Copyright © 1994, Jeremy Butler. All rights reserved.
Telecommunication and Film Department, P.O. Box 870152, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487.

The Postmodern America Tour: Travels in Hyperreality

Part One

(The author's first attempt at incorporating graphics into a Web page way back in 1994, during the Web's dark ages.)

A note about the illustrations: incorporated directly in this document are small, thumbnail, GIF-format versions of the images. To view the full, JPEG-format image, just click on the thumbnail image.

With apologies to Umberto Eco...

The Summer of 1989 had been consumed with various uninteresting projects and I didn't have time for a major trip, but I figured to at least get out of town for a week or so and visit a pal in Houston. A familiar trip, one I've done dozens of times. To pep things up I took a more northerly route this time, wandering through northern Mississippi and Louisiana rather than the southern parts of those states.

First stop: Jackson, MS.

Driving around looking for a lunch place, I spot the Mississippi War Memorial Building.

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It's a huge edifice, built in 1930s deco style, with large, life-size reliefs of war carnage on either side of the entrance and enormous metal doors with their own reliefs set in individual panels. The brochure explains that represented on the doors are "implements of war from the Greek shield and sword of 400 B. C. to the American bomber and battleship of 1940." One panel, for example, is a big cannon identified only as "Whistling Dick, Vicksburg '63."

Cut in the marble high on the facade is this sentiment: "HOW SWEET MUST BE THE PEACE THE HEROES FIND WHEN CRUSADE ENDED DEATH HAS BORNE THEM HOME, HOME TO GOD WHO MADE THEIR SOLDIER HEARTS BEAT WITH SELFLESS ZEAL TO RIGHT THE SATANIC WRONG." They don't fuck around with their sentiments in Mississippi.

Inside are all types of war mementoes (e.g., a photo of a WW I company, including their dog mascot, wearing a GI hat and identified as "Bob") in glass cases which one winds one's way past. There's no attendant and, when I was there, no other visitors. When one walks around a final corner one's faced with a seeming dead end. You're trapped in the war memorial. Then you realize that there's a door at the end of the hall that leads you into the "Medal of Honor Shrine." In a small room lined with cheap paneling, Mack A. Jordan's Congressional Medal of Honor is encased in glass, with the citation posted on a nearby wall. That's all there is in this kinda cheesy little room.

Yes, it's pretty spooky.

From there I continued to Vicksburg, MS, where I found the Army Corps of Engineers' Waterways Experimental Station. At the WES they create large models of riverways and bays in order to test out new jetties and levees and stuff. One model can cover an entire acre or more. 'Course a lot of this work is now taken over by computer modeling with their new Cray supercomputer, but apparently there's nothing like building a concrete model of the Long Beach Harbor, say, for real accuracy.

And besides, how else can you feel like Gulliver walking around on these models as a wave machine pushes water toward the shore at the equivalent height of 15 foot waves? AHHHHHH! Run for you lives, you little concrete Lilliputians! Oh no, what's this, a tsunami! Head for high ground!

The earliest models were built in Clinton, MS during World War II by German prisoners of war. They've got photos on display of German soldiers, guarded by men with machine guns, as they (the Germans) labor on a model of the Mississippi River basin.

The best, however, is Niagara Falls in miniature.

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Our guide, Keith Stark (a PR major, NOT an engineer, thank you), stood on Goat Island and explained it all to us. The model was build in 1953, almost the same year as NIAGARA, the movie. I swear, I could almost see a four-inch-high Joseph Cotton going over the Falls.

All in all, it was great, although the lecture on the different aggregates used in making concrete did go on a bit long. But I bet you didn't know that they can make concrete with styrofoam.

It floats.

That in itself was enough to make Vicksburg worth the visit, but, of course, the city is best known for the Civil War battle fought there. In Vicksburg, as in many towns throughout the South, the battlefield is a national park. These parks have never held much interest for me. What's to see 125 years later? Fields? Stands of trees? I didn't think there'd be much to mark it as a battlefield and make vivid the combat.

But Vicksburg is different.