Mississippi: Katrina victims begin to refurnish

Lynne Barze and her husband, Ted, sat in a hallway as Hurricane Katrina’s winds began to pound their home in rural Carriere. “We’re Catholic and it takes us about an hour to say the rosary. We did three complete rosaries with all the intercessory prayers while that thing was blowing … We just sat there and kept praying God would spare us and the things we needed spared,” said Lynne.

Their prayers were answered. After the Category 4 hurricane slammed the Mississippi Gulf Coast the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, destroying or heavily damaging most structures in its wide swath, the Barzes and their cats and dogs emerged unscathed.

Four miles south on U.S. Route 11 in Picayune, about 30 miles inland, Lynne’s business, Barze Place Antique & Collectibles Mall, sustained minor damage. “Every building on Highway 11 lost their awnings except my building. There was a lot of damage everywhere but here. We lost one teacup and saucer. We had some leaks, but we picked up the soaked ceiling tiles and everything else was fine,” said Barze, who wondered why she had been so blessed.

Meanwhile in Biloxi, Peter Webster and Wayne Williams, owners of Vieux Marche Antiques, were not as fortunate. Katrina reduced their antique shop, located half a block from the water, to rubble. All that remained of the 1930s house they rented as their shop were the front steps. One of the few items recovered was a wooden cigar store Indian, found in a pile of rubble three blocks away at the American Legion post. It had stood on the front porch as the antique shop’s official greeter.

The hurricane also destroyed their home and another house filled with the contents of a local antique store, which Webster had recently bought. Like many antique dealers, Webster and Williams were underinsured.

The loss of their property wasn’t the worst of it in Webster’s eyes. The storm surge drove ashore a mammoth barge that held a gambling casino, leveling everything in its path. Webster was horrified to see the barge beached on the property where the Tullis-Toledano Manor had stood since 1856. Owned by the city of Biloxi, the restored Greek Revival mansion and the huge live oak trees around it were flattened.

“It was actually harder for me as a Biloxian living here for 50 years to see Tullis gone. It was hard to look at,” said Webster, who managed the biannual Biloxi Antique Fair on the grounds of the historic site.

Fifteen months after Hurricane Katrina became the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States, life goes on along the Gulf Coast. Webster and Williams used their knowledge of antiques to work as hurricane damage appraisers. They went on buying trips to gradually get back into the trade. “There is such a great demand for all kinds of things that it’s hard to have just an antique shop right now in Biloxi,” said Williams, who wants to reopen eventually downtown.

For now, Vieux Marche Antiques is set up in Centuries Antique Mall, across the Back Bay of Biloxi in D’Iberville. Joan Caldwell, an employee at Centuries Antique Mall, said the hurricane ripped off part of the roof, blew in a door and broke glass.

“We were closed only two weeks. Of course, when we opened back up business was terrible for a while. We have good days and bad days like everyone. Saturdays usually are extremely busy,” said Caldwell. With a full complement of 72 dealers, Centuries Antique Mall, which opened in April 2005, is the largest on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Back in Picayune, business has been brisk at Barze Place Antique & Collectibles Mall. “Unfortunately it’s because of the losses people had in the hurricane,” said Lynne Barze. Victims of the storm have been slowly replacing what they lost, said Barze, from items as common at Pyrex bowls to heirloom furniture. “2006 has been good for us; I just hate the way it happened,” said Barze, whose cousins in New Orleans, where she was born and raised, lost everything in the flooding caused by Katrina.

“The area Katrina hit is a place where people hold onto their heritage. The Gulf Coast, New Orleans, the Deep South; people down here kept grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s items and lived on their history, their heritage and lineage.”  

A smaller disaster was an early morning fire June 26 of this year that gutted the historic Adams-French Mansion in Aberdeen, which is owned by Dwight Stevens of Stevens Auction Co. The blaze destroyed antique furniture and fine art that were to be auctioned there July 15. Stevens bought the 1856 Greek Revival home four years ago, restored it and had used it as his auction gallery.

“The fire set us back and had us off balance and out of business for about two months, but we’re making up time,” said Stevens. At the same time crews began rebuilding the Adams-French Mansion, Stevens had a nearby lumberyard showroom renovated to serve as his auction gallery.

“Now we’ll all be inside in the cool and with all the comforts of home,” said Stevens, describing the facility as state of the art. He intends to have select auctions at the Adams-French Mansion when construction is complete. “By early spring it will be back better than it was,” said Stevens, who plans to conduct an auction there in April. His next auction at the former lumberyard location will be Jan. 20, 2007.

Stevens occasionally conducts on-site auctions around the Southeast. “One in Nashville, probably in May, will be at a former home of Johnny Cash. We’ll be selling the real estate, a bunch of architectural items and primitives native to Tennessee,” he said.

Back on schedule, Stevens foresees doing seven to eight auctions per year. “Every six weeks is ideal. It just takes time to set these sales up,” he said, adding that he is nearly booked through 2007. “We still take consignments, but we’re selective in what we accept,” he said.

Stevens, who studied business at the University of Mississippi, is a one-man visitor’s bureau for his hometown Aberdeen, a community of 8,000 people in the northeast corner of the state. “Aberdeen is a cute town with a lot of antebellum mansions and some turn of the century Victorians. At one time it was one of the wealthiest towns in the state,” said Stevens.

Aberdeen’s historic business district is being revitalized with an influx of antique shops, anchored by Stevens’ Antiques Downtown, where visitors can enjoy hand-dipped ice cream or freshly brewed coffee while shopping for antiques. Among the visitors are boaters traveling up the Tennessee Tombigbee Intercoastal Waterway from Mobile. “We have marinas and great fishing. Our town has a lot to offer,” said Stevens.

The Antique Market reigns as the longest-operating antique shop in Jackson, the state capital. Owners Donnie and Darlene Register said they started their business in 1970 with $25 to purchase an antique mantel clock at an auction. After operating a clock shop for seven years, the couple began importing containers filled with antiques from England. While Donnie runs the shop, Darlene travels regularly to England to handpick everything from grand pieces of furniture to architectural elements including stained glass windows. Her specialty is leather-bound books.
“I dearly love antiquarian books,” said Darlene. “I look for books more than 100 years old, in perfect condition with pristine white pages, written in English, by any author you would want to read.”

Among her favorites are fore-edge books, each of which bears a hidden watercolor illustration on the edges of pages opposite the spine. She also deals in religious books. “We’re in the Bible Belt. We’ve sold dozens of Bibles,” said Darlene, noting the recent acquisition of a 1500s Bible in Latin with period pigskin binding.

Darlene recalled her first solo buying trip to England, during which she called home several times for more money. “I found two museum-quality pieces, absolutely out of this world and expensive,” she said. She bought the items im mediately and asked the dealer to allow her time to get more money. “I told Donnie, ‘You just have to trust me. If you had been here and saw them you’d buy them, too.'”

Darlene requires 85-90 percent of the items in their shop be at least 100 years old and ready to go in a home. “We have some pieces that are knock-you-down gorgeous and some very affordable things like $200-300 pieces of furniture,” she said. The Antique Market is located at 3009 N. State St. in Jackson’s historic Fondren District, a neighborhood of popular boutiques and galleries.

To the east of the city, across the Pearl River, is the Gold Coast, an area once notorious for gambling joints and bootleg whiskey, said David C. Price, owner of Gold Coast Auctions in Flowood. His auction house at 1054 Old Brandon Rd., was a supermarket built shortly after World War II. A hauler and wholesaler of antiques most of his life, Price started his auction business in 1994, but stopped three years later because of illness. He started up again two years ago.

“Cancer either kills you or you learn from it. I went back to what I’ve always done,” said Price, who got involved in the antique trade as a 10-year-old on the gun show circuit helping a disabled World War II veteran set up his booth. Price said the antique auction market remains unsettled and peculiar.

“You can set a world record and at the same sale miss completely on something that should be impossible to miss. … You can have two relatively identical items. One of them brings $10,000; the other brings $2,000. There’s no logic to it. I’ve talked to people who have been in the business 60 years and they have no explanation. It’s impossible to predict,” said Price.      

For a look at what celebrity collectors like to buy and sell, Antique Galleria in Collins rents a large space to actors Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke. McRaney, who starred in TV’s Major Dad, is a native of Collins, and his brother Buddy manages the booth. Burke is probably best-know for her role as Suzanne Sugarbaker in Designing Women. Burke, a former Miss Florida, and McRaney have been married since 1989.

Antique Galleria opened in August last year and has 95 dealers. The antique mall occupies a former grocery store, is air-conditioned and has a nice restaurant, which opened in early November.

Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi River, has several downtown antique shops, making Franklin Street its Antique Row. The Antique Mall, on the corner of Franklin and Commerce, has 30 dealers in an 1853 storefront. “There’s something here for everyone,” said manager Barbara Red.