Saturday, May 31, 2014

Marlin Miller's Gift to Biloxi

We continue heading west on Beach Boulevard in Biloxi with stops along the way to photograph some homes and some more of the tree sculptures.
The contributions of Dayton Scoggins' initial carvings (shown in yesterday's entry) "...inspired Fort Walton Beach, Florida, sculptor and frequent Biloxi visitor Marlin Miller to approach the city about donating his time and talent to sculpting more of the standing dead trees.
"The majority of the 20 sculptures along the Boulevard are Miller's. According to city of Biloxi officials, Miller wanted to leave his mark on Biloxi and return the favor of Biloxians who had helped his community recover after Hurricane Ivan several years earlier.
"In an American Profile article, Miller said, 'Most generations in Mississippi go eight or nine generations deep, he explains. When these people lost a giant tree, it wasn’t just theirs. It was something that their great-great-great grandparents played under as children. This token gesture from me represents a rebuilding of the spirit.
"During his initial two days of work (in mid-December, 2007), Miller sculpted four trees, creating a dolphin, egrets and a seahorse.
"In his second trip one week later, Marlin created an egret, a dolphin and a pelican, and, on a third trip, again one week later,...Marlin created sculptures of two sailfish" (
By the end of April, 2008, Marlin, also known as "Mad Marlin," had donated about three-fourths of the twenty tree sculptures along Beach Boulevard.

In an article in American Profile (August 26, 2010), Sharon H. Fitzgerald writes about Marlin Miller and his work:

"Ravaged in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, the coastline is dotted with fallen trees that once were towering cedars and centuries-old live oaks. The stark trunks that remain are grim reminders of Katrina’s wrath, but to Miller, 49, they are blank canvases. Since 2007, he has transformed nearly 50 tree trunks into dramatic carvings of coastal marine life and, in the process, transformed the spirits of Mississippians.
“'What I have gotten out of this ride has just been incredible,' says Miller, who donated his time and talents to create an outdoor gallery along a 25-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 90. 'It hasn’t been about money.'
"While he works, Miller frequently is approached by coastal residents who offer their thanks on behalf of their communities. Their words often dissolve into tears, however, while trying to describe what the sculptures represent to a region working to rebuild. 'The emotion, it’s still so strong here, and then I get all emotional, too,' Miller confides.

"Some strangers try to give him money to help pay his expenses, but when Miller refuses to accept cash, he ends up with gifts of homemade jellies, ceramics, Christmas cards and even a prayer shawl. 'I do all this for free,' he says. 'I don’t want to mess with the integrity of this project.'
"'The project’s purpose,' he says, 'is to give back to the people of Mississippi during a time of need....
"Raised on a family farm in Manson, Iowa (pop. 1,893), Miller is a fourth-generation artist. His grandfather painted wildlife scenes, as well as most of the business signs in their county. Miller was introduced to the Gulf Coast while stationed in the early 1980s at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. There, he developed his love of the sea and, after military service that took him to Hawaii, Europe and the Middle East, settled in Fort Walton Beach.
"Miller’s carvings capture his love of marine life, and his works are on display in galleries, restaurants and the homes of private collectors around the world. In recent years, however, his passion has been to salvage hurricane-whipped trees tagged for removal. Nearly every week, Miller and his truck, loaded with chain saws, grinders, chisels and wooden mallets, have made the three-hour drive from his home to Biloxi to carve for a few days. Occasionally, the truck tows a hydraulic lift to hoist Miller to the top of the trunks, some of which tower three stories high.
“'What Marlin has done for this community is just a godsend,' says city spokesman Vincent Creel. 'It’s a gift that’s going to give for generations.'

"Visitors to Biloxi rank Miller’s sculptures as the city’s top tourist attraction.
The White House Hotel

Biloxi Water Department

“'We recover, we replant, and we renew, but not everything that passed out of life should be cut down and moved on,' Dickinson says. 'Let’s celebrate what’s been left inside those majestic trees that have been here for so very long.'

"For Miller, his Katrina tree project has been a surprising journey that began with a single carving in Biloxi and kept drawing him back. 'I’m along for the ride,' says the artist, his eyes welling with tears. 'I have been driven by something much bigger than me'” (
Sculpture by Marlin Miller, named in honor of Woody Bailey

Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center

Friday, May 30, 2014


Our first stop in Biloxi, MS, followed our usual stepping off point when in a new city--the local Visitors Center. The RV park owner had told us to look for a house at the completion of our drive to the Visitor Center, but even that additional information did not prepare us for the magnificent structure that greeted us.
"The 24,000 square-foot center bears a striking resemblance to the Dantzler House, a two-story city-owned structure that stood on the site until Aug. 29, 2005, when it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Among the features inspired by the Dantzler: two-story porches, a grand staircase, and floor-to-ceiling windows.
"The Biloxi Visitors Center, which opened in July 2011 on U.S. 90, fuses the city’s architectural heritage with state-of-the-art technology and multi-media exhibits" (

At the end of the hallway in the photo below, were three tree sculptures.

"Biloxi’s Katrina sculpture project began in January 2007 when Mayor A.J. Holloway and Public Affairs Manager Vincent Creel spoke with Mississippi 'chainsaw artist' Dayton Scoggins about sculpting marine-related figures from the dozens of standing dead trees in the median of Beach Boulevard in Biloxi.
The Sculpture Garden, displaying Scoggins' creations

"The trees were victims of the saltwater storm surge of Hurricane Katrina 16 months earlier.
"In March 2007, after MDOT crews 'topped' the dead trees, Scoggins made the first of two sculpting visits to Biloxi, creating egrets, seagulls, pelicans and dolphins from a collection of trees just west of the Biloxi Lighthouse.

Scoggins’s initial five sculptures resulted from a $7,000 payment from the city (

"According to the Galveston County Daily News, the median of US 90 through lower Mississippi now has 20 'marine-themed' sculptures carved from trees killed by Katrina. The News calls them “one of the state’s top tourist attractions,” and their popularity is spurring Galveston, Texas, to create a half-dozen of their own Catastrophe Trees, left over from the 2008 visit of Hurricane Ike" (
After photographing this first group of tree sculptures, we returned to the Visitors Center. Across from the Center is the Biloxi Lighthouse.
"The Biloxi Lighthouse was erected in 1848 and was one of the first cast-iron lighthouses in the South. It is the city’s signature landmark and has become a post-Katrina symbol of the city’s resolve and resilience.
"The light was civilian operated from 1848 to 1939, and is notable for its several female lightkeepers, including Maria Younghans, who tended the light for 53 years. In 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the light’s operation.

"After being declared surplus property in 1968, the Biloxi Lighthouse was deeded to the City of Biloxi, which eventually opened it to public tours.
"The lighthouse has withstood many storms over the years. Katrina’s storm surge enveloped a third of the 64-foot tall lighthouse, and the constant pounding from the water and winds toppled many bricks that lined the interior of the cast iron tower. The storm’s winds also broke many of the windows in the light cupola and destroyed the structure’s electrical system.

"In March 2010, the city re-opened the lighthouse to public tours after a 14-month, $400,000 restoration (

All of our stops noted above spoke to the spirit of the residents and their resolve to rise again from the effects of Katrina's destruction.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

“Waiter, There’s No Fly in My Soup!”

But more on that later. First a little background information on The Blow Fly Inn in Gulfport, MS.

“The Blow Fly Inn was started as a happenstance operation (originally nicknamed Hickory’s BBQ) in 1961 by Albert & Mary Malone. As the story goes, Al’s good friend Mac (who had a restaurant in the vicinity) was constantly being asked ‘Where’s Al’s Place?’ Well, one day after too many inquiries, Mac gave in to his frustrations and replied, ‘Yeah, I’ll tell you—Go to Pass Rd., take a right and follow the string of blow flies.’ Before long Hickory’s was better known as the ‘Blow Fly Inn.’

“For years, Al tried unsuccessfully to list his ‘Blow Fly Inn’ with the phone company but was always told the name was inappropriate. After several years and many inquiries, the phone company reconsidered and it was finally listed. Finally the Blow Fly Inn found its niche among the restaurants of Mississippi. Mr. Al & Ms. Bert have since passed on and are deeply missed by the entire Blow Fly family…” ( Today, the restaurant is owned by Scott Weinberg.

We learned about The Blow Fly Inn on an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and I was intrigued by the restaurant's “phoenix rising from the ashes” (“…through death comes a new life, and the new life is even more beautiful than before” []) story. In 2005 the Inn was destroyed by 28 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina. “Now rebuilt and better than ever, the restaurant gladly serves up Gulf food for the locals and travelers alike” (
The Inn sits overlooking not the Gulf but rather Bayou Bernard.

One has the choice of sitting on the dining deck under the leaves of a massive oak tree
or in the air conditioned dining room (important in coastal Mississippi during the summer) with large windows on three sides.
Lover of air conditioning that I am, we went indoors and sat in the virtually empty dining room. (Lunch was late that day and we arrived at about 2:30.)
As you can imagine, references to the blowfly abound. There are children’s colored art hanging on one wall,
the restrooms are appropriately named,
and a blowfly plaque hangs over the doors to the kitchen.
But, alas, one blowfly artifact is no more. At the time of airing on DDD, each dish that came from the kitchen was decorated with a plastic blowfly. But that tradition no longer exists. The manufacturer no longer makes the larger flies and the smaller ones still produced are considered to be a chocking hazard. But there is a basket of the smaller flies sitting next to the cash register and our server brought us one to decorate the basket of bread.
I guess that two old people with white (Chuck) and grey (me) hair can be trusted not to put the plastic fly in their mouths.

But the building is not all that is new from the days when the Inn was owned by Albert and Mary Malone. “…(T)he food is…no longer the Blowfly you may remember from your grandparents’ days. The menu has changed quite a bit since Owner Scott Weinberg took over the restaurant in 1998. He says, ‘When folks come in and see the extensive menu and realize how different we are from all the other restaurants on the coast, they have a tendency to come back again and again.’ The recipes are creations by the restaurant owner, but he is quick to point out that the ‘family’ at the Blowfly makes all the difference in the world when it comes to the consistency and high standards that go into each dish” (

We started by sharing a cup of the Creole Gumbo that was featured on DDD.
The gumbo contained shrimp, sausage, and okra in a medium dark roux base that was seasoned with thyme and bay. And in true Creole fashion, it contained a small amount of tomato. And in the bottom of the bowl sat one plump oyster that, generous man that he is, Chuck left for me to eat.

At lunch you can either order from the full dinner menu or the shorter lunch menu with smaller portions. Items on the lunch menu included Hamburger Steak, Chicken Alfredo, Shrimp and Catfish, Creole Pasta (shrimp, crawfish, sausage, bell pepper, onions, and mushrooms in a spicy cream sauce), Seafood Platter (shrimp, catfish, oysters, and stuffed crab), Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Seafood Pasta (shrimp, crawfish, oysters, crabmeat, and asparagus in a white wine sauce), Catfish Fillets, Grilled Chicken Breast, Bayou Chicken Pasta (blackened chicken breast over pasta topped with sautéed peppers, onions, mushrooms, and sausage in a spicy cream sauce), and Red Beans and Catfish.

And it was this last item that Chuck selected for his lunch.
In his cookbook Louisiana Real and Rustic, Emeril Lagasse describes the ideal red beans and rice as being creamy and not soupy. And that perfectly describes The Blow Fly Inn’s. Tender beans sat is a creamy base that was slightly spicy and smoky from sausage and hinted of bay and thyme. And atop sat about a half-dozen catfish strips that had a nice cornmeal crust. Keeping our streak intact, the catfish was moist, sweet, and flakey.

His lunch came with his choice of one side and he selected the chopped cole slaw.
This was quite a good version—cold, crisp, and with a light and sweet dressing.

From the list of dinner appetizers, I selected the Shrimp and Grits.
I have come to believe that there are as many versions of this Southern favorite as there are restaurants serving them. This version included sautéed jumbo shrimp, sausage, mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers in a cream sauce and accompanied by a grit cake.

Now I have a question. When did appetizers get to be so big? I was only able to eat about two-thirds of it and took the rest home. But it was delicious—along with being very rich.

Chuck’s lunch came with a dish of banana pudding and our server wisely brought a second spoon for me.
“Banana pudding is a dessert generally consisting of repeated layers of sweet vanilla flavored custard, cookies and sliced fresh bananas placed in a dish and served, topped with whipped cream or meringue” ( I can’t remember if my copy of Best Recipes from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars is sitting back in our storage locker in Pennsylvania or whether I donated it to the Wrightstown Library when we cleaned out the house before setting out on this adventure. But I am almost sure that within those pages you’ll find the recipe for the beloved Southern dessert. (I am beginning to suspect that Southerners have a real sweet tooth.)

This was a great start to our dining adventures on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and earns 4.5 Addie. Let’s hope we continue on this high a note.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.