Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tennessee Williams' Home

And Columbus, MS, Welcome Center

The is the back of Tennessee Williams'
When you come into Columbus, Mississippi, from the west after crossing the Tennessee-Tom Bigbee River and pass the Columbus, Mississippi, welcome sign, you enter a small city with so much to offer that after more than a year, here, I've barely begun to visit all the places that make this city a special place. The places almost within walking distance of the downtown include the Mississippi University for Women (or the "W") (and on that campus is the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, one of the top-rated high schools in the United States, recently written up in The Atlantic), Friendship Cemetery, which is home to what is now considered to be the first Memorial Day celebration, the Rosenzweig Arts building (which has numerous events year-round, including this year a chance to see the Vienna Boys Choir in concert), not to mention the 77-year historic homes tour, and farther out of town, Waverly Mansion. But recently Cliff and I visited Tennessee Williams' Home and Welcome Center.

It is one of the first things you see as you enter the downtown.

The front of the Columbus Welcome Center
We entered from the back, because just inside the entrance are a collection of brochures on Columbus, including free maps of Mississippi and the close neighbor Alabama. Columbus is only 7 miles from the Alabama border and an easy drive to both Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. In a small room off the back entrance is the Welcome Center gift shop. But of course, since this is also Tennessee Williams' childhood home, the welcome center downstairs has several rooms devoted to replicating how the home looked when Tennessee Williams was a child, but the real delight is upstairs, where a memorial room devotes what might have been Williams' life in a play, including Acts and Scenes depicted by photos from throughout his life and short biographical sketches in each Act of his life. It moves in chronological order from his birth to his death. Columbus is quite right to devote much of its admiration to Tennessee Williams who is arguably one of America's most important playwrights.

The Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center is the first home of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams. The author made history with well-known plays such as "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and "The Glass Menagerie."

Williams, the man said to be America's most important playwright, was born in Columbus, Mississippi, on Sunday, March 26, 1911. He spent his early years in an old Victorian home that served as the rectory for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Williams’ grandfather, the Reverend Walker Dakin, served as minister for the church from 1905 through 1913.

Prominent in Friendship Cemetery is the Weeping Angel
monument, dedicated to one of Columbus' most beloved
citizens, the Rev. Thomas Teasdale
One morning Cliff and I joined others for a series of porch plays, which began at the Welcome Center, then en masse the group moved on to the next porch play at a home on Columbus' south side, home of some of the finest historic homes in Columbus. As I've said in other posts, I've visited Friendship Cemetery and enjoyed the MSMS student presentations of "Tales from the Crypt", an annual event, and I took Cliff there one summer afternoon and we spent a long while wandering through the cemetery, noting especially the area where Union and Confederate soldiers were buried. Even today both Union and Confederate war dead are honored each year. These days, it's important to note that while many Confederate statues are coming down across the south, Columbus, Mississippi, takes pride in honoring both Confederate and Union soldiers, without judgment, other than the lives lost on both sides. This tradition has been the order of things now for well over 150 years. Columbus is a place where diversity finds a home and all points of view are respected. It is what drew me to Columbus in the first place.

Columbus even has an annual "Stella Shouting Contest" and what better way to illustrate that contest than to view the seminal scene from Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire."

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