SHARKEY COUNTY, MS (Mississippi News Now) - Perhaps the most famous visit to Mississippi's South Delta happened in 1902. Back then it was a Presidential visit. And that visit over a hundred years ago is culminating with a new visitors center opening next year. Both of those events are perpetuating a Delta legend.
My excursion to the Delta was a day trip with some friends just to get out of town and celebrate a birthday; very few specific destinations in mind and no timetable allowed us to drop by Rolling Fork so we could say hello to my old friend Lee Washington. Lee creates figures from worn out cotton picker spindles.
I met Lee 15 years ago at the Great Delta Bear Affair celebrating President Theodore Roosevelt's visit to the South Delta in 1902 to hunt bear. His guide, Holt Collier from Greenville, lassoed a bear and the Presidents aids wanted him to shoot it. But Roosevelt Refused.
Cartoonist Clifford Berryman published a sketch of the incident in the Washington Post and a toy maker saw it and started marketing Teddy Bears.
Well, Onward Store has been the epicenter of the Teddy Bear Legend. For a long time, this was about the most tangible place you could see anything near where the actual hunt took place. And with the upswing in tourism along Highway 61, Onward Store has become a destination again.
Angela Stephens' sister owns the store. Angela comes up from Simpson County to help out.
"We have people from all over the United States and all over the world that Travel on Highway 61 for the Blues Trail from Greenville, Greenwood, to Natchez, Vicksburg," said Angela.
Folks stop in to see the old store, the Delta memorabilia, and the original Onward Teddy Bears. And also to eat.
"Molly's Tamales are our specialty," said Angela."And also the best fried okra and onion rings you'll ever put in your mouth."
The food and the Teddy Bear story are about to be augmented by this, the visitor's center opening near Onward in the spring of next year at the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Preserve.
"We are looking forward to lots of tour buses and lots of activity," added Angela
So the sleepy South Delta is about to awaken with people coming to discover where their childhood Teddy Bear originated. And probably to get some of those tamales at Onward, too.
July 16 there will be more than 400 Mini Coopers driving up Highway 61 from New Orleans on a cross-country run, and Onward Store is one of their stops.