During World War II, Biloxi became home to Keesler Field, a major basic- training site for the Air Force. The local economy boomed, attracting an unusually diverse population for the South. (Enough Jews moved to Biloxi to merit the city’s first synagogue in 1958.) The boom also gave rise to Biloxi’s famed casino hotels, where native Mississippian Elvis Presley made appearances, as did Jayne Mansfield, including just before her death. “Elvis Presley was born in this house January 8, 1935. The dwelling built by his father, is located in Tupelo, Miss. and is open to the public.” Postcard for Hudson Marquez’ art exhibition “High Humidity.” Caption: “When I was a teenager I snuck [sic.] into Jayne Mansfield’s stageshow [sic.] @ Gus Stevens’ nightclub in Biloxi, Mississippi. Brother Dave Gardner opened w/ his hillbilly sophistication. Then Miss Mansfield took the stage. Told jokes, sang songs and changed costumes. Each one a little skimpier than the last. She finished in the white fur bikini. I was thrilled. Sometime later I was getting my hair cut in a barbershop on St. Charles Avenue. Two Louisiana state policemen came in and passed around 8×10 photos of them holding Jayne’s decapitated head on the hood of her death car. I wasn’t thrilled…”
The Friendship Oak has been dated to 1487–that’s before Columbus’ arrival in the Americas! The legend goes that friends who stand in its shade will be friends for life.
This amazing oak tree’s home is now the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. From 1921-1971, it was the Gulf Park College for Women. Great American poet Vachel Lindsay taught there in the 1920s, and gave readings under the Friendship Oak.