"Tiny Shacks" Sweep Mississippi
The “Tiny House” movement is sweeping the nation.
Cable TV shows feature young couples—often with children—downgrading from 3,000 square-foot houses to about 500-foot spaces. The "new digs" still can cost more than $200,000 to build.
The goal? To simplify. Chunk the clutter of life. Lose the stuff. Draw family into closer quarters to spend more time together. It seems a little radical, but nice.
Mississippi has a much more radical house movement. What's our new craze?
The Tiny Shack Movement.
A spruced-up shack for tourists at a nearby antebellum home. Source: Snapfish.com
Locals are renovating shacks that once “housed” our poorest citizens. They are making them into palaces where paying visitors sit, sleep and sentimentally recall the squalor of original inhabitants. Visitors may enjoy a cool drink while enveloped by central air and viewing a good movie on Netflix.
Out-of-state tourists "come on down" and try plantation life by renting shacks as lodging for a night or two. They just can’t resist themselves.
In Benoit you can rent a shotgun shack built just after the devastating 1927 Delta Flood. And then there are Clarksdale's shanties that are receiving rave articles from the very liberal media that once decried our sub-substandard housing. A shack motel sits outside of Greenwood. And at several antebellum homes around the state, such as in Natchez and Vicksburg, you pay extra to stay where the slaves once did.
These shack villages promise amazing perks. If you stay an extended period of time, some will discount maid service. That’s good to know. Perhaps you may even meet descendants of the real maids who once served plantation owners.
In Clarksdale, wealthy locals put up their finest visitors in a shack village, reserving multiple shacks for weddings. Less than a half century ago, white middle- and upper-class Mississippians tried to avoid letting out-of-staters see dilapidated testaments to our worst instincts.
Now at every site, the mantra is “authentic.” Except that each "modern" Tiny Shack has 2017-authentic amenities such as electricity, indoor plumbing, air conditioning and heating, Wi-Fi, memory-foam mattresses, microwaves and little bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Perhaps even a shower cap.
Also great is that visitors are surrounded by true-blue plantation acreage with old cotton gins, etc. Heck, if this shack movement keeps working, why not throw in a guy or gal dressed as the Mastuh or the Missus passing out rock candy to ogling occupants?
Even the hyper-liberal Huffington Post has written in praise of such sultry Delta shacks, saying, “Anywhere else (in America, staying in a shack) might seem awkward, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Besides, the squabble is a boon for guests.” We sure have duped those California and East Coast liberals!
Tiny Houses embrace a faddish “small is enough” mentality, and Tiny Shacks exhibit their “small is all” notion—as in "all that a slave could ever have." Mississippi's new economic boost—Tiny Shack Land—is a bit like a Delta Disney World designed to make people's past pain seem to have been pain-free.
The price per night in these units runs from $80 up. Well, that’s reasonable! And I don't fault anyone for making an honest dollar.
An "authentic" shack outside Natchez "back in the day." These owners couldn't afford
slick renovations; they washed outside in #3 tubs; their air conditioning was a breeze
on the front porch. Source: Corbisimages.com
Let me come clean: the whole "movement" has its allure. My wife and I once stayed in a renovated Tiny Shack in Natchez, surrounded by gardens fit for Queen Elizabeth. Something in me felt connected to the past, but actually I was connected to an "old-times-there-are-not-forgotten" notion of the past. That doesn't mean I won't stay in another Tiny Shack again, because to be honest the whole thing is fascinating, like "camping out" in a faux "assemble yourself" log cabin—I feel like I'm roughing it in nature except my insulated crack-free cabin blocks out nature's pests and weather problems. (And the fireplace has gas starters.)
Thinking back to the "Tiny House" movement, it has its own silly side. Going "tiny" seems nice until your kids start romping around your 400-square foot state-of-the-art tribute of modern quaintness. All is fine until the smell of bacon in the morning fills the entire house. Things are good until you and your mate need a private moment.
Going "Tiny Shack" seems nice too. But I hope I'll remember that it really wasn't.
And the thing is—I actually know how bad those sickly shanties were. My parents grew up in the Delta in Drew, Mississippi, on the edge of which Emmett Till was tortured in a cotton gin. I roamed inside and outside of some "pre-renaissance" smelly, claustrophobic shacks.
I can close my eyes and imagine a bored rich person today reading a Southern Living "shacks-are-back" article, then jetting it over to our beloved Delta to hang out in one of those true-blue, sure 'nuff, un-retouched Drew shanties, and sadly some probably still exist. Would they pay $80 to stay the night there? Au contraire. They'd dish $800 to get the heck out.