Bouncing Around Biloxi: Day Eight of the LEAP Center’s Deep South Tour

After a great night of rest, we made our way to the impressive Biloxi Visitors Center. At the visitors center we were able to sign up for a tour Biloxi’s Lighthouse. The Biloxi Lighthouse was built in 1848 with a cast iron exterior and brick interior. It is 65 feet tall and has been electrically operated since 1926. An interesting fact about the Biloxi Lighthouse is that it was civilian operated and many of its operators were women, including one stretch of 50+ years where only women operated it. As we walked to the lighthouse we noticed another one of its unique features: it is the only lighthouse between a highway thoroughfares.

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To enter the lighthouse we had to make our way up a wobbly, metal stair case until we reached the top. Once we all reached the lantern room, our tour guide gave us a brief overview of the lighthouse’s history. As we stood in at the top of the lighthouse we began to feel the intense heat caused by the cast iron exterior of the lighthouse.

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We couldn’t imagine what it was like to be the lighthouse keeper in the southern heat!

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When all of us had enough of the heat we began our journey down the stairs. It was way easier to go down than up, but still frightening for some. Once we were back inside the visitors center we were able to learn more about the lighthouse and the challenges they have faced on the coast of MS. For example, the lighthouse has endured many storms, most notably Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina caused much damage to the lighthouse. It filled the lighthouse with 21.5 feet of water and four hundred thousand dollars in reconstruction costs. The lighthouse was torn and battered by the destructive storm, but it still stood tall and was seen as a symbol of hope and resilience during the disaster, and the light in the lantern room still lights up the waters every night.

Following our exhilarating climb at the Biloxi Lighthouse, we drove along the shore to the George Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. George Ohr is the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter” whose art was relatively unknown until fifty years after his death.

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Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the museum building and grounds provide a stunning man-made counterpoint to the beautiful beaches, which are located directly across the highway.

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Since it is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, much of the current museum exhibits are dedicated to commemorating the hurricane. Biloxi, right on the Mississippi coast, was hit hard when Katrina rolled in. The damage to the lighthouse helps visitors visualize the magnitude of the storm in Biloxi.

In the lobby of the museum, there are many statues constructed out of wood.

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Marlin Miller, a popular artist who took the dead and destroyed trees left after Hurricane Katrina and carved them into masterpieces that now decorate the once desolate landscaping of Biloxi. The museum contained a few of his sculptures each representing various emotions surrounding Hurricane Katrina.

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The sculptures were beautiful and representative of the way Biloxi rebuilt itself after the storm.

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The exhibits reminded visitors of how severe Katrina was and the change that has occurred since then. The Mississippi Power Company and the local news each had exhibits in the museum explaining the aftermath and their job when cleaning up. After the Katrina exhibits, we visited the main exhibit showcasing George Ohr’s pottery. George Ohr was born in 1857 and in 1879 he began his pottery career in New Orleans, LA.  Ohr’s philosophy was that no two pieces of pottery should be alike because no two people were alike. To create thousands of pieces and not craft two pieces alike illustrates his creativity and support for individualism. Unfortunately, George Ohr’s pottery studio was burned in a fire in 1894. However, when he opened his new studio, it marked a significant change in his pottery with many brighter and bolder colors than his previous works of art. It was amazing to see the shift in his artwork and the transformation throughout his life.

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Although not entirely what we expected, we immensely enjoyed learning about Hurricane Katrina’s impact on Biloxi and about the famous “Mad Potter”. The museum marked our last stop in Biloxi and we departed for New Orleans, the penultimate destination of our Tour of the Deep South.

Upon arriving in New Orleans we stopped for lunch at a New Orleans style restaurant, Elizabeth’s. The restaurant was founded in 1996 and their mission has, since then, been to make everything from scratch to provide a great product with the care and creativity that it deserves. We began with boudin balls and praline bacon as appetizers. Kaitlyn went with the special for the day which was Elizabeth’s original, Joe’s scramble. Alex and Karla went with the hot sausage Po’ Boy which was plenty of food for both of them.

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It was also something they had never had before. It was a sandwich with a sausage with a soft spice kick to it. The restaurant was also very unique with plenty of colorful art on the walls that is from a local artist named, Dr. Bob. The art featured many NOLA sayings and recycled bottle caps as borders. His shop was located directly down the street from the restaurant.

After days of intense sightseeing and learning, we decided that retail therapy would be a nice way to spend an afternoon in New Orleans. For a few hours we walked the interesting streets of the French Quarter, shopping and absorbing the culture of the great city. There were countless vendors that sold a variety of things. We saw the traditional Mardi Gras beads, souvenirs, and so much art work! I bought a print from a local artist of one the horses that give carriage rides to locals and tourists. All of the artwork was unique. And while the shopping was going great, we were even more amazed by the entertainment that filled the streets. Instruments of all sorts made music that could be heard throughout NOLA. Dancers, magicians, comedians, and many more make a living on the streets of New Orleans keeping folks entertained sun up to sun down.

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This was a new experience for all of us – especially Bourbon Street.

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Many of us had heard what it would be like, but being there was totally different than any of us expected. It was a diverse place that offers so much to do and see.

For dinner we went to the famous Oceana Grill, we heard great things about this restaurant and couldn’t wait to try the food. We got there and were surprised by a long line of people waiting to be seated outside the door.

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After waiting in line, we finally got seated. We began with gator tail bites, Cajun alligator sausage, Oceana’s famous oysters, and gumbo.

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For most of us it was our first time trying many of these appetizers. It seemed like a lot for starters, but they were all great and gone in no time. Megan and Alex shared one of New Orleans Favorites, the Taste of New Orleans that came with creole jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, red beans, and rice with smoked sausage. Kaitlyn and Karla shared a crawfish fettuccini pasta with freshly diced green peppers and New Orleans seasonings. We were all so pleased with our food, it was much more than we expected. It added more definition to the culture.

After an appetizing dinner, we walked around the town for a while. The “day crowd” was different from the “night crowd”, but unique all the same.

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Dessert was spent at Café Du Monde enjoying some warm and fresh beignets and chatting about the day’s events.

Beignets_WebOn the walk back to the hotel we enjoyed taking pictures at landmarks and learning a new way of life. We were all very sad that tomorrow would be the last day of our tour, but thankful to have had this amazing opportunity! The South has been great to us.

Sayonara Savannah: Day Six of Deep South Tour

We began our last day in Savannah embarking on an adventure. We went on a dolphin tour through the Savannah River and Atlantic Ocean. It was a sunny day, perfect weather for a boat ride.

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Our tour took us past Tybee Island and into the Atlantic Ocean.

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The view of Tybee Island from the ocean was nice. We encountered a shrimping boat that attracted many pelicans and dolphins.

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The majority of the dolphins we saw today gathered around the boat because they feed off anything the shrimpers throw back into the ocean. My personal favorite was a baby and momma dolphin swimming together!

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The Southern Legislative Conference provided us with lunch on our dolphin tour. We had packed sandwiches, chips, fruit, and a cookie for dessert. It was an okay lunch with a great view.

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We learned much in the process.  For example, the US government has established several “bird islands,” where birds can go to nest.  Predators’ populations are controlled and care is taken to ensure that birds have a natural habitat.

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The tour also highlighted several forts, energy plants, and bordering states.

As the tour came to a conclusion, it started raining. Fortunately, we dodged any serious storms. The tour was perfect way to begin our last day in Savannah, however we still had a long day ahead of us.

After briefly freshening up, we headed out to the Liquid Sand Glass Gallery to look at the glass art.

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We browsed the store and a couple of us bought glass nail filers that we’re pretty excited about. On our way back to the car, we stopped at a nifty shop right next door that sold many natural products such as soaps, seasonings, and oils.

After some shopping, we visited the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low…

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…and, a few blocks away, her carriage house, where she founded the Girl Scouts of America.

Girl_Scout_Founding_Rosales_Tyra_Chapa_Galvan_WebMegan and Alex tried to get into the Girl Scouts photo with us, but they weren’t Girl Scouts, so we wouldn’t let them be in the picture.  Well, they were in the picture, but not in any official capacity.  The photographer captured them sulking in the background.

We also took another look at the Andrew Low House (Juliette Gordon Low’s Father in Law).

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After taking photos, we made our way to Forsyth Park to see the famous Savannah water fountain that was built in 1858.

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The fountain is striking from a distance…

Forsyth_Fountain_6_Web…and from up close…

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While at the fountain we took some selfies, group photos and tried to capture the beauty of the fountain.

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Forsyth Park was laid out in the 1840’s so we really enjoyed the giant Oak trees covered in Spanish moss.

Bonaventure_Cemetery_Spanish_Moss_WebWe also took a look at the Confederate War Monument in the Park, one of many veterans memorials in Savannah.

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By the time we were done “modeling” for the camera at the fountain, we were all ready for Leopold’s Ice Cream. Leopold’s Ice Cream was founded in 1919 by three immigrant brothers from Greece and has been visited by many including Johnny Mercer, the famed lyricist.

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We each tried Leopold’s famous Ice cream sandwiches. They were absolutely delectable!

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Before wrapping up our time in Savannah with the State Dinner, we made a pit stop at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. Bonaventure Cemetery is where Savannah native, Johnny Mercer is buried. Johnny Mercer is relevant to the state of Georgia for many reasons. He was a thriving lyricist with over 850 songs and founder of Capitol records.

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He wrote a hit song called Moon River and today he still makes profits from his music. The cemetery overlooks the Moon River, so while there we snapped some photos of us and the famous river.

Moon_River_WebFor many years, the Bonaventure Cemetery was the home of “The Bird Girl,” a statue featured on the best-selling  book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  Because of the success of that movie, however, visitors flocked to the cemetery, and the sculpture was moved to Jepson Art Center.

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The visit to the cemetery was interesting. While leaving flowers at gravesites is popular, we saw rocks on tombstones at this particular one. We couldn’t figure out what they represented, but they were different and some rocks were beautiful. Because we were running short on time, we didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked to, but nevertheless we enjoyed our time learning about Mr. Mercer and Moon River.

Following a few more photographs of local scenes…

TomoChiChis_Grave_Web…and street performers…

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Every evening, the conference has hosted a reception for socializing and networking. Each night, the receptions have been fun and memorable. This evening, the final night of the Southern Legislative Conference, we attended the State Dinner, which featured presentations and speeches by elected officials and entertainment. The dinner theme was “Georgia on my mind.” All the details of the décor reflected Georgia and its signature items, such as peaches and cotton.

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We were pleasantly surprised when the LSC staff asked the four SHSU students to represent Texas in the flag parade.

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While elected officials represented most of the 15 states attending, Texas was represented by four college students!

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Alex, Megan, Karla, Kaitlyn Represent TX at SLC

Following the parade, the Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston welcomed the conference attendees and thanked everyone for their dedication to the conference.

Dinner began where we enjoyed the filet mignon and peach glazed chicken among sweet tea and southern style sides.

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Our table consisted of our group and Mr. & Mrs. Hickman. Mr. Hickman is the Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Finance Committee in the Virginia Capitol. Both Mr. and Ms. Hickman were knowledgeable and very welcoming, they offered interesting history facts about their hometown of Richmond, Virginia and travel tips for when we have the opportunity to visit Virginia. Our dinner conversation was pleasant and we were happy to have met them.

For entertainment, Jeff Foxworthy delivered hilarious comedy material, which everyone enjoyed.

State_Dinner_Foxworthy_WebAlthough most of his set was new material, he closed with some redneck jokes, including:

  • If your matching salad bowls all say, “Cool Whip,” you might be a redneck.
  • If your son’s name is Dale, Jr., but your name isn’t Dale, you might be a redneck.

Comedy was an amusing way to end dinner.

Comedy did not end the evening, however.  That honor fell to Sheila Raye Charles, the daughter of the late Ray Charles.  She sang some new materials, some covers of various artists (including Maroon 5) and covers of songs made famous by her father.

Just before we left, Ms. Hickman, introduced us to her friend and Virginia State Senator, Barbara Favola.

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          LEAP Center Students                 and Senator Favola

Senator Favola offered her advice and experiences on how to pursue a career path in politics one day. She was very knowledgeable and gave us some insight to her career. Throughout our Tour of the Deep South, it has been interesting to learn about how state legislatures differ from Texas’s. Thank you to Ms. Hickman for introducing us to Senator Favola!

After a few final pictures, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our early morning departure and next full day of sightseeing in Alabama and Mississippi. Reflecting back on our time in Savannah, we have learned a lot about the rich history of the city and immensely enjoyed all the sightseeing. Thankful for the opportunity to attend the Southern Legislative Conference, we are sad to leave the beautiful city of Savannah…

Girls Contemplate Leaving Savannah, GA
Girls Contemplate Leaving Savannah, GA

…but excited about visiting more cities in our Tour of the Deep South!