I first traveled to Mississippi in early 2008 as part of my state welcome sign project. The circumstances were similar to my visit last month – I was attending a conference in New Orleans (clearly a popular site for conferences) and added some personal time onto the trip in order to indulge in my hobby. I chose to drive across U.S. Route 90 (instead of Interstate 10) through Mississippi and Alabama en route to my final destination of Pensacola, Florida. The drive was less hectic than a race along an interstate, and it was a region of the country that I had not visited before. Sadly, destruction from 2005 Hurricane Katrina was still visible along the road, making the drive an emotional one.
Along the way I captured the Welcome to Mississippi sign.
The minute I saw this sign I loved it.
The sign is simple, yet full of feeling. The cursive script of the word Mississippi is in itself welcoming, encircling visitors, welcoming them “home”. The sign features the state flower – a magnolia – and is one of only five state welcome signs to include the state flower. The sign was large, yet graceful, and I loved everything about it.
On my second visit to the state last month – nearly three years later – my goal was to capture the welcome sign for Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. I was looking forward to crossing the state border and being welcomed home again by what had become my favorite welcome sign.
Imagine my surprise when I passed this sign on Interstate 55.
Birthplace of America’s Music?
This was not the welcome I expected!
At first I thought perhaps this was simply an alternate version of the Mississippi welcome sign greeting visitors; many states have different signs at various border crossings. But when I saw the same sign welcoming visitors when departing Jackson-Evers International Airport on International Airport Road, my heart sank. Clearly there was something more to this.
After returning home from my trip, I did some research to get to the bottom of the mystery of why my favorite welcome sign had been replaced.
Like many states, Mississippi spends millions of dollars every year to promote tourism and economic development. Based on marketing research, the Mississippi Development Authority had come to the conclusion that promoting Mississippi’s musical heritage could translate into tourist dollars. And so they changed the welcome signs as part of their promotional efforts.
Since I’m not a Mississippi expert – I am simply an admirer of the state’s former welcome sign – I am not in a great position to criticize this change. But locals are. I especially like the perspective of Julie Cooper, managing editor of The Natchez Democrat (link to article here: http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/news/2010/mar/17/new-slogan-misses-mississippis-mark/). She brings up the point that this niche marketing strategy actually excludes 80% of the state. I guess only time will tell if this will be successful.
Welcome signs change; I accept that. (I actually embrace it, because it means my project will never end!) But a first impression can never be changed. My first impression of Mississippi was on an overcast January day, and a bright blue sign emotionally welcomed me to the state, drawing me in, and I wanted to learn more.
What impression will this new sign leave on visitors? Likely, more questions than answers. I am not familiar with the music of Mississippi (and I’m not particularly interested); frankly, the sign left me confused. It seems to me that those who are well-versed in the harmonic history of the state will already have it on their must-visit list.
I carry my disappointment with me, but my project must go on. Next up: adventure in Jackson!