Go ask him.”

There I stood, deeply ensconced in my work, oblivious to anything else, and completely unaware that he was sauntering my way to ask about my profession.

“Excuse me,” he politely said, as if not wanting to take up too much of my very important time.

I took my eyes away from my work, looked up and in a face that showed great concentration, I said, “Yes?”

I tried not to snicker.

“Well, I’ve been here three days now and I see you reading the newspaper. I was just wondering what kind of job you have. What do you do for a living, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Why of course not. I’m a professional newspaper reader.”

“Get outta here. I’ve never heard of such a job.”

“Yes. That is what I do.”

“You’re kidding! You get paid to read newspapers?”

“Yes. It’s a rather lucrative job, I might add. There aren’t that many of us in the state.”

“Well, I’m from Florida – born and raised, and I know the state like the back of my hand. What’s the name of the newspaper in Leesburg?”

“Which one? The Commercial or the Gazette? Also, the Orlando Sentinel has a zoned edition.”

“No kidding! Alright. What about St. Augustine?”

“The St. Augustine Record.”

In rapid succession, he asked me about another half-dozen or so cities and towns throughout Florida and no matter what he came up with, I had the correct answer. He had no idea that Belk advertised in all of those newspapers. Actually, we did. Back then, newspapers weren’t as consistent as they are today, so ads were designed to fit each publication.

“Okay… fine… I believe you… a… professional… newspaper… reader. ” It took a little time for this revelation to sink in. “I gotta tell my wife when I get home tonight. She’s not going to believe it.”

As the guy drove out of the parking lot, Roland and I got the biggest chuckle. To this day, I’ll bet that guy still tells people about the job to stump all jobs. A professional newspaper reader.

All kidding aside, there’s one thing I must tell you about Beefy King. I went there almost every weekday morning for about 10 years and I can tell you that it is, by far, one of the cleanest restaurants I’ve ever set foot in. Not only could you practically eat off the floor, the food is very good, to boot. It’s been in the same family since 1968, with the third generation running the show now. There’s not a restaurant critic in town that wouldn’t give Beefy King a glowing review, and for good reason. The place is legendary. If you are ever in Orlando and have some spare time on your hands, try to stop by for lunch. It’s on Bumby. You can tell them a professional newspaper reader sent you.

Southern Routes

There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the “Old South.” Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…

– From the opening of the film Gone with the Wind (1939)

Mini

Four years ago, my best friend, Stewart Bacheler, and I took a road trip from Florida to Houston to visit my sister and her husband, who had just undergone a bone marrow transplant for AML. Fortunately, that transplant was successful and he remains in remission today. We had a great trip and vowed to do it again one day. Stew and I have known each other since before high school. On Friday morning, June 12, we took ourselves up on that vow and ventured out to visit Enterprise, Alabama and Natchez, Mississippi. This time, we tried to avoid the Interstates by taking U.S. Highways and a few back roads instead, at least on the way out of town.

Now, before you ask me why Enterprise, let me tell you that during our last trip, we weren’t hauling any drugs. This time, between the two of us, a mere four years later, I’m surprised every drug-sniffing dog throughout the deep south wasn’t chasing after us, although every one of them came with a doctor’s prescription. Except for supplements. You name it, we had it for heart, cholesterol, blood pressure and, suffice it to say, prostate problems. Something told me we would be stopping more often because of our… going problem. Fortunately, there were plenty of convenience stores available when we felt the urge.

Dave&StewWhen we first discussed the trip, I was amenable to going anywhere. I said there must be places you’d like to see that your wife is not all that interested in. I mean, every wife and husband are allowed to continue having their own interests. Sure, he said, and we spent the entire time in strip clubs we read about online. Just kidding, because we never actually set foot in one. To be truthful, Stew spent some Army time at Fort Rucker in Enterprise, home of the world famous Boll Weevil monument in the town square. Word also has it that Enterprise is the Peanut Capital of the World, or so Stew and some of the natives told me upon arriving. I also found out that the monument is the only one in the world erected to honor an insect, an agricultural pest to be more precise. It seems that by 1918, farmers were losing entire cotton crops to the pesky critters and an “enterprising” businessman saw this as an opportunity to convert the area to peanut farming. The rest is history. In Coffee County, no less. Today, the statue stands as a testament to the power of positive thinking by turning bad news into a happy ending. That little bug put Enterprise on the map.

hs morgan mall artABV motelboll weevil monumentWhen we rolled into Enterprise, we took a few side trips to see some of Stew’s old haunts. Before we left he checked out some places to stay and had a printout of motels nearby. I made a few phone calls to get a good deal and we ended up staying at the Roasted Peanut Motel, where every guest gets a jar of its World boll weevil plaqueFamous Delicious Boll Weevil Peanut Butter, chunky or smooth – your choice! Actually, that’s not true. We stayed at Americas Best Value Inn & Suites and we didn’t get any peanut butter, chunky or otherwise. It’s a very pleasant place and the folks who run it are extremely friendly and accommodating. As a matter of fact, all along the trip, everyone was very friendly and I will personally vouch for the intangible quality often referred to as Southern Hospitality.

While in town, we needed a place to relax and have dinner since that was about the time we arrived. Stew used to eat at a Mexican restaurant but figured it would be long gone by now, 35 years later. He drove in the general vicinity and found the Morgan Square Shopping Mall. “Yes, it was in here…” We took a peek.

Nope, it was gone, but in it’s place was the Italian Euro Bistro, so we decided to give it a try. It had the funniest menu, because it was mostly made up of Italian and German dishes. German and Italian? Talk about eclectic, I’ve never been to a restaurant that served cuisines so vastly different, but it was a good place and our server, Michelle, was very friendly to a fault because every time we spoke to her she called us SIR. Here was a pretty girl, a former Army MP from Hawaii, now living in Alabama. It helped that her military family retired in Enterprise. If you ever find the place, please say hello for me and don’t forget to try the garlic knots. [I don’t believe it’s still open.]

The next morning, we set out to find us some peanut farmers. Of course, we had to eat first and darned if there wasn’t a Waffle House right down the street from where we stayed. We sauntered in and bellied up to the counter to order some grub. There was a good old boy sitting a couple of stools away and he overheard us talking about Stew’s military background and my brother’s visits to Iraq. Bruce was his name and he was a nice fellow. Born and raised in Enterprise, he worked for Anfab, some sort of military provider, like helicopter pads and stuff I’m not familiar with. As we were leaving, I told him to be on the lookout for my article on peanut trees.

“Peanut trees?” he exclaimed.

Peanut Tree“Yes, peanut trees.” Unfortunately, ol’ Bruce wasn’t Internet savvy, so he’ll never get to read about the trees we did end up taking a gander at, but he knew they were there and he was the one who told us where to go, all hush-like. The funny thing is, when we got there we couldn’t take any pictures of the trees because they had something to do with military applications – peanut cluster bombs and top secret bio-fuels for jets – but the kind farmer did give us directions to a tree we could pass by on our way out of town. We stopped and I snapped a picture. Peculiarly, it looked very similar to a pecan tree except it had peanuts on it. Unfortunately, we didn’t come during the harvest season and none of the goobers left on the tree were worth eating. Oh well, next time.

church2church1When we left town, we took U.S. 84 all the way to Natchez, Mississippi, figuring it would be the most scenic route. It was pretty, alright, and there were nice, rolling hills along the way with lots of green trees to look at. Along that route, we passed two side-by-side churches and stopped. I liked them for Andalusia1Andalusia2their quaint and comfortable look. They had a prurient appeal to me, having grown up in a small church in rural New Jersey, where my grandfather preached.

As we were passing through Laurel, Mississippi, we stopped and I took a couple of pictures that kind of tell you the story of how big box stores have hurt businesses in downtown areas throughout the years. Of course, the economic downturn hasn’t helped, either. Quite obviously, this was once a thriving town and I could just feel the presence of a very proud spirit in this community, still filled with hope and the American dream. As we got back in the car and slowly drove off, a nice lady asked us if she could help us find anything. Her friendly demeanor spoke volumes and it was a testament to the tenacious nature of the town’s citizens.

oil pumpOne of the interesting things we noticed along the route were road signs that warned us that we were entering police jurisdictions because I never knew there were any areas of the country that didn’t have that luxury. Nowhere did I see any signs that said NO POLICE ALLOWED! There were also signs that said we were entering city limits and I’ll be darned if I could even find a town in sight. About a half hour or so before we got to Natchez, we saw a working oil derrick.

It was a long journey across most of Alabama and all of Mississippi, but after about seven-and-a-half hours, we wheeled into Natchez, home to many beautiful antebellum homes. I’ve always been impressed by Greek Revival, Classical Revival and Federal style architecture, probably from my high school days and when I watched Gone with the Wind while on a high school History class field trip, and because it reminds me of the Civil War, something something that’s always fascinated me. There’s a certain sadness about the south I just can’t explain other than to say that old plantations were part of our American heritage. I never got to see cotton fields and other things indigenous to the south, like magnolia trees, in real life before; just from books. The Civil War ripped at our very fabric and, unfortunately, someone had to lose. Fortunately, pockets of the south are still rich in culture, and Natchez stands among the best.

Why this picture turned out so good is beyond me. Nowhere else was the river this blue.

Why this picture turned out so good is beyond me. Nowhere else was the river this blue.

down to casinoisle of capri casinomississippi1As we entered the city, we beelined it to the Mississippi River along the western edge. All of Natchez is quite a bit higher in elevation than the river and we found a road leading down to a little area bustling with activity. There were houses, storefronts, and the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel. Since we didn’t mississippi2bridge to vidaliacome to gamble, we didn’t enter the place. The casino is on the water because state laws prohibit them to be on land and it’s designed to look like an old fashioned steamboat or paddlewheel. Real steamboats still prowl the river, but we didn’t see any while we were there.

The great Mississippi is a bridge to vidalia2majestic river. It’s the second largest in the country with a length of 2,320 miles from its source in Lake Itasca in Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico, near New Orleans. I guess it’s always inspired me because of its size and the fact that I could be stepping in it in Natchez while my brother is doing the same thing in St. Louis. Growing up reading Mark Twain may have had something to do with it, too, Huck Finn and all. Here are a few pictures I took. We took the bridge from Natchez to Vidalia, Louisiana just for kicks. Plus, I wanted to view Natchez from the other side. After taking a peek, we stopped for gas. I asked the girl behind the counter what there was of interest to see in Vidalia. I knew that the onions with the same name come from a county in Georgia.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“No, nothing.”

“Oh. What about the onions? Do you sell them here in town?” I knew it was a trick question, but she was right on top of it.

“Yeah. When they’re shipped in we do.” I took her word for it that Vidalia, Louisiana was not much of a town and I figured she’d just as soon move away if only her gallant prince would ride in to buy a bag of out of state onions.

“Oh well, have a nice day,” and off I went. Alas, I wasn’t her prince.

whirlybirdcockpitfrom whirlybirdOne of the things we noticed by the river was a helicopter, but it looked a lot more like a whirlybird. It was right there in the open. No pilot was in sight and it looked ripe for the taking. “C’mon, Stew. Let’s take her for a ride.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. You’ve never flown one of these things before.”

“Look, they’re really quite simple. Let’s go.” We hopped inside and I revved her up.

How I managed to start the thing, let alone fly it and land, is beyond me, but we got safely back to the right spot and no one ever noticed it was missing; however, I must admit there’s one less bird pigeon around Natchez.

Now, it was time to eat dinner, despite both of us losing our appetites. I had picked up a nice, glossy visitor’s guide earlier in the day and noticed a place called Fat Mama’s Tamales. It was a fun place with good looking women and very good food to match. I had the signature tamales and they were delicious. It looked like a regular hangout kind of joint and that’s always a good thing. I did wonder why there wasn’t a place in town called Natchez Nachos, though. It would be perfect.

house1house3house6The next morning we had already decided to see some of Natchez’s finer sites – the houses. I also noticed on the visitors guide that there were two cemeteries adjacent to each other, above town and overlooking the Mississippi River in some areas. That was added to our list of things to do, along with house6 stewtouring at least one house.

We started out and Stew decided to criss cross the city. I will just show pictures of the houses because we didn’t really know anything about them until we met Don.

On the red brick house with the white pillars, I went up house6 doorDonDon's Househouse4the steps to take a picture of the massive door. One of the things Stew told me was that, although the plantation owners had houses on their properties, they owned homes like these in town for social functions and house5house7for winter months when crops fell silent. These were built to show their wealth and stature. Of course, back then, African-American servants cooked and took care of the children while doing other chores. Many of these homes were built in the late 1700s to the mid-1800s. Today, some are private residences and others are house8B&Bs.

The guy in the picture is Don. Alongside him is his house. We were still just driving around when I spotted the place. It was ornate in a different sort of way and we could see it needed a lot of work.

“Hey!” I said. “Let’s stop here. I like this place. It’s got a certain feel to it. Plus, it’s for sale.”

“Sure, but what do you care if it’s for sale or not?” Point well made. There was no way I could buy it and I didn’t have the money anyway.

house9We pulled up to the curb and got out of the car, trusty cameras in hand. Suddenly, I saw some stirring on the front porch. The gentleman walked to the left side of the house, down the steps and over to us.

“Hello,” he said in a friendly tone of voice. “Are you interested in the house?”

“Well, yes,” I said, “but not in buying it. We’re from Florida.” And with that, he began to tell us of his work as a professor at the University of South Florida.

“In economics,” he added. I asked him about property values in Natchez. We talked about how bad it is in Orlando.“Well, let me put it this way. Before all this, the house was worth almost $300,000, but today, it’s listed for just under $170,000.”

“Wow, that’s a big drop. I notice you have a few broken windows upstairs, like in the attic.”

“We keep the upstairs closed off. I had cancer and just got done with chemo and radiation. I don’t have the energy anymore to do the work. That’s why it’s for sale.”

Stew and I both remarked how good he looked.

“Yeah, and I didn’t lose any hair, either.”

Stew asked him about places to see. Where are the best ‘do not miss’ spots in town? He told us a number of things and I was hoping that Stew was paying more attention than me because I couldn’t remember it all until he mentioned Dunleith. “Yup, Dunleith is the most photographed house in the country. More so than the White House.”

“Really? The White House?”

Most definitely. Well, Stew and I put that place on our list. He said that one was a nice one to tour and so was Longwood. Meanwhile, a car pulled up and a lady got out. We told him it was great meeting him and I told him my name and said, “It looks like you have a prospect.”

“Yes and I’m down to my last flyer. I’ve got to get more printed. I’m Don.” I don’t remember his last name, but we had firm handshakes between us and said our good byes. He was a true gentleman and I hope he sells his house.

At that point, we decided to take a look at the cemeteries and then swing back to tour one of the homes he suggested.

cemetery1I don’t know why I’ve always had a fascination with cemeteries, but I do. particularly the above ground crypts like you see in New Orleans. There’s a certain eeriness about them. Maybe, it’s because I’m more-or-less on the same level as the bodies instead of looking down at the ground and seeing grass. Plus, I realize that every body in there was once a living, breathing soul and most of them made some sort of impact on life and those around them. What did they do? Where did they live? What were living conditions like back then? Would we have been friends had we grown up in the same era? Those sorts of questions have always intrigued me. Where are they now? If there is an afterlife. I don’t have a strange fascination with death, mind you, it’s just the people who once were. The best cemetery I ever visited was St. Louis #1 in New Orleans. Yes, it’s kind of creepy and no, I wouldn’t especially want to hang around inside the gates at night, but I’m not easily spooked, either.

It is with dignity for the deceased when I step into their world and where they now reside, bones and all, and it was with Stewart when we walked through that New Orleans cemetery, so it was appropriate that it would be the two of us again. Natchez has two; the Natchez City Cemetery and the Natchez National Cemetery for veterans. The pictures will give you an idea about how the townspeople respect their dead.

mausoleumCSA Unknown Soldierscemetery_moses&mina haas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mausoleum where Stewart is standing had no door, only a metal gate that was chained shut. I poked my head up and into the tomb as far as I could and said a few words. Booooos were more like it. Stew said that when he had done the same thing at another cemetery, his wife got upset with him, like he was disturbing the dead. If I was disturbing anyone, they didn’t yell at me to stop. All I heard was a faint echo of my voice. And I sure hope I wasn’t rattling any bones.

The picture with the small tombstones was the final resting place for unknown Confederate soldiers killed during the Civil War. I remembered visiting an old cemetery in Shiloh, Illinois, a few years ago and seeing Union soldiers buried there. I wonder why so many of our boys had to go fight in a senseless war. All wars are senseless to me.

The final picture in the cemetery series was taken because I liked his name. There lies Moses Haas next to his beloved wife, Mina, resting peacefully under a shade tree for all eternity.

After reading names and dates, it was time to move on to the final chapter of our trip – to tour one of the antebellum houses. We were rather intrigued by Don’s mention of the house that’s been more photographed than any other, so we decided to take a look at Dunleith.

sharecropper houseAs we started to come back down the hill, we noticed two buildings that, for sure, looked like sharecropper houses from the old days. I took pictures of both but I figured one would be enough to give you an idea of what home life might have been like for hard working slaves grueling every day in the hot and humid climes of Mississippi. This was probably a step up to many of them.

Dunleith

Dunleith (1) is a very special and grand house. Called Routhland, the original structure was built in the late 1700s by Job Routh and his wife, Ann Miller, but burned to the ground in 1855 after lightning struck one of the chimneys. This house was built in 1856 and how it came to be known as Dunleith is an interesting story and by clicking the numeral one next to the highlighted name, you can read about it. Today, the upstairs and annex are part of a bed and breakfast. The buildings are set on 40 acres in the outskirts of town. Dunleith is a very good example of Greek Revival. 26 Tuscan columns surround the house. I got a kick out of some of the houses I saw in town. Sometimes, you couldn’t tell whether you were coming or going since the front and back were just as bold and powerful. I guess, in a sense, it’s like the White House because no matter which entrance you look at, it’s just as impressive.

When we got there, we parked toward the back and entered where room reservations are made. A very accommodating lady told us if we hurry upstairs, out the door and up the rear steps, we would make the tour, ready to start in about 5 minutes. We had already asked her how much it costs.

“Seven dollars, but if you’re over fifty-five it’s six.”

“Bingo! That’s us. Do you want us to pay you now?”

“No, you can pay when you’re through.” That’s how trusting people can be in the south. We scampered up the stairs and eventually ran into Judy, our tour guide, waiting for us at the back door.

Judy_Dunleith tour guide“Why don’t you walk around this porch and meet us at the front door.” We obliged and by the time we got there, she was coming out of that door.

“Hey,” I exclaimed, “you look just like that pretty lady we just met out back!”

“That was my twin sister, Trudy,” and with that, she started her tour. Others were sitting on cozy rockers on the shady porch as Judy beckoned us inside. The huge door weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 pounds.

Miss Judy was a delight. She took her guests through the downstairs rooms and explained in minute detail the intricacies involved as each owner added their personal signatures to the interior designs. What was interesting, yet didn’t surprise me at all, was the overall French influence. Without adding another thousand words to my account of what we saw and heard, let me just say it’s worth the six or seven dollars to tour this magnificent structure. I took several photos inside the house, despite the sign clearly stating NO PHOTOGRAPHY INSIDE THE HOUSE, but I had permission from the master tour guide herself.

“This was meant for times before we had those new digital cameras,” she said when I asked. “As long as you don’t use the flash, it’s fine.” Unfortunately, I hadn’t had a chance to read the camera’s instructions, since it was new, and a lot of them didn’t turn out right as you will see in my last photo in this Dunleith series.

Dunleith original ownersThe portraits are of the original owners, Mr. and Mrs. Job Routh, dating from the late 1700s or early 1800s. There was a portrait of a former slave who ended up being a fairly powerful man about town, given that the slave owner recognized his intelligence and sent him to school. There’s a unique history to this house and it’s well worth reading about. There are several outbuildings. One is a restaurant and it looks similar to a castle. These buildings are thought to be a part of the original house, Routhland.

One of Judy’s stories was about horses kept in the basement during the Civil War. Brought there to hide them from Union soldiers, the owner, Alfred Vidal Davis, used special glasses to get the soldiers drunk. We passed around a book showing the unique design and noticed their rounded bottoms. You see, Davis knew that by serving alcohol in those glasses, the soldiers could not set them down, so he kept pouring and pouring and by the time they got drunk, they left, never finding a horse in sight to pilfer away from him or his plantation. Oh, those dumb Yankees… being outsmarted by Mr. Davis himself. Incidentally, it was Davis who renamed it Dunleith because of his Scottish heritage.

If you take a close look at the main picture of the house, you’ll notice stairs to nowhere located on the left (and in front) of the SUV. What are they, you might wonder. In the days of horse drawn carriages, they helped the ladies step out and down to ground level, and while I’m mentioning carriages…

Dunleith2Grant's CarriageWhen we finished with the tour, we spent a little extra time talking to Judy and another couple before going back to pay our tab. I asked Stew to drive around back to see the restaurant and some of the other buildings. One in particular that Judy had mentioned was the carriage house. You know we have come a long way as a nation when we elect an African-American president and a Yankee general’s carriage sits on Rebel land, because, inside that building sat Ulysses S. Grant’s carriage, on loan. Sadly, the photo I took of it proves how inept I was at taking some of the pictures. I was used to my larger camera, which I didn’t bring along. This one wasn’t as easy to hold still at times. Oh, progress. In any event, that was our last stop except for the Subway shop we hit before leaving town.

We decided to take U.S. 98 to where we expected to spend our final night, in Mobile, Alabama. This way, we got to see other small towns and also, to pass through Hattiesburg, near the Alabama border. We wanted to, at least, get to Mobile so it wouldn’t be such a long trip home. Stew needed to get home by Monday night. About a half hour away from Mobile, we stopped for gas and to find out where we could get the best deal on a room. When I asked the rather beautiful girl behind the counter, she was quite helpful. My goodness, she almost looked like the perfect picture of a southern belle until she spoke. Too bad her parents never taught her how to take care of her teeth, but she did send us in the right direction a few miles ahead, just off I-65, which made it very convenient for hopping on I-10 in the morning, our route home. That night, we went to a Japanese steakhouse and met a family from Germany. You know, a Teppanyaki place, where you sit around the table and the chef comes to cook before your eyes? Anyway, they had been in the United States for a year and a half and it was interesting to listen to a Kraut speak English with a Deutsch and Alabama drawl. Yee Häw!

scarlettWell, there’s the story of our trip. My only regret is that I never became a dentist, because if I had, I would have asked that girl to leave town and come back to Florida with me. Oh well, next time I want to go to Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. One of these days I might just meet my Scarlett O’Hara.

On second thought, never mind, because here in this real world, I’m getting old. I’ve got pills to take. Those days are no more than a dream remembered, a part of me now gone with the wind…

The End

To see Stewart’s Photos of the trip please click HERE

Mini dash

©2009 Dave Knechel