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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- “It’s another of our great bumps,” is how Charles Gray, director of the Hancock County Historical Society, describes Hurricane Katrina’s horrific impact on Bay St. Louis, Waveland and the surrounding Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"Bump" though it may turn out to be, Katrina dealt a devastating blow to the Gulf Coast's rich architectural history, and much of Gray's time is now devoted photographically documenting the losses among the 576 homes in Hancock County that were on the National Registry of Historical Places prior to Katrina. To do that, he often has to turn to landmarks in order to identify the slabs of concrete where the grand homes once stood.

He is being assisted in the effort by fewer than a dozen members of the Hancock County Historical Society, which before Katrina had 1,018 members and was one of the largest civic institutions along the Gulf Coast.

“Our job is to fill in the records that were kept over the last 25 years, particularly the National Registry houses, but also the other beautiful ones not on the registry,” Gray says. “Our project is to document the demise of these magnificent homes and, possibly, the families along with them.”

As the effort moves forward, the full extent of the loss of the area's historic treasures becomes clearer.

“Everything you see here is just about gone,” he says, gesturing toward a wall of the society's offices in a small house behind the courthouse, which is covered with more than 100 photographs of historic buildings. “Everything.”

Gray, a former New Orleans restaurateur with a rich, melodic voice, isn't approaching the project as an observer. He is one of the thousands of Gulf Coast residents who lost a home to the storm. He now lives on its slab in a FEMA trailer differentiated from those of his neighbors only by the silver Rolls Royce parked in front.

In his case, the loss of his home was made worse by his family's deep roots in the area and his passion for history. Gray's great-great-great-great-great grandfather was one of the original surveyors of the Mississippi Territory and a signatory of the Mississippi Constitution in 1817, the year the territory was granted statehood, and a great many family treasures were stolen by Katrina. The storm also snatched treasured antiques and artworks, including a painting by 17th Century Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn and furniture dating back to the reign of Louis XVI (1774-92).

While he clings to the historian's view of Katrina as a "great bump" for the region and sees "great prospects" for Bay St. Louis, Gray has no illusions about what has been lost to the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history.

“Everything will be nice and new, but everything will be a reproduction of what we once had, which will not necessarily please me as a historian," he says. "But that’s the way it goes.”

“As long as it has that ambience,” Gray says, his voice trailing off as he gazes ruefully out a window.

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34 COMMENTS

Charles,
I wish you well and Godspeed in your future as the leader of what is left of the history.It must be beyond description the loss you feel. Hearing your voice on the tape brought back fond memories of when I lived in Bay St Louis in Dr. Dunns home in my wild years. I now live where there is no history and it makes one feel detached from life. Hope to see you mid January when I come home to volunteer.
much respect,
W. David McCaffrey
Las Vegas Nevada

when oyu lose something a reproduction is the next best thing....i hope to see the beautiful houses rebuilt to look as close to the original as possible....those old homes were a big part of the Mississippi coast experience for tourists....and Mississippians alike!!

My great grandfather(a Captain in the Civil War) Hector Graham was one of the early postmasters of Bay St.Louis.
He and his family were buried in the old cemetary in Bay St. Louis near St.Stanislaus. Did the cemetary survive the hurricane, or was it destroyed as well?

I was laughing at Mr. Charles Gray, he is a man after my own heart, still keeping his chin up and handling some of lives problems. I am glad that he didn't lose any of his loved ones. I am still planning on retiring on the Mississippi Coast and enjoy the golden years. I learned that houses and antiques can be replaced with a lot of effort. Family heirlooms will live on in your heart and mind. I an truly sadden by the lost of so many lives, and yes I would of been one of the homeowners staying at my home. I just wish the federal government and the insurance companies would be fair in their settlement. I wish Dickie Scruggs the best of luck in court for some many of the screwed homeowners. I am headed down that way for spring break, and hope to be staying at the Best Western (allow dogs and she is ninteen years old)and looking around for a nice lot to build on later on in a few years. I pray for the many who lost so much, and their loved ones, that is what matters. Marc

My heart is sadden for the pople of the Gulf Coast, I was born and raised in Mississippi in a little town call Utica. My family now live in Lousiana but thank God they are one of the blessed ones, They had a litttle dammage. I made a commet early in reguards to all the comments being made about what the people should do. I now live in Virginia where we have been blessed, we have had stroms, ice and water but not like in the Gulf Coast. May God bless all of those
that have lost lovce ones and homes. Just keep your heads up. there is a bright side some where. God Bless you all, I will keep you in my prayers.

I guess everyone do not have a right to express their feeling on this form, well you just lost a reader, if my feeling is not welcome, I wont come on this site any more, what happen to freedom of speech. If I say what you want me to say, you would summit my form. Thank god I’m not like the others, I thank god for not letting me be like the norm.

You lost me
And you will loss a lot more, because their many many more like me, who speak their mind.

Several years ago, the Bay lost a wonderful historian & author, Stephen Ambrose. Although you cannot compare the two losses, Ambrose would say that we can look to the past in order to secure our future. We may not have the same items, but this time around, we have a unique opportunity to be able to make our coast better than it was before (and it was pretty nice) and hopefully this time, more hurricane-resistant. my heart goes out to Mr. Gray, he has two hard jobs ahead of him: rebuild his home & life; and rebuild the historial society of Hancock County. May God bless you in your journey ahead.

I commend Mr. Charles Gray, his efforts and the efforts of others like him, doing what they can to perserve at least the memory, if not the actual of rich architectural history of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I would also like to mention that if he needs volunteer help in documenting this history to please contact me by email. Also as a former architure student at MSU, his group might benefit from contact their program for preservation help and volunteers.

mary had a little lamb.....don't know what we did to you...come back and speak....cause i'm not of the norm. also...if your wrong...so be it ...if i'm wrong tell me and i will try to see another way

Sleeping in the back of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud isn't so bad - I had one a few years ago where the seats folded into a bed, and there was even a picnic table that folded out of the trunk, and a wash basin - with that, who needs a FEMA trailer>>

Andy

Just angry about how the person in New Orleans and gulf of Mississippi is treated. Katrina victims lost their home and lively hood, and need help. There are other who write, how that shouldn’t ask for help, it their fault, that they lost their home. Our government won’t help Katrina victim. What if it was me are you in this situation, and get treated like the victim in Katrina. Sleeping in a tent on the cold ground or a weak trailer, having no money and food, have to depend on the government. But get reticule, for the so call help you get from your government, but we as American is willing to send billion of dollars to other country, to help them out. This so disappointed to me. I don’t feel that I’m American. Even though I’m the 9th generations in this country. Society is the norm, and when you think out the norm, or not living like the norm want you to be, society will turn on you. In a heart beat.

Mary had a little lamb .... If you are 9th generation American, why does your English appear to be so bad? I don't think society turns on you for thinking outside the "norm" as you put it. There were thousands whose lives were devastated by Katrina, and rightfully need help. There are those, however, who were professional welfare recipients before the hurricane ever hit and will continue to take because of the welfare state that this country has created.

What's Mary's problem?

Man...don't pick on Mary.....everyone has an opinion...and some of us don't type so well either...myself included...{hunt and peck} and to think .....my mother was a typing teacher...LOL

I have to say that when I saw him the other day,Charles looks better and more relaxed than I've seen him in years. There is a sense of peace within and he always knows how to get us to smile AND get
his point across. And seeing the Rolls in front of the trailer was the first real belly laugh I had after many days of digging through thr rubble. Thanks!

Keep making them listen, Charles. You hold so much of our history. Thanks for that.

Kate

I don't question Mr. Gray's good intentions, but I must ask if no one else has noticed the oddity of someone with a car worth more than most people's homes having a trailer provided by tax dollars? Perhaps there is a justification, but the article doesn't mention it.

Mary's problem is that she had a little lamb. Donated to her in the name of the United States Government, HOWEVER it was paid for by us taxpayers. Just sit there and cry Mary, someone will come along shortly and give you another lamb. Wouldn't want you to lose that fine sitting place.

Amen John of Tampa

THAT WASN'T A SILVER CLOUD.....IT WAS A RUSTY BENTLEY...shoot who ya foolin'

Guess my response did not make it through your censors? Why would that be? After this tirade by little Miss Mary who had a little lamb? I must not meet with your political view....THANKS FOR NOHTING msnbc.

"

I guess everyone do not have a right to express their feeling on this form, well you just lost a reader, if my feeling is not welcome, I wont come on this site any more, what happen to freedom of speech. If I say what you want me to say, you would summit my form. Thank god I’m not like the others, I thank god for not letting me be like the norm.

You lost me
And you will loss a lot more, because their many many more like me, who speak their mind."

mary had a little lamb (Sent Dec 31, 2005 5:44:57 PM)

Very sad to read about your loss, Charles. I'm from Pakistan working and living in the Arabian Gulf at present. We had a devastating earthquake in Pakistan on the 8th of October with a similar catastrophe faced by people in your area. Can understand what people may be going through over there. May Almighty bless all those who have lost their loved ones with strength to bear their loss and build up a whole new future. Best of luck!

See what I mean? People like john is what this society is build on. Always judging others and never see their faults. John, tell me have you been perfect all your life. You done everything by the law, live by the golden rules. Before you point a finger at anyone else look at yourself first. Can I ask you a question? Who started welfare? Who made it so impossible for a person to get on welfare? Who ideal was it to make it easy for a person to get on welfare? Before you get angry at the people that on welfare? Ask your government why it is so easy for some people to do welfare fraud. And why does he let them get away with it. (Oh by the way I work and pay my taxes)

How quickly we forget! I think I remember a cute real estate gal, nicely dressed in blue, standing next to her white Jaguar, living in her gutted home, surrounded by rubble, trying to make a living for herself. I've never heard such a uproar of ridicule and resentment about her. I have alot of respect for her. I have just as much respect for Mr. Gray, his blue shirt, his silver Rolls Royce, his FEMA trailer, and his rubbled surroundings. But I sure don't hear (or read) any ridicule or resentment towards him. What's the difference? Please don't start with the "It's how they make their money" thing. We all heard that enough already. I just love gutsy, hard working, positive, forward looking people like these two. My best to all in the region!

Hey Mary, get a grip. Glad to know you have a job and pay taxes, but guess what? there are alot of people in N.O. and the gulf coast area that sit on their duff and collect $$ from the government. It's just so sad that somehow the media always seems to find them, interview them and in return the rest of us (who go to work everyday) have to live with the stigma that we too are lazy and ignorant, simply because we happen to live in this region. So, if you do work and you are not milking the system, what are your painties all in a wad about?? Somewhere you and your lamb are carrying some festering guilt about something......

Dawn sez:

Hey Mary, get a grip. Glad to know you have a job and pay taxes, but guess what? there are alot of people in N.O. and the gulf coast area that sit on their duff and collect $$ from the government.

Wow. Where are these people? All I see are people
trying to rebuild. Maybe things are different in
New Orleans....no, I know they are different in
New Orleans.

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