Mighty ‘Sip Fest: Experience living history in Vicksburg

Published 4:00 am Saturday, April 8, 2023

There are a variety of ways to experience the history of Vicksburg during the four days of the Mighty ‘Sip Fest. Below are just a few events that festivalgoers will have the chance to choose from.

Margaret’s Grocery

Attendees will have the opportunity to tour Margaret’s Grocery this coming Saturday. They will also have the opportunity, if they wish, to help in the restoration of the historic Vicksburg landmark.

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Originally a grocery store, the landmark is a monument built by Reverend H.D. “Preacher” Dennis for his wife Margaret in the 1980s. Suze Altman is the owner and is overseeing the restoration of the site.

“Margaret was the first woman store owner on Highway 61 in the King’s community. Her first husband was murdered in a robbery gone bad after surviving World War II. Reverend Dennis came to town in the late 70s and met her and fell in love. And he said, ‘If you marry me, I promise to build you a castle to our love,’” Altman said. “He took what was just her ordinary grocery store and started painting it. He said he used every color in the bouquet as God did so it might catch your eye. And then he would have the opportunity to share a word of the gospel with you if you stopped. But it was a promise. He promised her that he would build her a castle to their love. And he was out there every day diligently keeping his word and building it.”

After Margaret died, Dennis followed several years later.

“On (Dennis’s) deathbed, he made me promise to take care of it. I did, having no idea what I was volunteering for,” Altman said. “My wife has been very patient and the community has been supportive. And we finally acquired land last year so we can now go forward and make something nicer of it. I mean, we get people, visitors from around the world already as it is, so I can only imagine how many more visitors and how much more of a contribution to the community (it will make) when it looks a little bit nicer.”

The structure is vibrant and whimsical but has somewhat fallen into disarray over the decades. Altman is currently in the long process of repairing and cleaning the site to get it prepared for regular tours and to have it put on the National Historic Registry. Volunteers will be involved in general clean-up and the repainting of old surfaces.

Tours and volunteer work will be available to visitors between 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Margaret’s Grocery is located at 4535 North Washington Street in Vicksburg. For more information about the event, you can contact Suze Altman at 601-668-9611.

Park Day

Also taking place next weekend, the Vicksburg National Military Park will host its Park Day event on April 15. Volunteers will assist in cleaning the interior and exterior of the Shirley House in preparation for its reopening this summer as a part of the 160th Anniversary of the Campaign and Siege of Vicksburg.

Park Ranger Taylor Hegler is the Volunteer Program Manager for the military park.

“Volunteers really are the backbone of the National Park Service. A lot of what we accomplish would not be possible without their selfless dedication, “Reopening the Shirley House is something that the park team and the public have wanted to see happen for a while now. We are thrilled that, through this volunteer service event, we can move one step closer to making its reopening a reality.”

The Shirley house is best known as the only remaining wartime structure on the battlefield. Located next to the Illinois Monument at the military park, the home was built sometime after 1837. It was owned by James and Adeline Shirley during the Civil War.

When the Union Army laid siege to Vicksburg, the house became the headquarters of the 45th Illinois Infantry. During the Siege, confederate troops were ordered to burn all of the Shirleys’ structures while they were falling back from a position. Barns and other buildings were destroyed, but the soldier approaching the house to burn it was shot before he could set fire to the home.

This is the first time in four years that the house will be open to the public.

Volunteers must be 15 years of age or older and must register online to participate at https://forms.office.com/g/8VmYwPkuXu. Registration closes on Wednesday, April 12.

Sign-in will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and cleaning operations will run from 9 a.m. to noon. Lunch will be provided for all volunteers at the conclusion of the service event.

“Gold in the Hills”

Performances of “Gold in the Hills” will take place during the festival weekend by the Vicksburg Theater Guild. The melodrama has the Guinness Book of World Records’ longest-running show and has been presented annually in Vicksburg since 1936.

Mike Calnan has volunteered with the guild for over 20 years and is the secretary for the guild’s board of directors.

“It’s good entertainment. It’s family entertainment. Some of the plotlines are a little bit seedy, but they’re presented in a way that’s wholesome for the family,” Calnan said. “Melodrama involves overacting. It’s excessive gestures, excessive dialogue.”

The play was originally performed on a barge owned by the Army Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River. It was then performed on the well-known riverboat the Sprague until it burned in 1974. Since then, the guild has held performances at the Parkside Playhouse.

The play follows the ups and downs of a family in the Bowery neighborhood in New York City and hits all the traditional melodramatic beats.

“The actual play is a corny melodrama. It’s good versus evil. There are no shades of gray,” Calnan said. “There’s a dastardly villain who’s just the worst person in the world and there’s a heroine that’s purist.”

Calnan’s involvement is a family affair. He first started volunteering at the guild in 2000 when his daughter wanted to join. His wife is also in the cast as a dancer (the second act is heavy on musical performances).

“Everybody involved with it just loves the production and wants to keep it going,” he said. “And I think the people that see it, everybody who comes as an audience member, really enjoys it.”

Shows will be held at the Parkside Playhouse in Vicksburg from April 14 through 23 on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under.

For more information, you can check out the Vicksburg Theater Guild’s website at e-vtv.com

Other Mighty ‘Sip Fest events:

  • A two-day Tablescaping class will be held at The Duff Green Mansion on Friday and at Cedar Grove on Saturday. Tickets are $75 and reservations are required by Wednesday. Tickets are available by calling 601-301-0441 or at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/invite-in-vicksburg-tablescaping-for-dinner-parties-tickets-579859965767.
  • As part of the 160th Anniversary of the Vicksburg Campaign Lecture Symposium, Vicksburg resident and Ret. Col. Harry McMillin will present “Ulysses S. Grant: American Hero.” The lecture is offered at 4 p.m. Saturday, inside the Vicksburg National Military Park’s visitor’s center. The event is free and open to the public.
  • Ra’shad the Blues Kid will perform as part of River City Live at the Watermark Casino on Thursday. Tickets are $30.