Treasure Hunting on the Mississippi
In a car more suited to light grocery shopping or picking the kids up from soccer practice, our friends Conor Creighton and Kendall Waldman are travelling across the bottom half of the USA on a road trip from South Carolina to California. They’ll be trying to swerve the cliches to send us updates on all the cool stuff they come across. The series' name is From Sea to Shining Sea.
The one thing you have to keep telling yourself on a road trip is that you can't have it your way all of the time. You've got to get used to sleeping on couches and floors, eating junk and not being on chat all day. But the hardest compromise on a journey like the one we're currently on is not having a Sunday like you'd have at home.
We arrived into Vicksburg, Mississippi on a Sunday morning. The previous night we'd underestimated the journey, stopped driving at around 1AM and pulled into a national park to sleep. We were woken up just a few hours later by a telling off from a ranger. He wanted to fine us $250. Kendall cried. He let us off. This is a trick we'll repeat.
So later that morning we got into Vicksburg and were trying to have a normal Sunday. All we wanted was a pub or a cafe, somewhere to eat a plate of chips and eggs and maybe even watch the footie (Kendall might have been less interested in the last one). But Vicksburg was an absolute ghost town. The only building open was an antique store beside an old cinema and they did not do breakfasts or show Super Sunday.
It was, however, the same antique shop that Borat visited. Remember, he fell over about six times and broke a million plates? They have signs and newspaper clippings all over the front desk. In a town as small and uneventful as Vicksburg, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
But Vicksburg does have some good things going for it. One of them is Malcolm Allred. He is the foremost treasure hunter in Mississippi, and while I'd love to brag that we researched and set this up like pros, the truth is we just bumped into him between a row of rusty muskets and a bucket of coins. Malcolm took us hunting with him along the Mississippi River.
Malcolm is your quintessential silver-tongued, Southern gentleman. Handsome, eloquent and possessed of just enough class that he can come out with a line like: "I know Barack Obama is a socialist and I would say he's probably a Muslim" and you still don't detest him completely.
Malcolm is also such a successful hunter that he makes a living from it. He’s pulled old Confederate soldier belt buckles out of the Mississippi that fetch around $15,000. He’s also got in trouble with the law on a couple of occasions. If you’re caught hunting on government property you’re liable to a year in prison. Malcolm’s been caught, but this time we hunted on public property. Sadly, we found nothing apart from scrap metal.
Mississippi is the poorest state in the US. There are a lot of treasure hunters out there. Sad, lonely men dragging metal detectors across the State converging on old battle sites or burial grounds. Malcolm isn’t sad, and now, at wife number four, he’s not lonely either. He once dug into an old Indian grave. He found a set of teeth that he brought home with him.
“And then I immediately brought them back,” he says. “It felt too creepy. What was I doing with another man’s teeth in my home?”
Driving out of town, we passed this pink construction. The neighbour told us that at some point, somehow, it was a corner shop owned by a preacher. Apparently he’d try and sell customers the word of God along with their papers, fags and soda. He built these giant pink towers that almost collapsed the whole shop. It closed down a few years back. A lot of things seem to be closing down in Mississippi.
If you ask Malcolm he’ll tell you why. “Obama is in the process of destroying this country... destroying the American way of life.”
I don’t think that’s true. They just need to learn how to cook an English breakfast and get the football in for Sundays and the South won’t be long in rising again.
Thanks to the Cedar Grove Inn.
Follow Conor on Twitter: @conorcreighton
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