Mississippi / Slice of Americana / Travel

Queen of the Gypsies: Long May She Reign

Queen Kelly's Gravestone

Want to see the graves of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and Charles Darwin? Then it’s off to London’s Westminster Abbey. Want to see the grave of Kelly Mitchell, aka “Queen of the Gypsies,” then it’s off to the Rose Hill Cemetery in Meridian, Mississippi. 

Queen Kelly Photo

If you’re like me, this statement raises two questions: Exactly who is the Queen of the Gypsies, and why on EARTH is she buried in Meridian, Mississippi? I’ve seen my share of famous graves, but I don’t really consider myself a grave hunter, which according to the UK’s Daily Mail is a “dead end hobby.” But I couldn’t pass up the Queen of the Gypsies – no way. 

The Romani people (Gypsies), originated in India in the Middle Ages. After leaving their homeland, they first migrated to Europe, and today are spread around the world. 

Gypsy Wagon

At the time of Mitchell’s death, most gypsies lead an itinerant lifestyle. Her death occurred on January 31, 1915, while she was camped with her family near Coatopa, Alabama (approximately 40 miles east of Meridian). At age 47, she died giving birth to her 15th child. 

Because Queen Kelly’s family was so widely scattered, the decision was made to delay the funeral as long as possible to allow far-flung relatives to attend. And because Meridian was the closest city with enough ice to preserve her body for six weeks, it was chosen as the site for her funeral and burial. Members of the Mitchell family, one of the largest Romani groups in the country, came to the Rose Hill Cemetery from all over to pay tribute, and it’s estimated that 20,000 people viewed the body of the dead Gypsy Queen.

These events occurred in 1915, but from the offerings and gifts left on her grave, it’s obvious that lots of people still believe the myth and folklore. Believers think that the Romani people have psychic powers, and consequently, can see the future. Today’s devotees also believe that an offering will entice Mitchell’s spirit to visit them in a dream and provide answers to their problems.

Queen Kelly's Grave

Trinkets

The day of our visit, the headstone was festooned with colorful beads, and the stone slab over the grave was littered with offerings. There were trinkets of all descriptions, wine and beer bottles, car keys, coins, CDs, a Sunkist bottle (apparently the Queen loved orange soda), small stuffed animals, superheroes, and a tiny plastic figure of Yoda. I don’t normally believe in this sort of thing, but I left a nice set of purple beads that we scored in the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival parade – just in case.

King & Queen

Another myth that inspired a different type of devotee was the rumor that thousands of gold coins (to be used in the afterlife) were buried with the Queen. The huge cracks in the grave cover are the handiwork of would-be grave robbers searching for her fortune.

King Emil's Grave

After the burial of Queen Kelly, the Rose Hill Cemetery became one of the main Romani burial grounds in the Southeast. Her husband, Emil, King of the Gypsy nation, her successor, Flora, and numerous other Gypsies have been buried alongside her.

Queen Flora

IMG_5246 - Version 2

The grave sites of Queen Kelly and her court were not our usual cemetery fare. For me, one of the interesting things about cemeteries is how the living choose to remember the dead. And after my trip to Rose Hill Cemetery, I know that the memory of the Queen of the Gypsies will live forever.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

IMG_5237 - Version 2
Photo Credits:
3. Evelyn Simak via Wikimedia Commons

61 thoughts on “Queen of the Gypsies: Long May She Reign

  1. I think her neighbors might feel a bit left out. Not the usual cemetery fare is it? Thank you for continuing to bring these hidden finds. The two of you are like treasure hunters….painted ponies….queen of gypsies…. 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words Sue. Basically, what were try to do is write the kinds of posts that we like to read. We strive to search out unusual things or look at the usual things from a new angle. It keeps us interested, and usually forces us to do a bit of research, which we both love. There are as many different motivations as there are bloggers, but this formula works for us, and hopefully, for our readers as well. ~James

      • I really like that approach James and it definitely works for me as a reader of your blog. I’m always like…” Now where did they find that?” 🙂

  2. I find their of gypsies fascinating but never knew about this “queen” of theirs. I like the stories and myths and legends that go with the traveling gypsies and find their lifestyle of always being on the move quite enticing

    • I’m not surprised that a world traveler like you would find the gypsy lifestyle appealing Janaline. I think that most people find gypsies mysterious, and their myths and legends add a fairy tale aspect as well. ~James

  3. What a fascinating story. I love the practicality of why she ended up being buried there and the contrasting myths and legends. Graveyards are great places if you’re looking for inspiration!

    • In this part of the world, traveling was no easy affair in 1915. So in many ways, a burial close by was probably the most viable option. But having said that, I do love the storage-on-ice part of the tale. ~James

  4. Amazing the things you folk find! 🙂 I’m having trouble keeping up but I spotted your logo on another blog and just couldn’t resist a peek. Another treat! 🙂 Happy travels to you!

    • Thanks Jo. Finding unexpected sights in unexpected places is one of the great rewards of travel. And the Queen of the Gypsies in Meridian, MS was indeed an unexpected find. ~James

  5. Nicely written! I agree with what you said – “For me, one of the interesting things about cemeteries is how the living choose to remember the dead.”

    Thanks for sharing. Happy travels!

    • The graves of famous people are always a reminder for me, that every person in a graveyard has a story. And it’s sad that usually, most of the stories are never told. ~James

  6. Cool! One does have to wonder the significance of some of the offerings, a yoda figurine? I love the lifestyle of the gypsies, always on the move. They certainly lived with their own set of rules. I think it is interesting the Queen’s grave is full of offerings and only a few adorn the King’s grave. Great find and great post!

    • Thanks Laura. There were lots of offerings that I wondered about: a car key for instance. And I was curious about the lack of offerings on the King’s grave as well. But I did a bit of research online and didn’t come up with an answer. Maybe the Queen’s popularity goes back to her fortune telling skills. May the Force be with you. ~James

  7. how could i have grown up in mississippi and not have known of this grave?!!! most graves make one take a sobering reflective look inward, but this one makes one smile with joy! thanks for the great history lesson as well!
    z

    • In your defense Lisa, Meridian is on the other side of the state. In addition, I’m not sure how long the city has promoted the grave as a tourist attraction. In my research, I discovered a bit of bad blood between the gypsy community that remains there and Meridian’s city government. Apparently, city codes forbid fortune tellers from operating inside city limits. And the fortune tellers say: “It’s fine for the politicians to use our graves to attract tourists, but they won’t let us make a living.” Interesting – no? ~James

  8. That’s what struck me as well, how the Queen has surplus offering and the King one empty bottle and what look like a couple of leftovers from someone’s pocket. Captivating story. How often would the ice need to be replaced in a 6-week period? They must have a good source close by. 😉

    • Interesting question Tess. I’m not sure of the amount of ice required (a lot, I’m sure), but I can say that this was the deep south in 1915, so ice would have been a rarity. Meridian was a successful rail center at the time, and with its booming economy, probably would have had an “ice plant.” You don’t see these businesses much these days, but in 1915 it it would have been a big deal. ~James

    • Thanks for the reblog of our post Louise. The Queen of the Gypsies definitely deserves to be on your Real Southern Women list. This is a mysterious southern tale, and we appreciate your efforts to get it out to your readers ~James

  9. How fun is this post! Glad you left those purple beads. You, too, may have a glimpse into the future. Heck, I’d leave her some beads, too, just because she had 15 kids. No tellin’ how many husbands!

    • Rusha, I wondered when someone was going to comment on the children. That is a large brood, especially in the days before advanced health care. In addition to being Queen of the Gypsies, Kelly was certainly a devoted mother. ~James

    • It was interesting Anita, that some of the offerings appeared to be quite recent. So I’d say that Queen Kelly is still remembered. It would be nice to hear the story behind some of the offerings. ~James

  10. Interesting story and comments. The name Mitchell sounds so un-gypsy like. I expected something more exotic. Perhaps it was shortened. I’m glad your curiosity led you there. Looks like Emil lived a long life. Wonder how many wives and children he ended up with.

    • I don’t really know much about their culture Lynne, but I’d say that having your 15th child at age 47 indicates something less than traditional. Also, regarding the name Mitchell: there was a grave marker for Emil’s brother that didn’t get included in the post. The marker read “Slatcho Mitchell as Mike Wilson.” So, it appears that multiple names may have been floating around. To add to the mystery, Slatcho died the day after Emil! ~James

  11. I have stood quietly in awe in Westminster Cathedral bowing my heads in reverence over Dickens, Shakespeare and Darwin but I would dance with delight at the grave of The Gypsy Queen. Definitely would have hung a few bits of bling … as you say – just in case!

    • Virginia, all the empty wine and beer bottles were a good indicator that somebody had been doing a bit of dancing with delight. I read an interview with the caretaker for the cemetery, and he said that he routinely has to clear the grave of trinkets, which are replaced in a few weeks. I suspect that Halloween must be a busy night. ~James

  12. Those just aren’t wine bottles, one of them was Mogen David, Mad Dog– highly fortified and cheap. A favorite of the down and out with a mighty thirst. I noticed it was empty as well. The queen was pleased, I’m sure. –Curt

  13. In the UK a lot of places have stopped people leaving that sort of adornment on graves. Perhaps they would reconsider if there was a gipsy curse attached to its removal?

    • With all the famous (and infamous) people buried in the UK, there must be lots of opportunities for graveside celebrations – and maybe curses as well. I’m sure someone has written a book. ~James

    • Thanks Marie. The US has lots of quirky nooks and crannies with unusual characters and sights. The Queen is just one of them, and I’m sure she’d be glad to see you. ~James

  14. I am intrigued by the number of people who are drawn to the mythology of the gypsies’ ability to tell the future or the possibility of buried treasure. We have a similar tale related to the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau, whose gravesite is at the St. Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans.

    In 2004 Florence’s cousin, a priest in the New Orleans 9th Ward, took Florence to the nearby Voodoo Queen’s gravesite and said a ritual prayer seeking a husband for Florence. The following year, Florence and I met on an Alaska cruise, and the rest is history.

    In keeping with tradition, when we visited New Orleans in 2012, we returned to the Voodoo Queen’s gravesite with an offering of thanks – a ring which we placed on the tomb. A tourist came by at that moment and we spoke briefly with him. When we turned back to the tomb the ring had disappeared. There was no one else around who could have taken it. We can only assume Marie Laveau accepted our gift of thanks. Who am I to dispute the myths and legends that surround the gypsies or the Creoles?

    Thanks again for another great story from your travels. – Mike

    • A great story Mike, and the perfect addition to this post. The Voodoo Culture in New Orleans is hundreds of years old, and you’re right, who’s to question. I find it interesting that a priest would say a ritual prayer at Marie Laveau’s gravesite. But there are priests, and then there are New Orleans priests. I’ve been to the St. Louis Cemetery, and for some reason haven’t been to this particular grave. Next trip, I’ll definitely check it out (and take along a little offering). The good news is that you and Florence found each other. Thanks for the great story and comment. ~James

    • The Gypsy Queen’s grave really was pretty cool Juliann. I’m not sure how I’ve missed Marie Laveau’s grave, but it’s on my list for the next trip to NOLA. For an interesting personal story about her grave, see Mike Lince’s comment directly above. ~James

    • Thanks Sylvia. I haven’t seen the KIng’s grave, but I’m sure that it’s ornate, and get’s its share of gifts and offerings as well. And while the thieves damaged the gravestone, they weren’t successful in getting into the actual grave. RIP Kelly. ~James

    • I didn’t know much about the DOD stuff until our recent trip to Mexico LuAnn. What an intriguing idea (so different to our ideas in the US), and the art is so fun. We got some great photos of the art, and eventually, I’ll probably do a post. Doing a post will be fun because it will force me to research and learn more. BTW, bummer about Terry and the ticks, but I can relate. Because I’ve had dengue fever twice, I’m a bit on edge when I get in dengue country. ~James

  15. Cool is all I can say, thanks! Oh, wait I do have one other thing to say. I come from a small town in Illinois which has it’s claim to fame of being the burial place of Mother Jones. Neat history behind that.

    • Thanks for the comment Sue, and for dropping by the blog. I had heard of Mother Jones, but didn’t know anything about the person. Thanks to your comment, I did a bit of online research, and Wow! What a life story and what an incredibly determined and resilient woman she was. To lose her entire family to yellow fever, then to lose her home and business in the Chicago fire, and go on to accomplish all she did was incredible. And re: her grave; if you’re like me, you’re always struggling to come up with post ideas. The story of Mother Jones sounds like a great one that people need to hear. ~James

  16. I love your blog! Glad you viewed mine and thus, this is how I stumbled upon yours!
    This story is fascinating! I’m headed back down to the Miss Delta area this year, and I have already written this down to see! As one of your readers wrote – Marie Laveau’s is great to see as well if in New Orleans…..along with a visit to a voodoo store! : )
    Thanks so much for sharing the story and facts!

    • Thanks so much for reblogging our post. The gravesite of the Queen of the Gypsies is an interesting sight, and has such a unique backstory, that we appreciate your help in spreading the word. Hopefully, some Westpointers will go and check it out. ~James

  17. Hi! Great info on the Gypsy Queen & King. I grew up in Meridian and I don’t remember the gravesite being a tourist attraction when I was younger. If anything, it certainly provided plenty to be curious about. I didn’t find out about it until I was almost in Jr. Which is another story. Also, I’m not sure if you are aware, but the cemetery name is actually Rose Hill Cemetery. Thanks again : )

    • Thanks for the comment Laura and for dropping by the blog. And a big thanks for the correction on the cemetery name. I’m not sure how I messed that up, but I’ve corrected it in the post. We’ve had a few folks from that area comment, and I’m surprised that someone hasn’t caught it before. We enjoyed Meridian, and it’s funny that we visited there by accident. We were camping and had planned on staying in Jackson, and the campground was flooded. Meridian turned out to be much more interesting. We also liked the Carousel horses downtown and wrote a post on them. If you haven’t seen it, check it out:

      https://gallivance.net/2014/05/26/meridians-painted-ponies-raring-to-go-for-a-good-cause/

      Thanks again for the correction. ~James

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