For more than 60 years,
a publication centered on life in Mississippi.
Today is December 6, 2022

Historical tales abound within Rose Hill Cemetery

By Nancy Jo Maples

Historical tales abound within Rose Hill Cemetery

Jamela Johnson portrays gypsy queen Kelly Mitchell in the 2015 Rose Hill Cemetery tour. Photo courtesy of Rose Hill Company of Players

    A number of souls rest in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Meridian, but the most visited grave site belongs to the queen of the gypsy nation.
    Queen Kelly Mitchell’s interment in 1915 drew 20,000 gypsies to Meridian for the ceremonial parade and burial. The queen passed away Jan. 31 in Coatopa, Ala., just across Mississippi’s state line. She died at age 47 while giving birth to her 14th child. 
    Her husband, King Emil Mitchell, took her body to Meridian because the city had an ample ice supply for preserving her body while bands of gypsies from across the nation travelled to pay their respects. The funeral took place 12 days after her death.
    Today, more than a dozen members of the Mitchell family rest at Rose Hill including the queen’s husband, who died in 1942 at age 85. To find the graves, follow the gravel entranceway uphill and look to the right just before the road curves. The queen’s tombstone is usually festooned with beads, coins, wine bottles, apples and assorted trinkets. Gypsies often pay their respects to the queen, leaving gifts in hope that her spirit will offer solutions to their problems by visiting them in a dream or somehow sending them a message.
    “I’ve been at the cemetery many times when a gypsy will come in to the cemetery, go straight to the grave, leave a trinket and spend a little quiet time,” Anne McKee, director of the Rose Hill Cemetery costumed tour, said. “They believe that she can lend them advice and help them in some way.”
    Some of the more unusual items McKee has found at the queen’s monument include a sack of fast food burgers and fries and a pair of purple slippers with a matching handbag.
    The term gypsy refers to the nomadic people of Romani who originated in northern India but migrated to Europe, South America and North America. In the previous century they were known for traveling in groups and establishing temporary campsites between their moves from place to place. Today’s gypsies have melted into culture and are more stationary.
    The Rose Hill Company of Players offers a costumed, story-telling tour each fall that tells the story of the gypsy and several other prominent citizens and city leaders buried in the graveyard. It is not a haunting tour; instead, it is a heritage tour. The “marble orchard” as McKee calls it, has stones dating back to 1853. The most recent burial occurred two years ago and was a gypsy burial.
    The 10-acre cemetery, equipped with stadium lights, is never really dark. The tour, always set the last Saturday in September, is free and is suitable for all ages. “Our tour is a great way for school children to learn about their community because many times schools don’t have time to go into detail to teach students local history,” McKee said.
    The 90-minute enactment stops at 12 tombs, beginning at the grave of the landowner of the cemetery site and meandering amongst the resting spots of prominent citizens and key city leaders. The tour tells Meridian’s history including the yellow fever epidemic and various wars. A hundred soldiers who died at the Confederate hospital during the Civil War are buried in a mound. The hospital was located at the site of the city’s high school, and bones of the Confederate veterans were discovered in the early 1900s during the school’s construction.
     According to local newspaper accounts, the gypsy queen was buried on a cold day and the funeral procession was not solemn. Multitudes of gypsies marched from the funeral at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to Rose Hill amidst a lively local college band playing peppy music. Legendary tales claiming she was buried with thousands of dollars have attracted grave robbers through the years whose unsuccessful attempts have left the concrete slab atop the grave broken.
    Rose Hill Cemetery tours began in 2009 when Walton Moore, a member of Masonic Lodge No. 308, which owns and maintains the cemetery, approached McKee, a professional storyteller active in the Mississippi Arts Commission, about sharing its rich history.
    September 24 will mark the event’s eighth year. About 100 volunteers help with research, costumes, acting, script writing and security. In July the players gave the first stage production of the show at Meridian’s historic Temple Theatre. The stage show was developed to accommodate people unable to walk in the cemetery and those who simply wanted to hear the stories in an indoor setting.
    More information can be found at www.gypsiesonrosehill.org or on Facebook at Rose Hill Company of Players.


    Writer Nancy Jo Maples can be reached at 188 Ernest Pipkins Road, Lucedale, Miss. 39452 or via email at nancyjomaples@aol.com.

Site designed by Marketing Alliance, Inc.