There aren’t many cities in which you can see a rock concert on top of a prehistoric volcano. It’s equally hard to find a place with the deep ties to the blues, international ballet, and pine-scented products that Jackson MS enjoys. Here are 25 surprising facts about Mississippi’s intriguing capital.
#1 – The settlement on the Pearl River that gave birth to Jackson was first called LeFleur’s Bluff, named for French-Canadian trader Louis LeFleur, who had founded a trading post on the site. In 1821, four years after Mississippi achieved statehood, the state legislature decided to erect its capital city at this strategic locale. Lawmakers also chose to name the city after General Andrew Jackson, who had become a national hero by defeating British forces at the Battle of New Orleans, the final skirmish of the War of 1812.
#2 – Chemist and native Jacksonian Harry A. Cole invented Pine-Sol floor cleaner in 1929. It’s now owned by the Clorox Company.
#3 – The international honor society of two-year colleges, Phi Theta Kappa, claims more than three million members. Founded in 1918 at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, its world headquarters is now located on Eastover Drive in Jackson.
#4 – Completed in 1842 in the Greek Revival style, the Mississippi governor’s mansion is the second-oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence in the United States. Virginia’s is 29 years older.
#5 – The Jackson Zoo, which today houses mammals, birds, and reptiles from four continents, had humble beginnings. In the early 1900’s, firefighters at the city’s Central Fire Station (now the Chamber of Commerce Building) passed the time by keeping a menagerie of wild pets, including deer, squirrels, and alligators. The city bought land to establish a zoological park in the 1920’s, and the firemen’s pets became the first animals on display.
#6 – On June 11, 1963, the first human lung transplant took place at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. The center’s chairman of surgery James Hardy, who led the transplant team, achieved the first heart transplant in a human (using a chimpanzee’s heart) one year later.
#7 – During the Civil War, Union commander Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee fought the Battle of Jackson on its way to Vicksburg. Jackson’s factories and warehouses were burned, leaving behind nothing but their brick chimneys (thus the city’s contemporary nickname, Chimneyville). The Union army spared the city’s non-strategic buildings, including city hall, the governor’s mansion, and the capitol.
#8 – The blues were born in the Magnolia State. In 2006, the Mississippi Blues Trail was established to educate the public about this uniquely American art form. One-hundred-and-eighty-nine historic markers are spread out over the state, with each sign planted at a locale that played some role in shaping the blues genre. Jackson alone has 13 such sites. On Roach Street, for example, you’ll find one dedicated to legendary blues pianist Otis Spann, who was born at the spot on March 21, 1930.
#9 – In 2001, Roderick Paige became the first African-American person to serve as the U.S. Secretary of Education. The longtime college football coach and advocate for improving urban educational opportunities had graduated from Jackson State University in 1955.
#10 – On the capitol’s north side, you’ll find a naval figurehead shaped like a flying eagle, which once belonged to the USS Mississippi, a battleship commissioned in 1904. Before the navy sold the ship to Greece, it gave the figurehead to the state, where it is currently affixed to a huge planter near the capitol building.
#11 – Every October, the 12-day Mississippi State Fair brings thousands of visitors into Jackson. Popular attractions include Ferris wheels, an antique car show, and a biscuit-making booth. In recent years, organizers have experimented with newer events, like a beard-growing contest that debuted in 2009.
#12 – Jackson was the setting for Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestseller The Help. When its movie adaptation was shot in 2010, numerous scenes were filmed in the city. Among the many Jackson landmarks to appear onscreen was Brent’s Drugs, a beloved Duling Avenue soda shop. After the shoot, its owners were able to keep a few movie props as souvenirs.
#13 – Seventy-five million years ago, present-day Jackson sat on a volcanic island. Roughly 2900 feet below the intersection of East Pascagoula Street and I-55, a long-extinct volcano has its origins. Today the Mississippi Coliseum, a 6500-seat multipurpose arena, sits on top of its caldera.
#14 – On a related note, the Coliseum hosts the annual Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Contest, the largest annual rodeo east of the Mississippi River. Launched in 1965, it awards nearly $250,000 in prize money each year.
#15 – Author Eudora Welty was born in Jackson on April 13, 1909. One of the 20th century’s most esteemed writers, Welty wrote award-winning short stories for The New Yorker, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of the Arts, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Today, her house at 1119 Pinehurst Street is a national historic landmark.
#16 – Another Pulitzer Prize-winning Jacksonian is playwright Beth Henley, a 1981 recipient for her three-act black comedy Crimes of the Heart. The play was made into a film starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek in 1986.
#17 – On February 15, 1839, the state legislature passed the Mississippi Married Women’s Property Act. The act stemmed from a lawsuit in which a Chickasaw woman sued to retain ownership of her property (a slave) that her husband’s creditors had tried to seize. The court decided that case based on the Chickasaw tradition of matrilineal inheritance. It was the first piece of legislation in American history that gave wives the right to hold property in their own names.
#18 – In 1943, prisoners of war from a camp near Jackson were recruited to build a large-scale model of the Mississippi River basin to make predicting flood patterns easier. With supervision from the Army Corps of Engineers, they put together a 200-acre, hydraulic-powered replica of the Mississippi delta. After 79 simulated floods, the model was abandoned in 1973. Its remnants can still been seen in Butts Park.
#19 – Future NFL superstar running back Walter Payton played at Jackson State University from 1971 to 1974. By the time he graduated, he had set an NCAA record for most points scored—464—within a four-year period.
#20 – James Meredith, the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi, nearly gave his life in the fight for civil rights. On June 6, 1966, he launched a solo march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson to promote voter registration among African-Americans in the south. (The historic Voting Rights Act had been passed into law the previous year.) On the second day of the march, a white man shot Meredith and he sustained several wounds. By the time he was able to rejoin the march near Jackson, it had grown to 15,000 participants and had registered more than 4000 new voters.
#21 – Mississippi chose to observe Prohibition for 33 years after the Volstead Act was repealed. In 1966, one event turned the last dry state wet. Hinds County sheriff Tom Shelton launched a surprise raid at the Jackson Country Club, where prominent citizens, including the governor, were celebrating Mardi Gras with illegal liquor. Most of the revelers were arrested, prompting the state legislature to quickly pass a law allowing individual counties to decide whether to legalize alcohol—effectively repealing statewide Prohibition.
#22 – What does Jackson have in common with Moscow, Helsinki, and Varna? They’re the only four cities that get to host the two-week International Ballet Competition (IBC), where the world’s best dancers compete for medals, scholarships, and fame. Jackson dance instructor Thalia Maria convinced the IBC to make Jackson its sole American host city, and the capitol has welcomed the tournament every four years since 1979.
#23 – The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and Mississippi State go head-to-head in the annual Egg Bowl, shorthand for The Battle of the Golden Egg, a college football rivalry dating back to 1903. The showdown has taken place in Jackson on 29 separate occasions.
#24 – Baltimore native James D. Lynch was the first African-American person to hold any major political office in Mississippi. In 1869, he was elected Secretary of State, an office that he would retain until his death in 1872. Lynch also participated in the 1872 Republican National Convention as a delegate. He’s buried in Jackson’s Greenwood Cemetery.
#25 – Pascagoula Street is home to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. The brainchild of longtime Jacksonians Okolo Rashid and Emad Al-Turk, it is the first American museum designed to show the story of Islamic culture and history. When it opened in 2001, former governor William Winter praised the facility. “It definitely breaks a stereotype,” he said. “It’s at odds with what the average American would think about Jackson, Mississippi.”