Kelly Mitchell Gypsy Queen, Meridian MS
The death of a Gypsy Queen near Meridian in 1915 resulted in the chance location of a Gypsy burial ground here and added another dash of color to the bright picture of Meridian's first 100 years. Other members of the tribe buried at Rose Hill are: Queen Flora Mitchell, sister of Emil who became Queen following the death of Kelly Mitchell in 1915: Mike Wilson Mitchell, leader of a Mississippi tribe who died a day after his Uncle, King Emil, and who was buried in a double service with the King: and Mehil Mitchell, eight- year old nephew of King Emil, who died of influenza in Jackson on November 22, 1918. The young Gypsy was the second to be buried here.
The most colorful episode of Meridian's Gypsy story is found in the story of the first Queen. Kelly, first wife of Emil and the mother of 15 children. She died Jan. 31, 1915, at the age of forty-seven, following premature childbirth, despite efforts of a physician who was offered a fee of $10,000 if he could save her life.
Her death occurred while she was camped with her tribe near Coatopa, Ala., and her body was brought to the Horace C. Smith Undertaking Co. in Meridian. The decision to bury her here brought about the formation of this Southern burial ground.
Funeral Is Described
A description of the scene at the undertaking company, appeared in the Feb. 7, 1915 issue of the Meridian Dispatch. "At one side of the parlors, with candelabra at the head and foot, stands the magnificent silver-trimmed metallic casket. Hermetically sealed within, in all the barbaric splendor of a medieval Queen lies Mrs. Callie [Kelly] Mitchell. Queen of the Gypsies of America. The swarthy face, with its high cheek bones, is typical of the Romany tribes, and the head, the upper portion of which is covered with bright silken drapery pinned at the back with pins, rests upon a cushion of filmy silk and satin. The hair is braided Gypsy fashion, and the dark tresses shine. "The body was attired in a Royal robe of Gypsy Green and other bright colors, contrasting vividly with the sombre hues usual under such circumstances. Two necklaces are around the neck, one of shells, an heirloom which was descended through generations. "The lower portion of the body is draped with 'Sacred linen' treasured by the Gypsy bands for the use only when death overtakes one of their number. When the children arrive, each will put a momento of some kind in the casket and it will devolve upon the youngest child to place her mother's earrings in the ear."
In order that the journey of the Queen might be without discomfort, the coffin was equipped with comb, brush and other toilet accessories, as well as a supply of working clothes, "for use on the other side of the Styx".
20,000 View Body
It was estimated that more than 20,000 people viewed the body of the dead Gypsy Queen after it was brought to Meridian. Members of the Mitchell tribe, one of the largest in the country, came here from all parts of the United States to pay tribute. a newsreel made of their camp at Bonita was exhibited throughout the country. The funeral services took place on Feb. 12 and were held from St. Paul's Episcopal Church with the rector, The Rev. H. W. Wells, officiating. More than 5,000 persons were at the cemetery to witness the last rites. "It was a large and imposing funeral procession that wended its way from the undertaking establishment to the Episcopal Church," the Dispatch reported. "The college band headed the procession, followed by the male members of the gypsy band on foot and bare headed, with Chief Mitchell, members of his immediate family, and the women and children in carriages. The hearse, with the remains of the Gypsy Queen, headed the carriage procession. The attendance at the church was large....so large that it was impossible for all the people to gain entrance. The services were those of the Episcopal Church and were in no way added to by the Gypsies...."