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Today is October 29, 2020

Mississippi Seen

Unfinished business after Camille and Katrina

By Walt Grayson

Unfinished business after Camille and Katrina

Of all the other things that 2020 has become, it is also the 15th anniversary year of Hurricane Katrina. The eye of Katrina came onshore near Waveland as a Category 5 storm. And I say it “came onshore” as if the center of the storm was all there was to it. Actually, our gulf coast was destroyed by the winds and the tidal surge of Katrina from Pearlington, on the Pearl River to the west, all the way to Pascagoula, at the other end of our coast. And of course, all the flooding in New Orleans was a byproduct of the storm.

Well, another byproduct of Katrina was to help finish up something started by Hurricane Camille in 1969. Camille, by the way, hit the coast as a Category 3 storm. It had been a 5 but weakened before making landfall. We lived for decades thinking no storm could ever be as bad as Camille until Katrina came along and dwarfed it.

One example of the difference between the strength of the storms — the Moran Art Gallery was about a block off of the beach behind the Biloxi Lighthouse. The storm surge from Camille undermined its foundation by washing away sand and soil from beneath the building. Then, 36 years later, Katrina washed away the building.

But as they were doing repairs after Camille, a few skeletons were found under the Moran building. Obviously, they had been there a long time and the storm surge washed away just enough dirt to reveal them. They became a curiosity when a section of the floor above them was removed and replaced with plexiglass so you could see them. And in the years between Camille and Katrina, the skeletons under Moran Art Gallery became an attraction.

But then, along came Katrina, which washed away the whole building. As the coast began to become functional again, side issues started being addressed. The skeletons under Moran Art Gallery were remembered and the Anthropology Department at the University of Southern Mississippi did some surveying and mounted an expedition to investigate them.

Turns out there were more than just a couple of people who had been buried there. About 30 bodies were discovered. The remains were taken to the lab back at USM and determined to be of European origin — a few centuries in age and most of them males. So, it turns out that Moran’s skeletons were French colonists who came to “New Biloxi” between 1717 and 1722. It is the oldest French colonial cemetery in the South and the second oldest in the nation.

What Camille started by unearthing the skeletons in 1969, Katrina finished in 2005 by removing the building covering them and giving access to the rest of the cemetery.

There is a small park-like area beside the Biloxi Visitors Center at the Lighthouse where the bodies have been reburied — on the sight of the original cemetery.

Maybe this time their final resting place will stay final.

 

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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