More than 1000 years ago, a group left west India and migrated throughout the Balkans, Eastern and Western Europe. They were mercenaries, and often were mistaken for Egyptians. They suffered much persecution and hardship, and were misunderstood because of their wandering ways, so they made no attempt to correct the mistaken identity that led to the slang term “gypsy”.
In the 1600s, King Philip 16th of Portugal had had enough of the gypsy “problem” and banished all Romany to his Brazilian colony.
In the 19th century, wars of independence were fought in South America. In 1862 a group of Roma people left Rio bound for the land of the free (the U.S.), only to arrive in the midst of the civil war.
Emil Mitchell was 5 years old when he arrived in New Orleans. At age 27 he became King of the gypsies in a Cleveland, Ohio ceremony. The king died October 16, 1942 in Albertville, AL under a tent much like the one he was born under 85 years earlier. He came to this country in a time of war and left this life in a time of war. Due to the war, the king did not have as grand a funeral as queen Kelly did, but tribute in the form of silver coins and a change of clothes were placed with him as is the gypsy custom. Hundreds gathered atop Sand Mountain near Birmingham to pay homage to King Emil. He was returned to Rose Hill to be buried beside queen Kelly. He was succeeded by his second wife Lapa, 9 sons, 5 daughters and more than 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Queen Kelly Mitchell was the first of the royal Romany people to be buried in Rose Hill. While camped in Cotoapa, AL the queen died during premature childbirth. After having 9 sons and 5 daughters, attempting another birth at age 47 was just too much for her without modern medical assistance. The country doctor, Dr. Forrest Lee Hester, was sent for and offered $10,000 if he could save her life, but to no avail. Her body was transported to Meridian to the Horace C. Smith Undertaking Company, now known as Webb Funeral Home, because it was the closest place with proper funeral facilities, including refrigeration.
Gypsy funerals can be lengthy and they parallel those of ancient Egypt and also have a mix of Catholicism. During the funeral, the body lay in state for 12 days, constantly guarded by family and illuminated by candelabras at her head and feet. Funeral rites lasted 26 days, during which time no gypsy woman would tell a fortune for money or have a picture taken because it was considered disrespectful and bad luck.
Throughout the course of the funeral, more than 20,000 people came from North America, South America and Canada to pay their respects. A special camp was established at Bonita Lakes to accommodate all the gypsy arrivals.
The queen’s funeral service was held February 15, 1915 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Meridian. She was laid to rest in a gown of royal green and other bright colors with a bright silk scarf covering the upper part of her head. Her hair was braided in gypsy fashion with coins woven in, and around her neck were two necklaces, one of shells and one of golden coins. Each of her children placed a piece of jewelry in her coffin, with the youngest putting her earrings in her ears. The queen was also provided with toiletry items and a change of working clothes for her journey to the other side of the Styx.
About 5,000 people watched her burial. Speculation of very valuable treasures led to the covering of the tomb with concrete. So far, there have been several attempts to steal her treasure, but her cultural antiquities remain safe, while the would-be thieves were met with arrests or death for even trying. Some believe that leaving trinkets on her grave will entice her to visit them in a dream and give them the answer to a problem, thus all of the items on and around her tombstone.
“Slatcho” Mike Wilson Mitchell was the King’s nephew. He died in a car accident on the way to the King’s funeral, and a double funeral was held.
Diana Sharkey Mitchell was sometimes called Princess Diana Mitchell. Sometimes she was called the mystery gypsy. Not much is known about her except she was the wife of Joe Mitchell, so the mystery remains…
Mehil Mitchell was the 2nd Romany Royal to be buried in Rose Hill. He was a nephew of the King and died at the age of 8 from the Spanish Flu. More than 1.5 million people in the U.S. died of that epidemic because antibiotics did not yet exist.
Flora Mitchell was the sister of King Emil, and inherited the throne upon the death of Queen Kelly. She served for fifteen years, more as the head of household rather than like the British Monarchy. Flora died at age 70 in Yazoo City. She had two funerals. Her first funeral in Yazoo City consisted of a parade and much tribute. Many Roma accompanied her to her second funeral in Meridian, which was held at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and conducted by Father John Burns. Not a word was spoken by her graveside. It was the kind of stillness and silence that demanded serious respect and left a lasting impression on Meridianites.