“It was on one of my visits with Bama to Big’s house that I first met Miss Minnie Attlesey, the next door neighbor. She had come over to visit, the only time I remember her coming over there even during the years later when we lived there. It seems that she and Big had had a falling out and did not speak for all those years, though she would speak to the rest of us. I think Big had gotten mad at her over something she said to Big about how she looked before John was born.
“I wasn’t even sure that Miss Minnie wasn’t at least part witch. She lived to be more than one hundred and continued to dye her hair various shades of red and black until she died. She had two brothers, Ed and Jeff, living with her in this rambling old house. None of them ever married, and they were members of one of Greenwood’s first families, their father having owned one of the town’s many saloons that once served the riverboat crews.
“Old Jeff was known to take things that did not belong to him, and the story was told that late one night he went to the Peteet House, across from the Court House, dug up a Cape Jasmine bush, and brought it home and planted it. Ed had some sort of gambling wheels and every Saturday you would see him taking them down to Johnson Street where he would entice the Negroes to play them.
“Miss Minnie told stories of how beautiful she was as a girl and how many marriage proposals she had had. She had all sorts of apartments and houses surrounding her house which she rented, and when we were little she even had a Chinese laundry in one building. When she was in her nineties she was still climbing up on the steep pitched roof of her house with little Negro boys who she hired to make repairs. When she was almost one hundred years old she decided to go to Texas to live with a nephew, who I am sure figured she couldn’t live forever and probably had some money. She called the swap shop on the radio one morning and, without telling any of her relatives, announced she was selling everything in her house. People flocked to the house partly to see what she had and partly just to get a look inside that funny old house, which had been added onto repeatedly.
“She gave me some very old school books and Cathy some old sheet music. One day after she had gone to Texas we found the door unlocked and went in to see what was left. We got upstairs and heard and noise and just knew she was coming in after us. We got out in a hurry.”
There is some rare and potent element in the waters of Greenwood that has always produced unusual and memorable citizens, the kind Sara would have kindly called “characters” and most people would call “nuts.” Those who wander downtown at night and dig up bushes for transplantation to their own yard easily qualify as characters. I do remember Miss Minnie’s house, looming just to the west of the Stott house, dark and foreboding and not at all welcoming. There is a dim recollection of going up on the front porch and seeing Miss Minnie, a wizened little gnome with frightening streaks of red and jet black hair, dressed in what looked like and may very well have been post-Civil War mourning. I was not pleased with this encounter and I’m sure I let Sara know that and I was quickly hustled back to the safety of Big and Uncle Roy’s house. Oddly, I have no memory of the old house being torn down but I do recall that the Wells Insurance building which replaced it struck me as bland and boring. How could it possibly compete with a Gothic spookhouse and an ancient woman who Sara suggested might just be a real witch? She told me that she thought Miss Minnie lived until she was around 108. Sure wish her house was still there…..
Ed. note: Miss Minnie was recruited to write the Attlesey family history for the WPA in the 1930s. All of such efforts are always best taken with a whole shaker of salt, but I will pass along the gist of her tale. There is much drama of the Attlesey and Hamilton families migrating to America from London and settling in Kentucky. Captain Edward Attlesey operated a number of steamboats and flatboats along with a business that manufactured shoes, boots, saddles, bridles and harnesses. At some point before the Civil War, he bought land in the Delta, although his primary residence seemed to still be in Kentucky. Captain Attlesey apparently left almost 2000 bales of cotton on the riverbank at Greenwood and Point Leflore, which were burned by Confederate troops. (Don’t blame me, it’s a rambling family history). Miss Minnie motors on: “One of Captain Attlesey’s steam boats, the Union, was sunk in the Tallahatchie River at the mouth of Sisloff’s Bayou near his saw mill site. It was after the death of Captain Attlesey that his wife and children came to Greenwood to live. Miss Anne, their eldest daughter had married William Hamilton and had lived in Greenwood several years previous to the coming of her mother, brothers and sisters. Captain and Mrs. Attlesey were the parents of twelve children, five having died before the family moved to Mississippi. Mrs. Attlesey, her four sons (Edward, Robert, Jeff and Sam) and daughters (Emma and Minnie, eight weeks old) came in the late ’70s. They lived on Howard Street in the home of her daughter, Mrs. Anne Hamilton, who was left a widow in 1879 and died in 1883. [The Hamilton house was on the corner where Barrett’s Drugstore operated for many years. The Greenwood Post Office was located in a wing of the house for some time in the late 1800s. The Attlesey House was originally located just east of the Hamilton house and later moved down Washington Street; I am assuming that is the house which we see in these photos, although Minnie’s notes say West Washington. The little bit of the house which is visible indicates a late-1800s Gothic/Shingle style home.]
One other thought: As I’ve worked on architectural history around the state for many years, Sara would always fuss at me for creeping into abandoned houses and under inconvenient fences for a better look. She had conveniently forgotten her little adventure in Miss Minnie’s house, I suppose, but at least I know where I got those curious genes.