Friday, October 1, 2010

Cruising down Mammy Lane: Mammy's Cupboard of Natchez, Mississippi








She sits with tray in hand along Highway 61.

I'm standing where some Shell gas pumps once stood.

Unfortunately, they were closed when I got there, so no inside pictures.


The famous photographer Edward Weston shot this photo of Mammy's in 1941, one year after she was built. You can see her original skin color was much darker and the Shell gas pumps that were out front. You can buy this and more great Weston photos from this website.

There are eccentric roadside attractions, and then there are "Oh my God, I can't believe I'm seeing what I'm seeing" eccentric roadside attractions. Mammy's Cupboard of Natchez, Mississippi fits squarely in the latter category...so much so that I believe from now on I'll be saying "well, sure, it was eccentric, but it was no Mammy's Cupboard." As a life-long fan of programmic archetecture, those cartoonish roadside buildings and sculptures constructed in the forms of characters, animals and household objects, I've loved visiting buildings in the shapes of giant elephants, picnic baskets and donuts. But never in my wildest eccentric fever dreams did I imagine I'd be in the presence of a 70-year old, 28-foot racial stereotype. When it was built in 1940, Mammy's was a gas station and the deep south was a lot different than it is today. Over the years, she's served as a few different businesses, and since the 90s she's been a cafe, serving southern specialties to locals and tourists. The very fact that she still stands today boggles the mind. A mammy? Really? Somewhere along the way, her original dark skin color got painted a lighter, peachier hue. Her bandana, earrings and folk art facial features have stayed the same, though, giving her the look of a giant Art Clokey-Gumby character. The place gets good reviews as an eatery (I didn't get to eat there), and many of the locals have fond memories of Mammy from their childhoods. They've got a Facebook page, and one fellow commented that Mammy's was even a polling place! And while I was knocked out by the shear, unbelievable-on-many-levels audacity of the place, I have to admit I felt queasily guilty for enjoying what could easily be considered an ethnic slur.

12 comments:

wendyvee said...

She's been on my "to-do" list for quite awhile. I came pretty close in 2008 but I was at event and couldn't sneak away long enough.

Rick said...

A roadside icon- thanks for the post. By the way, you look like a giant in that one shot (or mammy's very small..)

Gunnar and Sherry said...

Wendy: It's worth the trip and tough to beat in the wacky roadside attraction category. I wish they had been open when I was there.

Rick: HA! You're right...I look like I'm 9 feet tall. There are several feet between the front door and where the gas pumps were.

Kris the Vagabond said...

Wow, I really want to make a trip to Natchez, Mississippi!

Mod Betty / RetroRoadmap.com said...

I thought that she looked mighty small and perhaps you were a giant as well! It is a bit cringeworthy, but to pretend that she (and her negative stereotyping) never existed is a bit of revisionist history. I hope folks learn from her!

Dees Stribling said...

I saw Mammy's Cupboard last year, but my camera battery was drained, so I couldn't take pictures.

Good site you have. I'll be reading the previous posts as I have time.

Anonymous said...

Mammy has turned into a high yellow in recent years........the food was great and the blueberry lemonade was so yummy. I Think people should just accept that Mammy is an icon of the South and just get over it. Not everything is meant to be a racial issue and lots of people especially ones that are not Southern just don't get it...

Blackjack Games said...

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Chuck Whiting said...
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Chuck Whiting said...
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Chuck Whiting said...
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Chuck Whiting said...

I had the opportunity to have lunch there while visiting historic landmarks in the area. It immediately catches your attention on Highway 61... a great photo opportunity. The food was very good, and the waitress and cashier were charming.