Several of the fishermen, boat owners and factory workers who shaped Biloxi’s history as the Seafood Capital of the World have been portrayed during the annual Biloxi Cemetery Tour and are being immortalized in a new heritage museum.
Rather than pictures of the people and exhibits of the boats, their stories will be told on five computers set up in a dedicated room on the second floor of the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum at Point Cadet.
Like Jimmy Ellis, who could knit a cast net in a day and before Hurricane Katrina demonstrated his skills to school groups visiting the Seafood Museum. “He called them his little mullet,” recalls museum director Robin Krohn David.
The idea for this new, permanent exhibit is similar to what’s been done at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where visitors follow the story of an individual to understand the events of the time, said Kim Ross Bush, a board member at the Seafood Museum.
The public will get a first look at the new Heritage Museum at an open house from 1-3 p.m. Oct. 28, the same day as the fourth class of seafood workers will be inducted into the museum’s Heritage Hall of Fame. The open house is free, and cake and other refreshments will be served.
The Seafood Museum board tapped local experts to design the displays and discover the stories of the Coast seafood industry. Mozart Dedeaux with Design Dedeaux created the workings of the room and is finalizing a motion-triggered narrative — complete with sound effects of birds and water — as visitors approach the computers.
Laurie Rosetti, who researches historical figures for the Biloxi Cemetery Tours each October, and her son Bryan Rosetti Jr, a graduate student at University of Southern Mississippi, researched the 400 people already inducted into the Hall of Fame beginning in 2014 and wrote a script of each of their lives.
“The project was a perfect fit for he and I to do together,” she said. Her son has a bachelor’s degree in history and his work on the project fulfills his requirement to be published to earn a master’s degree in English. They researched and documented the past, using the resources of the Local History & Genealogy Department at the Biloxi Library, the narratives on the Hall of Fame nominations and the Newsbank of online newspapers.
“There’s also so many online resources now that make it so much easier,” she said. Not everyone they researched made it into print or left a detailed obituary, she said, and she got excited about uncovering stories she never heard before.
Icons on the computer screens will display the four categories in the Hall of Fame: Boat Owner /Captain /Commercial Fisherman; Commercial Seafood Processing Companies; Supporting Industry Tradesmen and Boat Name. From there they can choose a story. When their stories are recorded and loaded into the computers, visitors will be able to choose the person they want to meet.
“It’s 400 beautiful stories,” said Ross Bush. Her father, Capt. Eley Ross, recorded his story before he died and it’s part of the movie that plays at the Seafood Museum theater.
“I think it’s such a blessing that I can see him and hear him,” she said.
This new exhibit dips further into the history of the Croatians, Yugoslovian, French and other immigrants who came to work in the seafood industry when the founding fathers realized the “wealth of the Gulf,” she said.
The Vietnamese and other groups followed and Krohn David said South Mississippi became such a melting pot because of the seafood industry.
This new exhibit is designed to keep alive the stories of the those who worked the industry, as do the Seafood Museum, Biloxi’s Seafood Festival and the descendents who nominate their family members for the Hall of Fame.
“We’ll never run out of names as big as the industry was,” Ross Bush said. These families came and lived the American dream, she said, and passed on “a work ethic like no other” to the generations who followed.