Located smack-dab on Bob Dylan’s famous Highway 61 just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi and her floating casinos, you will run across the ruins of an assemblage of Hallellujahdom that was Margaret’s Grocery & Market.
Their novel approach to grocery took you through a rather Byzantine-looking archway with an ornamental two-headed eagle as its keystone. In the words of its late owner Rev. H.D. Dennis, the symbol refers to a time when “there wasn’t but two empires ruling the world: Josephus in the West and Caesar Augustus in the East. Caesar declared war on Josephus and took all his parts in the West. The eagle sees the sun rise in the East and, when the sun sets in the West and the eagle is looking at the sun when it sets, one man will rule all the entire world.” Biblical scholars, of course, will recognize that this refers to… actually nothing that’s in the Bible. It is indeed a symbol from the Byzantine empire as well as a Masonic Symbol from the 32nd Degree of the Scottish Rite. You have just discovered a lodestone in the glorious and beatific insanity that is outsider art in the Mississippi Delta.
The story of this bizarre country-market-turned-ersatz-“voodoo-ish” -Christian cathedral is one of redemption risen from tragedy. Margaret’s first husband was shot dead in the market during a robbery in the 1970s. After five years as a widow, she met the Reverend Dennis. Through their love, the grocery store was repurposed as a folk art ministry, and the Reverend began to decorate the store until something thoroughly unique began to emerge. Throughout the 1980s, the Reverend drew on his experience as a bricklayer in Word War II, and slowly transformed the market into his own vision of Heaven. This vision included a school bus retrofitted into a chapel crusted with ornamentation and a chintz-gilded Ark of the Covenant. The two-story high “praying tower” remained incomplete after local building code inspectors asked the Reverend to stop.
Unfortunately, since the Reverend’s death in 2012, Margaret’s Grocery was allowed to fall into disrepair and is a mere ruin of the fantastic Hallelujah-Praise-Jesus-Masonic-Candyland it was a decade ago. The state has been unable to maintain this rare jewel of a theological park and the kudzu vines and gravity are slowly pulling it back into the delta’s midden.
Update April 2018: The site is closed for repairs. The Mississippi Folk Art Foundation now owns the site and plans on restoring it.
Know Before You Go
Please contact Suzi Altman at the Mississippi Folk Art Foundation for a tour or to learn more by email at Suzisnaps@aol.com.