A Royal burial.

But not Queen Elizabeth II.

No, she was Callie (Kelly) Mitchell, Queen of the Gypsies of North America. You see we are blessed to have our own Queen burial in our southern town, Meridian, Mississippi.

The year was 1915, and the sudden death of beloved Gypsy Queen Callie Mitchell brought an estimated 20,000 people to the Deep South, and the small town of Meridian, in order to attend her funeral and burial. Meridian, at the time, had a population of approximately 20,000 souls.

The Queen and her band were camped near the Ms/Al state line in Coatopa, AL, when she suffered, unto death, the delivery of a child. Meridian was the nearest town which offered a funeral home and Episcopal Church, that were both equipped, and willing to conduct services for the attendance of large numbers of her people, the Romani. And also, the availability of a cemetery plot at Rose Hill Cemetery. Perhaps the three needs, which came together at precisely the right time and the right place, were not by chance, but by predestination.

It is interesting to note that the cemetery was well-maintained and considered a historic burial ground, even in the year of 1915. Yes, all of these things played important roles with the making of history.

The February 7, 1915, issue of the 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 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 band believed the Queen should travel to the next world without discomfort, and 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.

Members of the Mitchell band, at the time, were one of the largest gypsy bands in the country. They 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 the great beyond

The funeral services took place on February 12, 1915, and were held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, with the rector, The Rev. H. W. Wells officiating. On the final day of the Queen’s impressive Romany inspired burial, more than 5000 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 attendance at the church was large, so large that it was impossible for all the people to gain entrance and they stood around the church plus the crowds spilled into the street.

A local college band headed the procession, followed by male members of the Gypsy band on foot and bare headed with King Mitchell, also members of his immediate family, and as well the women and children in carriages. The hearse, pulled by white horses with black plumes and with the remains of the Gypsy Queen, headed the carriage procession.

This account of a beloved queen and her tragic death has continued to bring thousands of people to her grave site during the last 100-plus years. They continue to bring gifts to leave on her Wolfstone.

Curiosity for the time has continued, with a longing for a glimpse into the early 1900s, and as well to witness the immense love and respect one woman received from her people.

And, today, we continue to live our lives in the 21st Century, with the memories of a historically unique cemetery, which will once again bring notice, as we drive to our destinations. The opportunity will offer a chance look into the world of yesteryear and it can be ours for the taking, because we remember the much-loved Gypsy Queen of North America and she will again command our attention.

Rose Hill Cemetery Costumed Tour, 4000 -- 8th Street, Meridian, MS, Saturday, September 24, 2022 -- 7 to 9 PM. For more info: 601-479-2483.

Anne B. McKee is a Mississippi Storyteller. See her website: www.annemckeestoryteller.com

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