Thursday, February 25, 2010

Those Hill Country Men (and Women) in their beautiful flying machines . . .

Started in Corinth: A Review of the Poem by "V.A. Grant"

by Terry Thornton

One of my favorite things to "find" are poems which contain references to specific local or regional history. This article addresses one such discovery this week --- a book of poems written about Corinth, Mississippi, and one specific poem about several early aviators from the Hill Country all of whom established themselves in the early days of flight.

On Wednesday, February 24, I found time to visit the new Goodwill Bookstore, 1885 McCullough Boulevard, Tupelo. Just opened, the bookstore is a delight in which to shop --- comfortable and easy and welcoming. The store, located on the left side of Old Highway 78 west of Tupelo, is just beyond the Natchez Trace and Mt. Vernon Road.

When I was courting Sweetie fifty years or so ago, I knew that area of Tupelo well (actually it was in the country between Tupelo and Belden back then). She lived with her family on Mt. Vernon Road, and near the intersection of her road and old Highway 78 was Bill Bates' Store where was sold the most delicious of hand-dipped ice creams. Sweetie liked ice cream. The bookstore is not far from the site of those hot afternoon cool-downs with some of Bill Bates' rich ice cream.

One of the books I bought was a collection of poems by a Mississippi author I'd never encountered before --- Grady Peerey of Corinth, Alcorn County, Mississippi.

Peerey was born August 27, 1890, in Adamsville, Tennessee. Named Henry Grady by his parents, he was, according to his mother, writing rhyming words by the age of six. His family moved to Corinth, Alcorn County, Mississippi, in 1900. There Henry Grady spent his live as a banker and businessman --- and as a writer of verse.

He wrote under the pseudonym V.A. Grant and his collected poems are published under the title Vagrant Verse. His book of poems was copyrighted by Mary Fleming Dorsey and published in 1975 by Texas Press of Waco. Vagrant Verse is long --- more than 300 pages with each page containing about six short poems. Mr. Peerey was prolific in his writing as these more than 1,800 short poems would indicate.

In the Foreword, Mary Dorsey states that the collection of poems have "been reproduced in original form, as printed in the hometown newspaper." And indeed, the poems appear to have been reproduced directly from the local Corinth newspaper. The poems are not dated but Dorsey has grouped them into categories. Collectively the poems offer a glimpse of small-town Mississippi life which reflects the "humanity and warmth" of Hill Country Mississippi living.

At the conclusion of the book, Mr. Peerey's nephew, N.S. Sweat Jr., offers "About V.A. Grant" providing a summary of his life.

Peerey was a difficult name to trace in the census records as the index gives the name variously as Peevey, Perry, Pursey, Peery, and Peerey. But I was able to confirm that in 1900, Henry G. Peerey, age 9, was living in the household of James Peerey (Peevey) in McNairy County, Tennessee. Later that year the family moved to Corinth.

In 1910, Henry G. Peerey, age 19, was listed in the household of James Peerey (Pursey), in Ward 3, Corinth, Alcorn County, Mississippi. Henry Grady was then employed as an office boy in a bank.

The 1930 census lists H. Grady Peerey (Peery), age 39, a banker, as head of household with wife Lillian Peerey.

Mr. Sweat states that Grady and Lillian Peerey had no children and confirms that Grady Peerey wrote under the pseudonym V.A. Grant for the local Corinth newspaper with occasional poems also printed in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Henry Grady Peerey died November 4, 1967.

Below is one of Grady Peerey's (V.A. Grant) short poems from Vagrant Verse --- and is, as you will see, jam-packed with local history of some of the early aviators from Hill Country.

by Grady Peerey using the pseudonym V.A. Grant in Vagrant Verse, page 3

When Ernest Waits built his airplane
Some fifty years ago,
He started something that caught fire,
And that was bound to grow.
So, Northeast Mississippi was
The place where aviation
First made great strides and outstripped all
The rest of our nation.
Take Eddie Stinson, and his "Sis" --
They hailed from Aberdeen;
And Roscoe Turner, from our town ---
Their likes have ne'er been seen.
Dick Merrill, young Iuka man;
Then Hinton -- flew with Byrd ---
The Keys, down at Meridian;
All stars of whom you've heard.

It is rare to find so much history in so few words. Below I've attempted to summarize the "who's who of aviation history" mentioned in Mr. Peerey's short poem.

Earnest J. Waits, a Corinth businessman (second generation jewelry store operator) got plans from Popular Mechanic for building an airplane and successful built one. It was the first airplane to fly over the Hill Country in 1910. Waits' homemade airplane was probably the first one to fly in the entire State of Mississippi and perhaps the first one to fly in any of the Deep South states. [The Wright brothers established the process of powered flight only six years earlier at Kitty Hawk. That Mr. Waits could take a set of plans from a magazine and build a workable airplane is proof of his skills.] See information at in Section "Historic Downtown Corinth" and in the Section "Roscoe Turner and the Junior Birdmen of America."

Eddie Stinson and "Sis" Stinson of Aberdeen were brother and sister. Stinson Field, the airport in Aberdeen is named for him. See article Stinson Aviation Company at and article about Katherine Stinson at There are several excellent Stinson family genealogies posted online which places the Stinson family in Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi. A small monument shaped like an airplane is on the edge of Stinson Field.

Roscoe Turner of Corinth, aviation pioneer, was inspired into a career in flying by his older friend, Earnest J. Waits. Turner, for whom the airport in Corinth is named, established several "firsts" in aviation history. Turner was also pictured on the cover of Time Magazine. For more information go to: and

Henry Tyndall "Dick" Merrill of Iuka was another Mississippi aviation pioneer. For more information go to Mr. Merrill, it is said, loved to sniff on "Evening in Paris" perfume while flying long stretches.

Hinton is possibly a reference to Lt. W.K. Hinton, Co-pilot of the first American airplane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1919. See article at

Byrd is possibly a reference to Admiral Richard E. Byrd, polar explorer and aviator. See article at

Algene Key and Frederick Key of Meridian Mississippi were pioneer aviators whose major contribution was determining a safe method of air-to-air refueling. They pulled a major publicity stunt flying the Ole Miss non-stop for 27 days over Meridian in 1935. Their mid-air refueling techniques made aviation history and was quickly adopted by the military. An excellent article about The Flying Keys of Meridian is at

The account of the Keys flying non-stop for 27 days over Meridian is one of the most fascinating accounts of aviation history I've read. They even had a catwalk built on the airplane so that one of the brothers could go outside the cockpit and adjust the engine on Ole Miss without landing. Food and supplies were dropped to them via rope from their supply/refueling airplane.

Although Vagrant Verse is difficult to read (small type font; changing fonts from page to page) and is flawed by not having dates when and where the poems were originally published, the reader will be impressed with Mr. Peerey's samplings of life in verse from Corinth, Mississippi. From poems about the two back-to-back Miss Americas from Mississippi to those about Elvis Presley to political figures, large and small, to mundane topics such as cotton and weather, to tributes poems, and poems about his wife, Grady Peerey leaves words which reflect his Hill Country experiences and observations and beliefs. And from his verse can be extracted a history of the heritage of the hills of Mississippi as his poem, Started in Corinth, shows.

The Goodwill Bookstore in Tupelo had several copies of this oversized book (8.5 by 11 inch) book when I was there on February 24. The price was unbeatable --- $2.99 each.


Peerey, Henry Grady. 1900, 1910, and 1930 Federal Census Reports. Trancribed from images available through Additional information extracted from Mr. Peerey's World War One Civilian Draft Card also accessible at

Peerey, Henry Grady writing as V.A. Grant. Started in Corinth. Vagrant Verse. Compiled by Mary Fleming Dorsey. Waco, Texas: Texas Press. 1975, page 3.


Janice Tracy said...

Glad to hear your vision is improving and enjoyed the post about some interesting northeast Mississippi history!

Terry Thornton said...

Thanks Janice. It is good to be "seeing" again. I enjoyed learning about what started in Corinth!

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi

Dorene from Ohio said...

Great post Terry! I love to learn about early aviators!!

Terry Thornton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry Thornton said...

Thanks Dorene. The tales about Mr. Waits building an airplane from POPULAR MECHANICS plans and actually flying it in 1910 are inspiring as are the stories about Katherine Stinson, 4th woman in US to obtain a pilot's license and who taught herself to do loops in her plane. Aviation does have a long history in the Hill Country --- and I was glad to find this small poem by Grady Peerey to pull it all together.

Terry Thornton
Fulto, Mississippi