Category Archives: Leland

Remembering Dot Turk, My Charming Guide to Leland, Mississippi


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91gmc-pdU2LI was sad to learn of the passing of Dorothy Love Turk, who died earlier this month at the age of 88.  Dorothy — or “Dot” as she insisted I and everyone else call her — was one of the very first people I contacted when I began my research on Jim Henson back in 2010.  As a guide at the Jim Henson Boyhood Museum in Leland, she was great at helping me track down All Things Jim Henson in their little town–and as a lifelong resident of Leland, she was also the expert on the history of Leland. Heck, she even wrote a terrific history of the place, charmingly called Leland, Mississippi: From Hell Hole to Beauty Spot.  That was her kind of title.

IMG_6089.jpgHer book on the history of Leland, in fact, was also one of the first I bought when I started researching–I had to grab it from a used book store–and she was genuinely touched that I had purchased it, read it, and even brought it with me for her to sign. When I handed the book over for her sign, she turned to the blank front page, and wrote simply, “to Brian, Dorothy Love Turk.”  When I returned to Leland a year or so later for a Henson-related event, she ran up to me somewhat flustered and apologized for “signing [my] book so badly!”  She said she was so rattled by the idea that anyone would ask her to sign her book that she didn’t know what to write.  That sort of adorable humility was very much part of her charm.

Dot served as my eager tour guide during my time in Leland, introducing me around–having her vouch for me went a long way with the locals–helping me get in touch with some of Jim’s childhood friends, and regaling me with the gossip and town legends that made Leland such a magical place for Jim Henson to spend his early years. They take pretty good care of Jim Henson down there, and it’s thanks in no small part to people like Dot.  She took good care of me, too, and I’ll miss her.

Back in the Delta

I was there less than 24 hours, but the time I spent last week in Leland, Mississippi — Jim’s childhood hometown — was, as usual, one of the best times ever. With their Southern hospitality and gentle charm, the fine folks in Leland just plain take good care of their guests — and they take good care of Jim Henson there, too. They’re rightfully very proud that Jim’s roots run deep into the Delta, and the Jim Henson’s Delta Boyhood Exhibit is one of those not-to-be-missed attractions. It’s intimate and charming, with a peek at Jim’s life in Leland in the late 1930s and early 1940s, as well as some really nice displays featuring Kermit the Frog and — depending on when you might be there — other Muppets.

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The Jim Henson’s Delta Boyhood Exhibit in Leland, Mississippi. All it needs is you.

Ashley Zepponi and her team in Leland took great care of me — I had the pleasure of staying in the Thompson House Bed and Breakfast, one of Leland’s grand old houses — and on Thursday night, they hosted a really wonderful reception and book signing at the headquarters for the Leland Progress (whose ace editor, Stephanie Patton, graciously provided her newspaper’s offices — a sprawling loft-like space with exposed brick walls — and helped put together a terrific event). I had a great time meeting — and in some cases re-meeting — not just Lelanders, but the many Jim Henson and Muppet fans who had come from as far away as Kansas to have a conversation and get their book signed.  It was very flattering — and, as always, very humbling — to meet people with such enthusiasm. Thank you, one and all, for coming out.

I’m back in Maryland again, and later this week, I’ll be speaking over at University Park — Jim’s other hometown, where the Hensons moved for good in 1948.