The Biloxi Bay Chamber, which has a history of restoring historic community landmarks in Biloxi, will take another step into history on Veterans Day with the re-dedication of “Twelve Palms Memorial,” a tribute to Biloxi’s World War I casualties.
The ceremony will be in Biloxi Businessmen’s Park, at Forrest Avenue and Bayview Drive, on Back Bay, where a dozen palms are among a number of crepe myrtle and a walking track in the city park. The dedication ceremony begins at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
During the ceremony, a marker will be unveiled to note the significance of the dozen palms, and an address will be given exactly as it was in 1919, thanks to a Biloxi Daily Herald article about the original dedication. The original address, delivered by Mrs. W.T. Bolton, will be presented by Bonnie Luft, president of the Cleophan Club, a woman’s group that coordinated the original dedication. Also taking part in the ceremony will be members of the Biloxi High School Junior ROTC.
The palm trees replace a display that had been dedicated March 17, 1919 in a city park at Reynoir Street and Esters Boulevard, just south of the CSX Railway, where a Mississippi Power Co. office is now located. The park, with its “Biloxi” sign, had served as a welcoming point for rail passengers visiting Biloxi.
The palms, meantime, had been a project of the Cleophan Club of Biloxi, believed to be the oldest women’s club in Mississippi, with its first recorded meeting taking place Sept. 30, 1901. The club, which takes it name from a Greek word meaning “to make clear, or to gather,” was formed to help members to socialize and learn more about literature, art, history and vital interests of the day.
And on March 17, 1919, they felt the interests of the day were to honor Biloxi’s fallen heroes.
The 12 trees honor 12 fallen Biloxi heroes: Army Sgt. Charles L. Baudry; Army Corp. Walter N. Quave; Pvt. William Haenns; Army Pvt. James Roberts; Chester Wesley Hayes; Alfred James Rutherford; Clarence Avner Nelson; Pvt. George Ryan; Army Sgt. Charles Stephen Nicovich; Army Pvt. Edwin Wein; John J. Price; and Pvt. Henry C. T. Wurdemann.
Biloxi Bay Chamber members have worked to contact descendants of those honored to invite them to the Veterans Day ceremony. “We’d like any and all family members, friends and relatives to attend this public ceremony,” said chamber leader Errol Bradley.
For the Biloxi Bay Chamber, the project actually began back in 1999, when the chamber moved the Biloxi sign and two pillars from the park at Reynoir and Esters to the Town Green, according to chamber leader Errol Bradley.
“When we working on moving the pillars and the Biloxi sign, Walter Fountain (editor of the Biloxi Press and a local historian) gave me a file about the park,” Bradley said. “The file also included a story about the 12 palms by historian Murella Powell, who said that the mayor at the time in 1919, John J. Kennedy made a pledge that the city would take care of those palms. Well, the park’s gone, and the palms were gone, so we thought we ought to do something.”
The Twelve Palms project actually began before Katrina, and was resurrected a couple of years ago, when Bradley noticed a handful of palm trees in the Businessmens Park.
“I saw where Supervisor Windy Swetman was doing some landscaping in the park there, and they had eight palms,” Bradley said. “So we asked Windy if he could plant four more, and now we have the city’s financial support on the marker, and it’s all coming together.”
For Bradley, the latest chamber project helps maintain Biloxi’s history and sense of place.
“This is something that we needed to do for old Biloxi and our ancestors,” he said. “This was intended to be maintained and kept, and we’re doing that now. We’re remembering Biloxi’s past and seeing that it has a future.”
The marker: To see the text that will be displayed on the marker to be unveiled during the Nov. 11 ceremony,