The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: Biloxi

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Biloxi is a city in Harrison County, Mississippi, in the United States. The beachfront of Biloxi lies directly on the Mississippi Sound, with barrier islands scattered off the coast and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Keesler Air Force Base lies within the city and is home to the 81st Training Wing of the U.S. Air Force.

Location of Biloxi, Mississippi, east of Gulfport (center), on Gulf of Mexico.

Location of Biloxi, Mississippi, east of Gulfport (center), on Gulf of Mexico.

Biloxi Lighthouse (of 1848)

Biloxi Lighthouse (of 1848)

The name of Biloxi in French was “Bilocci” (with “fort Maurepas”), and the name was sometimes translated into English as “Fort Bilocci” on maps updated circa year 1710/1725.

In 1720, the administrative capital of French Louisiana was moved to Biloxi (or Bilocci) from Mobile (or Mobille). French Louisiana (part of New France) was known in French as La Louisiane in colonial times, but in modern times is called “La Louisiane française” to distinguish from the modern state of Louisiana (also “Louisiane” in French).

Due to fears of tides and hurricanes in the 1700s, the capital of French Louisiana was later moved by colonial governor Bienville, in 1723, from Biloxi to a new inland harbor town named La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans), built for the purpose in 1718-1720.

In 1763, France had to cede French Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, except for New Orleans, to Great Britain. At that same time, the king Louis XV of France sold Louisiana west of the Mississippi, including New Orleans, to Spain.

English rule persisted from 1763 to 1779, and then Spanish rule from 1779 to 1798. Despite this, the character of Biloxi remained mostly French. In 1811, Biloxi came under United States of America control as part of the Mississippi Territory. Mississippi, and Biloxi with it, were then admitted to the union in 1817.

Now that ownership was settled, Biloxi began to grow. It became a summer resort, with the advantages of close proximity to New Orleans and ease of access via water. Summer homes were built by well-to-do farmers and commercial figures. Hotels and rental cottages came into existence to serve those who could not afford their own homes.[7]

In the early stages of the Civil War, Ship Island was captured by Union forces, which led to the effective Union capture of Biloxi as well. No major battles were fought in the area, and Biloxi did not suffer direct damage from the war.

In the postbellum period, Biloxi again emerged as a vacation spot. Its popularity as a destination increased with railroad access. In 1881, the first cannery was built in the town, leading to others soon joining the location. Biloxi grew again, and as different national groups came to work in the seafood factories, Biloxi gained a more heterogeneous nature.

During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces built Keesler Air Force Base, which became a major basic training site and site for aircraft maintenance. The Biloxi economy boomed as a result, againing bring more diverse groups to the area. By 1958, the first Jewish synagogue had been built in the town.

Biloxi’s casino history dates back to a period in the 1940s, when open if technically illegal gambling took place in a casino within the Broadwater Beach Resort. Open gambling ended during the 1950s. The Mississippi Gulf Coast became known as the “Poor Man’s Riviera”, and was frequented by Southern families interested in fishing expeditions during the summer. Commercially, Biloxi was dominated by shrimp boats and oyster luggers.

In fiction

  • Biloxi is the setting of Neil Simon‘s play and film Biloxi Blues, which starred Mathew Broderick. Biloxi Blues is the story of army recruits training at Keesler Field, the former name of the present day Keesler Air Force Base during World War II.
  • In F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby, a man named “Blocks” Biloxi from Biloxi, Mississippi (mislabeled as Biloxi, Tennessee in the novel) crashes Tom and Daisy Buchanon’s wedding.
  • The G.I. Joe character Marvin F. Hinton (“Roadblock“) was born in Biloxi, Mississippi.

The film Private Benjamin starring Goldie Hawn is partially set in Biloxi.

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