Fine art photographer Keith Dotson explores the ruins of the abandoned South Main Street in Yazoo City, with history and stories
In this video, we walk around Yazoo City, Mississippi to explore and photograph abandoned buildings and urban ruins.
Note: I just learned that the locals pronounce the city “yeah-zoo,” whereas I say consistently “yah-zoo.” I wish I’d known that when I recorded it. My apologies to the citizens of Yazoo City.
This is a “walking around” video, and like the Mississippi Delta, which moves at a slower pace, this video has some slow, lingering clips where I walk around observing the ruins. This is how I discover subject matter on all photo trips, and I just wanted to bring you along for the experience. I’ve enhanced the walk with a few interesting facts and stories.
In 1904 a huge fire burned down 27 blocks, a total of 324 buildings in Yazoo City. That means all of the historic buildings shown in the video were built in 1904 or later. There’s an old local legend that blames the fire on a witch’s curse, but it most likely started by accident the parlor of a private residence.
I want to make it clear that I focus on the abandoned and derelict places in every town I visit. All of these places, including Yazoo City, have really nice parts of town as well. The city is much more than just the ruins shown here.
Where did the name Yazoo City come from?
Yazoo City is an odd name, but Mississippi is chock full of place names that originated from Native American words — mostly the language of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Caddo, and Seminole people, places like Yazoo, Itta Bena, Tupelo, Tallahala, Natchez, Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Toomsuba, and many others.
I’ve seen this in several cities — when a building is removed, they use the gap as an events space. This one is in need of a little TLC though.
The price of Coca-Cola was five cents for 73 years
This old Coca-Cola wall ad is similar to one made famous in a photograph by William Christenberry many years ago.
I wanted to try to establish a date for this wall ad and I thought if I could identify the timeframe when the price of Coca-Cola was 5 cents, I could get a rough idea of how old this big wall ad might be. As it turns out, The Coca-Cola Company kept the price at 5 cents for 73 years! That right, the price of a bottle of Coke was 5 cents from 1886 until 1959.
Technically, the price began going up a little in the early 1950s, but the last nickel bottle of Coke was sold in 1959. Coke had advertised itself at 5 cents so pervasively — even on the packaging — that to change the price would have been very expensive. Imagine the cost of repainting all these wall ads that can be seen all over the country.
Another factor was vending machines. All of Coke’s vending machines took a nickel. Raising the price to a dime would have meant doubling the price — not a good business decision. Believe it or not, The Coca Cola Company tried to persuade the US Treasury Department to create a 7.5 cent coin in 1953, allowing them to more easily raise the price on vending machines to 7.5 cents. But the government declined to make that odd new denomination of coin.
Bank of Yazoo City — also known as the Bank of Itta Bena in Oh Brother Where Art Thou
This is the old Bank of Yazoo City, established in 1876. This building was constructed in 1904, after the big fire in downtown. This bank starred as the “Bank of Itta Bena” in a scene of the Coen Brothers movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou — it’s a classic and one of my favorites. In the movie you see the front and the interior of the bank — it’s the baby Face Nelson scene.
Loss of the old Ford dealership and its big ghost sign wall ad
One of the structures now ruined is this old Ford automobile dealership. The presumed storm that devastated this end of the street demolished this building. While the building was no architectural gem, its exterior wall was host of a great, multi-layered old wall ad, which is now lost to eternity.
Seale, Lea Leslie, “Indian Place-Names in Mississippi.” (1939). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 7812.
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