Where the Southern Cross the Dog
This spot is deep at the roots of blues history, though most people have never heard of it.
The blues had to come from somewhere. Musically, you can trace the influences, but when did the blues actually become the blues? And where did they surface as the blues? Most people would say sometime around the turn of the century, in the Mississippi Delta.
From there, the seeds blew out all over and fertilized music scenes everywhere, from Chicago and New York to England and South Africa, even Japan and China.
W.C. Handy was stuck for too many hours one day in 1903 (or so) at the train depot in Tutwiler, in the northern part of the Delta, and he overheard another guy singing a song about "going where the Southern cross the Dog." Handy (who lived in Clarksdale) had never heard harmonies like this. This is the first documented use of blues harmonies. (What's more, the guy was playing guitar using the back of a knife as a slide--first slide guitar ever to make it into the history books.)
The blues had been forming in a rich stew of influences up and down the Delta. This was their first contact with someone who wrote it down.
So what does it mean, "where the Southern cross the Dog?" Ken's pointing at it right here.
The Southern was a railroad. It was later bought by the Illinois Central. (The fabled City of New Orleans ran on Southern rails, and for many in the Delta those rails were the road out of poverty, heading north to Chicago--spreading the blues along the way.)
Another railroad, the Yazoo Delta, was more popularly known as the Yellow Dog.
The Southern tracks crossed the Yazoo Delta railroad in Moorhead, MS.
That's "where the Southern cross the Dog."
The site has been preserved, even though the Yazoo Delta rails today end about 50 yards in either direction from the old-fashioned crossing. (Railroads don't use crossings like this anymore; they're very dangerous, as you might guess.) The Southern rails are still in use, and we saw train cars being moved back and forth while we were there.
We were told there would be a historical market to indicate the spot. We drove up and down (story of our lives) without seeing the sign. Finally we found the crossing on our own. Later on, we ran across the post that used to hold the sign. There was a note in a Ziploc bag tied to the post, explaining that the sign had been removed for refurbishing. (Click on the picture above to see the note.)
Simple directions for finding the crossing: It's about 75 feet from the Moorhead, MS, post office. If you find the post office, you can see the crossing from there (it's just past the gazebo).
(Click on the picture for a bigger version.)
Or you can just follow Highway 3 south from the 82 until you hit tracks. The tracks that cross the road here are the old Southern, as you'll see from the names of the streets running on either side of the tracks (N. and S. Southern Ave.). The signpost with the missing sign is just south of the tracks, on the right as you cross them.
At the intersection of Highway 3 and the tracks is the Yellow Dog Cafe, where you should be able to find someone who can point you toward the crossing, about 100 yards away--between the historical marker and the water tower you see in the distance.
Joe is right
But yet another attentive reader, this time one from England, provides a further discussion:
Yellow Dog is a phrase that comes up in other places too:
Nicknaming the Yazoo Delta was probably a fond local amusement that had to do with all the usual things people grumble about: poor service, low wages, general incompetence, whatever.
Apparently the phrase where the Southern cross the Dog and the blues legend about the spot figure prominently in August Wilsons play The Piano Lesson. I havent seen it, so I cant tell you how they fit in. Its supposed to be a good show, though.