Mississippi once had a governor named Ross Barnett, mostly known for symbolically barring the Lyceum door as the first black student James Meredith attempted to register at Ole Miss. But about the same time the governor achieved some notoriety for another reason…
Back in the day, a highlight of school life was the occasional trip to Jackson for state band contest, a Beta Club convention or other activity.
Capitol Street was bustling with activity and people at that time. School kids could stuff themselves with 12-cent Krystals, have a sophisticated meal at Primo’s or stop by the magic shop to purchase plastic dog poop and artificial barf – which were then only on the way to achieving classic status.
There was a lot of walking around, looking for something to get into, and a group of us decided to visit the state capitol where an actual mummy was rumored to kept.
Surely enough, we eventually found the purported mummy tucked away in a dark corner of the basement, but it was less than impressive so we wandered on.
As we were about to leave, down the corridor comes a figure wearing what appeared to be a full-length men’s mink coal and fedora.
It was, of course, Gov. Ross Barnett. (I remember him as a small figure but have read that he actually was over six feet tall.)
Ever the politician, the governor engaged in a round of hand-shaking, name-asking and invited us into his office, even allowing each of us to briefly sit in the governor’s chair.
Before we left, he asked, “Well, boys, have you seen the gold bathroom?”
Of course, we had not.
As it happens, the governor had taken it upon himself to renovate part of the mansion, spending about $300,000 and including a so-called “gold bathroom” without informing the legislature. The legislators were less than happy and Barnett got a considerable amount of press coverage for his effort.
Anyway, the governor jovially suggested that we take a look at it sometime and an aide ushered us out.
We headed back down toward Capitol Street and somebody – it is not clear who – said why don’t we take the governor up on his offer.
So we turned in to the mansion grounds and approached the house. One could do that, then.
A part of the group ahead of us stood at the door briefly and then entered. We followed behind and were more or less impressed by the interior of the mansion but saw no gold bathroom.
So someone suggested we try upstairs since no one seemed to be around.
It wasn’t actually gold, but looked like marble with a lot of gold fixtures. We each ceremonially flushed the gold toilet and, our mission complete, headed back toward the stairs.
It was at that point that we met two highway patrol officers with drawn guns charging up the stairs and looking decidedly serious.
There was brief confusion with a possible need to change underwear, and we were taken into custody.
It was eventually determined that we were merely idiots rather than assassins. Also somebody was going to catch hell for leaving the front door unlocked.
But while the troopers were menacing, it was Mrs. Barnett who really gave us a verbal lashing for invading a private residence.
Our story that “the governor told us to stop by” didn’t fly well but, for some reason she apparently called her husband who sheepishly acknowledged he might have suggested some such idea –never thinking it would lead to anything.
At that point names and information was taken, threats were made, parents were to be called and doom appeared imminent.
But then they let us go to tremble and cower all the way back to New Albany.
But the feared disemboweling did not come.
We never knew if the parents were called because they never say a word and, absolutely, never did we.
But I could take some satisfaction is knowing I had flushed Ross’ gold toilet and lived to tell about it. Dare I say it was an episode flushed with success?golden bathroom, governor's mansion, Jackson, New Albany, Ross Barnett, school, Union County