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Bombs, ghosts, forages, and now peanuts: The evolution of tiny Prairie, Miss.

Ghosts roam these prairie grasslands and haunt the crumbling structures that dot the landscape of what was one of the largest military munitions manufacturing operations in the U.S. during World War II, and before that a Civil War battleground and the site of many Confederate Army graves.

Or so says the Mystic Mississippi Paranormal Society, which hosts “The Ghost Hunting Experience” each October at what’s left of the old Gulf Ordnance complex at Prairie, Miss.

“This historic landmark has shocked many investigators with its paranormal activity, and reports of ghostly figures seen and photographed on the property, even in broad daylight,” the Society says.

I saw nothing ghostly during my recent visit to the $13 million Birdsong Peanuts facility at Prairie, Miss., that has helped support a welcome cropping alternative for many Mid-South producers who are now growing peanuts.

But viewing the few remaining dilapidated weed and vine-infested structures of the old ordnance plant, there is a profound sense of history relating to the long-ago war’s impact on rural east Mississippi, and the collective effort of the 6,000 to 10,000 women who daily worked here, packing explosive powder into 20 mm, 40 mm, and 75 mm artillery shells.

The project, contracted to the Procter and Gamble soap-making company, is reported to have cost $30 million — a whale of a lot of money in that day — and required 7,000 workers to construct more than 300 buildings spread over 6,200 acres, with more than 30 miles of railroad tracks and paved roads. It had specially designed telephones, water fountains, and other equipment to reduce the possibility of sparks that might ignite the highly explosive ingredients. Dormitories and homes were built to house workers, and many others were bused in from the surrounding areas.

Because of sabotage fears, no media or unauthorized personnel were permitted on the premises. Whether because of that secrecy, or the loss or unavailability of records after more than 70 years, there is little hard information about the project that touched the lives of thousands of families and poured millions in wages into a post-Great Depression era economy. Importantly, it gave women the opportunity for socially acceptable jobs and the acquisition of employment skills that enabled them to find other work when the war was won and the plant was closed.

The most extensive research has been done by Brent Coleman, a sheriff’s officer in the county, and some of that can be see on his website:

When the plant closed, much of the land was allowed to go back to the original owners. In 1962, through a lease from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2,400 acres of the site was deeded to Mississippi State University for its Prairie Research Unit for forages, livestock, wildlife, and ecosystem studies. Just up the road, the Birdsong Peanuts facility occupies 160 acres of the site.

No one there has reported seeing any ghosts.

TAGS: Peanuts
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