Meridian Star

Local News

December 25, 2007

Queen Kelly Mitchell; a slice of Meridian's history

On Jan. 31, 1915, the life of an icon came to an end in Coatopa, Ala. Kelly Mitchell, Queen of the Gypsy Nation, died at age 47 while giving birth to what is said to have been her 14th or 15th child.

With so many children, it's no surprise that she had a large funeral. But, according to a 1915 article in the Meridian Dispatch, her funeral wasn't just large, it was what might warrant use of the term 'gi-normous,' with as many as 20,000 Romani people showing up at the ceremony.

"Gypsies were camped all over hell's half-acre," said Rose Hill Cemetery caretaker and tour guide Walton W. Moore of the event. "They camped everywhere in Meridian; in church lawns, parks, schools, anywhere they could squeeze in."

The funeral ceremony took place at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, which was far too small to fit even a small fraction of the funeral-goers, most of whom gathered around outside the church to participate in the celebrations.

"A college that was here at the time provided the band, and they marched down the street playing a slow funeral march," said Moore, "and the gypsies told them, 'Snap it up, it's party time'."

Though Mitchell died in Coatopa, Meridian was chosen as her burial place because it was the nearest city with enough ice to preserve her body until the time of the funeral.

"They sent her to Webb Funeral Home, back then it was called Watkins Funeral Home, and kept her on ice for six weeks so they could call in all the bands of gypsies," said Moore.

The four bands of gypsies that made their way into the Southeast, Moore said, are called Mitchell, Marks, Bimbo, and Costello. Reports as to which bands had representatives at the funeral are contradictory.

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