A royal burial……could it be The Valley of the Kings at Amarna where the Egyptian Royal Tombs are located, or perhaps the Westminster Abbey where the Kings and Queens of Great Britain receive much pomp and ceremony at the time of their burials?
No, this royal burial took place at Meridian’s Rose Hill Cemetery, and perhaps with less pomp and ceremony, but with the respect and dedication of a people who loved their Queen.
The year is 1915 and the sudden death of beloved Gypsy Queen Callie Mitchell brought an estimated 20,000 people to the Deep South and the small southern town of Meridian to attend her funeral and burial.
The Queen of the Gypsies of America and her tribe were camped near Meridian when the Queen died during the delivery of a child. The chance location of a Meridian Funeral home and the Episcopal Church, which was equipped and willing to conduct the services for larger numbers of her people, plus Rose Hill Cemetery, a well-maintained and historic location even in the year of 1915, all played important roles in making the decision.
The Feb. 7, 1915, issue of Meridian Dispatch Newspaper describes the scene. “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 lays Mrs. Callie (Kelly) Mitchell, Queen of the Gypsies of America. Her swarthy face with its high cheekbones is typical of 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 is attired in a Royal robe of Gypsy Green and other bright colors contrasting vividly with the somber hues usual under such circumstances. Two necklaces are around the neck, one of shells, an heirloom that was descended through generations. The lower part of the body is draped with “Sacred Linen” treasured by Gypsy bands for the use only when death overtakes one of their numbers. When the children arrive, each will put a memento of some kind in the casket and it will devolve upon the youngest child to place her mother’s earrings in the ear.”
Her tribe believed the Queen’s journey into afterlife would require certain items of comfort, such as comb, brush, and other toilet accessories, as well as a supply of clothing for use on the other side of the Styx. Some even thought she was buried with valuable jewels, and perhaps she was?
Members of the Mitchell Tribe, at the time one of the largest in the country, came to Meridian from all parts of the United States to pay tribute: a newsreel was made and exhibited throughout the country relating the mystery and homage paid to a woman of high esteem as she made her final journey to be laid to rest.
The funeral services took place Feb. 12, 1917, and were held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, with rector, The Rev. H. W. Wells officiating. On the final day of the Queen’s impressive Romany inspired funeral traditions, more than 5,000 people were at the cemetery to witness the last rites. It was a large and imposing funeral procession that made its way from the undertaking establishment to the Episcopal Church. The local college band headed the procession, followed by male members of the Gypsy band on foot and bareheaded 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 of the people to gain entrance, so many stood out in the street. The church services were those of the traditional Episcopal Church and were in no way added to by the Gypsies.
This account of a beloved queen and her tragic death has brought thousands of people to her gravesite during the last nearly 100 years since her burial, also bringing gifts to be left on her tombstone. Our curiosity for this glimpse into the early 1900’s and the immense love and respect one woman received from her people still brings many visitors to her grave even until this 21st Century.
As the result of her burial at Rose Hill Cemetery, in part, a Gypsy Royalty Burial site, other royal burials have taken place. The death of her husband, King Emil, and other family members, Queen Flora Mitchell, Mike Wilson Mitchell, leader of the Mississippi Tribe and Mehil Mitchell, eight-year-old nephew of King Emil, who died of influenza in Jackson, Mississippi on Nov. 12 1918, are all buried at Rose Hill Cemetery.
Historian and Rose Hill Cemetery Director, Mr. W. Walton Moore, Jr., shares the sentiments of tourist and travelers who visit the grave site, as he declares, “Historic Rose Hill Cemetery is one of the best tourist attractions in the entire area!”
Mr. Moore continues, “The cemetery opened in 1874, but there were many burials prior to that date; some of Confederate soldiers, and leading citizens of Meridian. The oldest marble marker is dated 1853, but the most visited is that one of the Queen. Many of her descendants regularly visit and seek advice from their Queen, bring gifts and items of food and drink. Recently I found a diet coke and a sack from Burger King!”
As we continue to live our lives in this 21st Century memories of a cemetery of historic uniqueness once again brings notice, and as we drive to our destinations, a chance look into the world of yesteryear is ours for the taking, and to remember the much loved Gypsy Queen of North America once again commands our attention.
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