By JACK WEATHERLY
Willie Seaberry is gone but the stuff of his life isn’t.
It’s together as a collection bought in a bidding process by Shonda Warner.
Now she’s looking for a home for it, or a place to stay.
“Hopefully there will be a number of renowned institutions interested in preserving this vernacular treasure,” she said.
“There a very few real juke joints left in the United States.”
She was one of six bidders for the cache of decorations and signs inside and outside at Po’ Monkey’s Lounge near Merigold where Seaberry lived and entertained for decades with his shack throbbing with the blues.
Many X-rated toy monkeys hung from the ceiling, British expat author Richard Grant – who lived in the Delta for a while and now resides in Jackson – wrote in “Dispatches From Pluto,” a 2015 book that still appears from time to time on the Mississippi best-seller list and features a photo of Po’ Monkey’s on the cover.
Warner wants to share the cultural cache with the public. The decorations have a decided X-or R rating, depending on who’s critiquing it.
Warner said she wants to work with the Seaberry family, who stipulated that all of the items be kept together instead of being dispersed at risk the loss of their identity and also with the Hiter family on whose land, the lounge and home is located to as “a way to continue Willie’s good work.”
The shack has a National Register of Historic Places marker in front, and is on the Mississippi Blues Trail that wends its way through the Delta and beyond.
“It could possibly stay in the community,” she said. “It could possibly be shared, occasionally go to, say, the nation’s capital or someplace else, she said.
She said she plans to meet with Mississippians next week, including the Department of Archives and History, to talk about the collection.
Warner lived in Clarksdale for 12 years until recently, running the private farmland investment company she founded, Chess Agricultural Full Harvest Partners, from there.
Now in Kansas City operating the firm, which has tens of thousands of acres of farmland around the country in its portfolio, including “a good amount” in Mississippi.
Warner said she was drawn to the Delta “on many levels, both culturally and from an investment viewpoint.”
A native of Nebraska, she was a frequent patron of Po’ Monkey’s near Merigold, which ceased functioning as a juke house in July 2016 when Seaberry died.
The Nebraska native’s family acquired, and still owns, a farm after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act to encourage settlement of western territories.
After she moved to Clarksdale in 2006, she founded The PORCH (Preservation of Rural Cultural Heritage) Society on her Seven Chimneys farm at Clarksdale.
Head Auctions and Realty of Flora conducted the sale which ended Monday with the selection of Warner’s as the best bid.
The family sought $100,000 for the trove but that figure was not reached, said William Head, who ran the auction.
Warner declined to say how much she paid. “Sorry, we’re kind of private,” she said in a phone conversation.
The town of Merigold has held two blues festivals honoring Seaberry since his death. But the Seaberry family now owns the rights to his likeness and name and must be paid for use of them.
“I was a frequent participant at the revelry at Po’ Monkey’s, as well as Red’s in Clarksdale,” Warner said.
She sees them as “ambassadors of goodwill for the state of Mississippi.”
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