Don’t the monuments in the Rose Garden on Monroe Street look great? The two oldest ones glisten as if they were new.
You can thank Barry Bingham for that. He painstakingly and professionally cleaned them of grime and dirt and mildew that had accumulated on the oldest for 137 years, on the other for about a century.
You probably couldn’t have hired Barry to do that. The work is a result of his love of heritage and pride in Vicksburg’s history.
His love of history goes beyond just reading about it. He has always been interested in the past, but what sparked his interest into action was when he met two elderly maiden ladies at his grandfather’s funeral in 1975. The ladies were his grandfather’s first cousins.
“Barry, we want you to have this,” they told him and gave him a copy of the family history.
Because of that gift, he said he felt a responsibility to study and preserve the past. Growing up in Vicksburg, he said, with history all around, he feels that one can’t help but develop an interest in it, to absorb some of it.
That history is not just monuments and historic buildings. He reflected that as a youth in the Boy Scouts, the hiking trails he went on had been there since the Civil War.
Barry was born in Canton, and the family moved to Vicksburg in 1965 when his father went to work at the Waterways Experiment Station. He attended city schools, went to Hinds Community College, and graduated with a degree in business from Ole Miss. He is the manager of the Roses store on Halls Ferry Road.
When he can find some spare time, Barry likes to play bass guitar, which he taught himself, “and I mess around with a few other instruments,” he says. He and a friend, Jerry Stuckey, play music mostly from the ’60s, “dance music.” They call the duo Williams Road because that is where they practice.
His primary interest in history was hearing accounts his grandfather told about growing up in Calhoun County near the Webster County line, “way out in the country,” he says. “If you want to get away from it all, that’s where you go.”
He also heard stories about World War I, for his grandfather was in the 82nd Division, stationed in France “in the thick of things.”
That’s probably why World War I is special to him. Barry is a re-enactor, and while most recreate scenes around here from the Civil War, he portrays a doughboy from World War I.
It’s likely what turned his interest into a civic duty, that of cleaning historic monuments. Of the four large ones and numerous small ones he has cleaned, he said the World War I monument in the Rose Garden, the first one he tackled, was also the most challenging. The marble monument bearing the likenesses of two service men, one in the Navy and the other in the Army, was dedicated about a century ago, soon after the end of World War I.
He uses professional items, either D2, that you can buy online, or Wet and Forget, which is available at Sam’s. If one uses D2 it should be sprayed on, let it set, then scrub off the filth. If you use Wet and Forget, Barry said, just spray it on and the weather will take care of it.
He cautions not to use bleach as “it is not good for the minerals in the stones.”
Barry took on the first project “not knowing what I was doing,” he says. “It includes getting others to help. I learned you don’t do some things by yourself,” so he has enlisted the help of Boy Scouts and of Wayne McMaster.
For a large monument, he said it takes about half a day to complete a job.
Barry has also cleaned the 1887 Confederate monument in the Rose Garden, which was erected by Louisiana veterans of the Siege of 1863. It was the first in the city dedicated to the Southern cause and is in memory of those who lost their lives in the fighting. It was so caked with grime that it was almost impossible to read, but now it glistens.
He takes on “whatever catches my eye,” he says, and next on his list is the monument to Dr. Hugh Bodley at the intersection of Farmer and First East streets. The monument was erected by the citizens of Vicksburg after Bodley was killed by gamblers in 1836. The monument once stood at Bethel AME church, which was the site of the original Presbyterian church. It was later moved to its present location.
Barry also expects to clean some monuments in other towns.
There’s a personal satisfaction in pursuing the project, he said. “The people who put those monuments up are now gone. They put them up for a reason, for their service, that they be remembered. That is the reason, and for no other reason.”
He feels it would be a shame to forget those men. He quoted Abraham Lincoln who said at Gettysburg that his words would be forgotten but the sacrifices of the soldiers never would be. He feels that the men on both sides of the Civil War gave their all, “and no matter who won they fought for what they believed in and deserve to be remembered.”
Though there is a preponderance of Confederate monuments in the state, Barry is interested in all that are reminders of our history. He describes them as “a liink to our past.” It was when some were removed in other places that he decided it was “time to get involved,” so he joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
He doesn’t see an end to his project “because we’re not likely to run out of monuments in Mississippi.”
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