Beauvoir’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina was never a certainty. Yet until just a few weeks ago, it seemed Beauvoir had not only regained lost ground, but was advancing as never before. Now Beauvoir, a landmark on the beachfront since 1852, appears to be in full retreat.Why does a historical site need to "advance"?
Katrina’s storm surge destroyed five of the seven buildings on the grounds of the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library. It left the two still standing — Beauvoir itself and the new presidential library-museum — heavily damaged. While it was determined that Beauvoir, Davis’ last home, could be restored, it was decided the library-museum building would have to be demolished and rebuilt a little higher above, and a little further from the shoreline. Money could and would accomplish those feats.
But Beauvoir needed more to move beyond being a static memorial to Davis and the ill-fated Confederate States of America, over which Davis presided.Sez who? And why?
Remarkably, the ingredients came together to transform Beauvoir into a tourist destination of increasing appeal.Beauvoir is appealing enough for being what it is.
Bertram Hayes-Davis, Davis’ own great-great-grandson, was hired as executive director. He brought an expansive and inclusive approach to activities at Beauvoir. Andi Oustalet agreed to create from scratch Christmas at Beauvoir, a stunning seasonal attraction that was successful from the start.What has Christmas light exhibits got to do with Jefferson Davis and the Confederate soldiers for whom Beauvoir is a shrine?
Varina’s Garden, as envisioned by Davis’ wife, flowered back to life after years of planning and delay. Associations were being forged with other state and national institutions to bring exhibits and attractions and speakers to the site.What KIND of exhibits and attractions? Dinosaur exhibits? Goofy Golf? Slot machines? What speakers? Robert Kiyosaki? Gary Gallagher?
All the while Beauvoir seemed to be serving its historic function as a shrine to both Davis and the Confederacy, hundreds of whose soldiers are buried on the grounds. Memorial services and re-enactments were still regularly conducted to honor and recapture the past even as new and more broadly appealing activities were taking place and shape.Beauvoir's raison d'être gets reduced to memorial services and re-enactments. "New and more broadly appealing activities" means more irrelevant stuff designed to disguise, overshadow and outweigh Confederate history and heritage and Beauvoir's connection to them -- and eventually to obliterate them altogether.
It appeared to be a harmonious blend of old and new, the success of which would carry both well into the future. When a convention of travel writers recently visited attractions across South Mississippi, Beauvoir was one of the primary focal points. The closing ceremonies for the convention were held there. Like other Coast attractions, Beauvoir has since received invaluable free — and positive — publicity as a result.
That publicity may now acquire a sharply negative tone.Why? Because the SCV refuses to let Beauvoir's mission and purpose be compromised and eventually erased?
Hayes-Davis’ resignation has been accepted and Oustalet’s volunteerism — which was recognized statewide — has been deemed unwelcome by the Mississippi Division of the Columbia, Tenn.-based Sons of Confederate Veterans. It was their call to make. Varnia (sic) Davis gave Beauvoir to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with the understanding that the organization maintain it or it becomes state property.Why must the site be "transformed"? It is what it is; why must it become what it is not in order to be "worthy" of promotion and visitation?
Still, it is a confusing and bewildering turn of events. The Sun Herald was among those in the community who championed developments at Beauvoir over the last few years as the best approach yet to the institution’s transformation into a site worthy of promotion and visitation.
Like many others, we now no longer know what to think about — or expect from — those in control of Beauvoir.I can't speak for the Sons, of course, but my guess is that you can probably expect them to not share your eagerness to strip Beauvoir of its historical significance and mission.
Hayes-Davis appeared to be willing to water down Confederate history and heritage with irrelevancies. I'm favorably inclined to visitors interested in history and interested in those for whom Beauvoir -- the soldiers and especially Jefferson Davis -- is a shrine. I'm quite indifferent to visitors who come to see Christmas lights, particularly when you can see Christmas lights nearly anywhere.
Beauvoir needs to make enough money to keep it maintained and viable. It doesn't need to be one of the Mississippi Coast's tourism cash cows.
If Mr. Hayes-Davis is so interested in making historical sites worthy of promotion and visitation, maybe he and Andi can go to DC and plan fashion shows and American Idol competitions to be held at Arlington National Cemetery, and roller derbies at the Tomb of the Unknowns.