Finding Madge – Scooba Mississippi
Madge and Mr. Madge left Atlanta on Friday on our trip to Scooba to find my grandmother’s hat shop. We made it to Birmingham, Alabama by lunch. Then, for several hours we wound through the rest of the state on two lane roads until we were over the border and in Scooba. It was hot and muggy and we could hear thunderstorms in the distance. We made a bee line to the Tubb-May Memorial Library on the campus of East Mississippi Community College to meet the librarians who have been helping me track down my grandmother’s hat shop. Madge was so excited to finally get together with the wonderful folks who have been so generous with their time.
At the library, we first chatted up William Yount. Bill was the first person I ever talked to at the library, which means he was the unlucky fellow to happen to answer the phone when I called! Happily he was very interested in my search and connected me with Sarah, an assistant librarian, who has been so helpful and supportive. She has enjoyed the “girlfriend letters” as much as I have.
Margie Agnew another staffer at the library, is a true find. Since she grew up in the area she was able to give us a rundown on the history of the town compared to the condition it is in today. Margie has some great stories; apparently Scooba was quite the wild place in its younger days, reinforcing my view of how daring my grandmother was to journey there to find her fortune.
The girlfriend letters, previously mentioned, are a collection of correspondence by a local woman, Mae Hare, written to my grandmother after she left Scooba. From 1918, they are a wonderful time capsule of Scooba back when it was a bustling railroad town.
Intriguingly, one of the letters includes the phrase “at store” in quotes at the top of the page. Does this cryptic message mean she was at grandmother’s former shop? It’s one more piece of this increasingly large puzzle.
Sarah had collected a number of items for us to review including a wonderful pictorial history of Kemper County. Many of the names in the book are mentioned in Mae’s letters. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a photo of Mae in the book but there is one of a Richard Hare, which I assume is her brother. I would love to find a copy of this book for my collection. Bill suggested another interesting read, Bloody Kemper by Hewitt Clarke, which details the colorful history of the area. A history that includes blood feuds between carpetbaggers and southerners; and even a murder for insurance scheme by a local doctor who would take out large life insurance policies on poor black sharecroppers and then poison them.
Mae, writing in a breezy, chatty style, brought Scooba to life. Each letter filled my grandmother in on the latest news from her former crowd.
There was Mr. Shaff, the son of the owner of Shaffs, the main department store in town who, may have dated up my grandmother and, from the sound of it, most of the other single ladies in town. There were stories of the picture show at the Lion Theater; seeing a play in nearby Electric Mills, MS, a former company town that no longer exists and other comings and goings. Such a fun read. There were stories of the picture show at the Lion Theater; seeing a play in nearby Electric Mills, MS, a former company town that no longer exists and other comings and goings. Such a fun read.
After our meeting at the library Sarah volunteered to show us downtown Scooba. Now, growing up in Kansas, I have seen a lot of broken down small towns with broken economies and from online photos I could tell that Scooba had seen better days. But even with this information, I was totally unprepared for the sad state of Scooba. With a base of college students, it is surprising that nothing has been done to reuse these wonderful old buildings.
Of course in true Southern Gothic fashion, an elderly woman owns most of the ruined block and refuses to do anything with it. Despite that fact, she has planted flowers in hanging baskets and in large pots in front of the derelict buildings; flowers that she faithfully waters while everything falls down around them.
We took a flurry of photos, which can be seen in the slide show below and in doing so broke the heart of Ms. Jane Williams, a Scooba city alderwoman who happened to be passing by. Hoping that we were developers looking to put in a “Dollar Store” or something else to revive the town, she was sorely disappointed to learn we were merely history buffs.
After our photo session we got to work on trying to locate Madge’s hat shop. Based on my aunt’s map, we narrowed down the probable location to a small storefront next to the former theater.
By that time the thunderstorms were starting to roll in and we needed to get back on the road to make Memphis by dark. I want to return for more research, but for now we bid adieu to Scooba with a big thank you. Meanwhile, somebody needs to get busy on this collection of historic buildings before they turn to dust!