by Mary A. Scobey
The name Paul J. Rainey may have been forgotten by most of the world, but in the hills of northeast Mississippi he has become a legendary figure.
In 1898 Rainey, a multi-millionaire adventurer and big game hunter, arrived in Tippah County and purchased 11,000 acres of land in the community of Cotton Plant with the intention of making it into a hunting preserve. He later purchased the Ratcliff property and converted the small home located there into one of the largest estates in Mississippi. By the time he completed the additions, the lodge contained twenty-three rooms and featured a large, indoor, heated swimming pool at a time when few homes in Mississippi had running water. At the opposite end from the pool was a large trophy room filled with mounted heads and skins from his hunts around the world.
The nine bedrooms, kitchen, dining facilities and living rooms were encompassed in the middle section of the dwelling. On the grounds were fish ponds, a sunken garden and a round, brick polo barn designed to hold fifty horses. Rainey continued to purchase land until he owned or controlled over 30,000 acres in Tippah and Union Counties, which he stocked with wolves, bears, foxes and pheasants.
Tippah Lodge, as Rainey called it, became known for its gala parties and hunts. He was a renowned host who spared no expense to entertain his guests. Well-known figures from all over the nation and the world attended; when the lodge became inadequate for the hordes of guests, he built a large hotel in New Albany to accommodate them. This hotel boasted Italian marble floors and was one of the most luxurious in Mississippi at that time. In front of his estate beside Highway 15 the GM&O Railroad built a special siding and station where Rainey in his private Pullman car or his party guests could arrive.
More and more Rainey came to look on Tippah Lodge as home and sponsored many lavish parties and fox hunts there. He also owned a large plantation in Kenya, Africa, a twenty-three thousand acre duck preserve in Vermilion, Louisiana, and a racing stable in Long Island, New York. He was active in car racing, steeple chase riding, and his feats in polo caught the attention of the King and Queen of England when his team became the first American team ever to defeat the British. His hunting expeditions are legendary and his bravery was unexcelled. He pioneered the field of motion pictures on safari in Africa and was the first to successfully hunt lions from horseback with hounds. While on an expedition to the Artic, he single-handedly lassoed the great white Polar Bear called the "Silver King" and brought it back to New York where he donated it to the Bronx Zoo.
One of the stories that circulated for several years was a supposed sighting of Rainey by a former servant at Tippah Lodge. It seemed that when the servant recognized the tall, well-dressed man walking about the property, he approached him and called him by name. The man didn't reply but thrust a large bill in the old servant's hand and walked away... just another story typical of the myths that circulated around that time.
According to the headlines of the September 20, 1923, issue of The Commercial Appeal, his death was reported by radio message from his sister, Mrs. Grace Rainey Rogers, who was accompanying her brother to Africa on this expedition. Also with Rainey on this trip was his long-time companion, May Peters Graham. At the time of his death on September 18, 1923, he was 46 years old.
For many years Tippah Lodge remained vacant and just as it was when Paul Rainey lived there. In the early sixties I was given permission to tour this sprawling, frame structure and was impressed to see so many of the furnishings remaining. The most impressive room of the lodge was the vaulted trophy room, featuring an oversized couch covered with elephant hide, large tables, chairs and an antlered deer staring down at me from above the stone fireplace. There were heavy, velvet draperies framing the windows and iron beds in the bedrooms, appearing to await the arrival of the guests. The large, gaping swimming pool was a forlorn reminder of its glorious past. Although most of Rainey's game trophies had been donated to the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, I was told that an alligator had resided in one of the ponds on the grounds for many years after Rainey's death.
Gradually, the huge acreage was sold off in parcels, and my father purchased the farm Rainey's sister had given to May Peters Graham, who passed away in 1956. The location, with a single two-story, brick home, was remote and must have afforded Ms. Graham the privacy she sought and time to reflect on the exciting life she had led with Rainey both abroad and at Tippah Lodge.
In the mid-sixties, the twenty-three room lodge, along with 4,200 acres remaining in the Rainey preserve, was sold to the Jeff Haynes family of Jackson, Tennessee. The majority of the furnishings were auctioned off at bargain prices, including the huge couch covered with elephant hide which went for a mere $10.00. The Haynes family then began the enormous job of repairing and repainting the house which had scarcely had any upkeep since Paul Rainey's death in 1923. They then decided to use the place as a week-end retreat, and various members of the family brought down furniture to fill most of the rooms. In the fall of 1971, Mrs. Haynes opened the lodge to the public for a benefit tour and fashion show. Many local residents found themselves browsing through the rambling, old structure for the first time in thirty or forty years and trying to catch a glimmer of its glorious past. The proceeds went to the Parkway Methodist Church in Jackson.
A few years later, Tippah Lodge was torn down, except for the game room and the polo barn. A beautiful, plantation style house, now occupying the site of Paul Rainey's illustrious hunting lodge and belonging to the Hugh McLarty family, gives little evidence of the legendary figure who once entertained there so royally.
Writing short stories and poems has always been a favorite pastime of Mary's. She wrote her first poem at the age of eleven, got it published and has been "hooked" ever since. She currently has a book of her father's World War I memoirs titled French Memoirs - World War I for sale on the shelves of Square Books in Oxford and Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis.
I Remember Guy Bush
Faulkner and Yaknapatawpha Country
Les Pommes A Paris [Apple Head Dolls]
Out Of My Element
Love At Last
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