As a preface to this post, you might want to read an earlier post on the USS Mississippi figurehead and the new USS Mississippi submarine: USS Mississippi Past and Present.”
If you’ve had occasion to wander around the New Capitol in downtown Jackson you might have noticed this rather odd concrete planter off to the northeast of the building. When you go up to the historical marker, located rather inconveniently for photographers, you find that the bronze eagle spread out on the concrete once graced the bow of the USS Mississippi, commissioned in 1904. You may recall that the submarine USS Mississippi was commissioned this year. This is the fifth marine vessel to carry the name of our state. The figurehead now before us on the state capitol grounds was on the second USS Mississippi, a ship that gave its name to the entire class of Mississippi-class battleships. In fact, you can see our figurehead in this photograph on wikipedia.
Before we get too excited about that honor, wikipedia is quick to note that the Mississippi-class was a scaled-down battleship designed to appeal to a cost-cutting Congress, and that
the combination of Congressional displacement restrictions and a flawed tactical premise produced a class that was never satisfactory in US service.
Oh well. So the USS Mississippi was decommissioned at only ten years old in 1914 and sold to Greece, who used her as the Kilkis until the Nazis sunk her in 1941. Even before she was decommissioned though, in 1909, the Navy gave the State of Mississippi back its figurehead. As reader Gary Magee noted in a comment to that previous post, the Navy was removing figureheads as part of a general program to reduce weight on its ships and increase maneuverability.
Cut to today, where we have this odd easily overlooked planter, not in the best repair. In fact, I almost forgot that I had taken these pictures a while back, when I came across this article in the Vicksburg Post that brought it back to mind. This is one of those little articles that sheds light on a small event that could have easily been overlooked, but turns out to be gold for letting us peak in on the two state officials charged with doing something with this four ton object that appeared on their doorstep.
After sitting under the porte cochere at the Capitol for six months, the Post reports that the figurehead was finally being brought back into the sunlight and was about to be placed (by my reading) on the eastern axis to the building that leads to Mississippi Street. This is not where the figurehead is today, and I suspect the current location and mounting dates to the 1970s or so. Whether it was ever actually placed in “George Humphreys Place” or not is unknown, and if so, what did it look like in that location? How was it mounted? As usual, the more you research, the more questions you raise, which is what makes architectural history so much fun. Maybe someone who knows will comment here, and maybe someone with money and authority will make sure the eagle finds a better place to spread his wings in the future.
MOUNT MISSISSIPPI’S EAGLE
Figurehead of Big Battleship in Place at Jackson
Jackson, Miss., June 16–After lying for more than six months crated up under the porte cochere of the capitol building, just as it was shipped out from the Philadephia navy yard, the great nose-piece or figure head of the battleship Mississippi, which was obtained from the naval authorities at the request of the State officials, was today unboxed and set up.
The bit of steel and bronze weighs about four tons and measures, from tip to top of the extended wings of the eagle, something like eighteen feet. Under the circumstances there was no indoor space available, and Engineer McDonnell and Secretary of State Power decided to set it up in the open air. The site selected was the grass plat in the center of the broad footway leading from Mississippi street to the building, and known as Ralph Humphreys Place.
It is the purpose of the State officials to scrape off the war paint which covers the shield and coat of arms and restore the gilding as it was originally, when the ship was launched and put in commission.
This is a rather unique situation, so far as information here extends as it it is not believed that any other interior State capital city can boast of a similar relic or souvenir of the seas, or at any rate not from a modern battleship.
Vicksburg Evening Post, June 16, 1910, p.1