Meridian’s Rose Hill Cemetery, where the oldest marker is dated 1853, is a well-maintained, historic cemetery, where residents of the area have buried their dead for almost 150 years. Buried in the cemetery are Confederate soldiers, well-known politicians, and lesser known, but well-respected everyday citizens who lived their entire lives just miles away from their final resting places.
But a few graves are different.
The story began in early 1915, when Kelly Mitchell died near Meridian. According to her grave stone, she was 47 years old. Kelly was not the daughter of a pioneer, nor was she the daughter of a politician, war hero, or even the daughter of an ordinary citizen; she was a member of the Mitchell Tribe, the beloved Queen of the Gypsies of America.
By all accounts, Queen Kelly and her tribe were camped near Meridian in early 1915, when she died during childbirth. Within a few short days, thousands of members of the Mitchell Tribe would travel to Meridian, Mississippi to mourn their queen. An article that appeared in Meridian’s newspaper, the Meridian Dispatch, on February 7, 1915, describes the scene at the funeral home:
"On one side of the parlors, with candelabra at the head and foot stands the magnificent silver-trimmed metallic casket. Hermetically sealed within, in all the barbaric splendor of a medieval Queen lays Mrs. Callie (Kelly) Mitchell, Queen of the Gypsies of America. Her swarthy face with its high cheekbones is typical of Romany tribes and the head, the upper portion of which is covered with bright silken drapery pinned at the back with pins, rests upon a cushion of filmy silk and satin. The hair is braided Gypsy fashion and the dark tresses shine. The body is attired in a Royal robe of Gypsy Green and other bright colors contrasting vividly with the somber hues usual under such circumstances. Two necklaces are around the neck, one of shells, an heirloom that was descended through generations. The lower part of the body is draped with “Sacred Linen” treasured by Gypsy bands for the use only when death overtakes one of their numbers. When the children arrive, each will put a memento of some kind in the casket and it will devolve upon the youngest child to place her mother’s earrings in the ear.”
On February 12, 1917, a funeral procession, complete with a Gypsy band and carriages carrying immediate family members, women, and children, followed the hearse from the funeral home to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church where the funeral service was held. Rector H. W. Wells officiated at the traditional Episcopal funeral rite.
On February 12, 1917, a funeral procession, complete with a Gypsy band and carriages carrying immediate family members, women, and children, followed the hearse from the funeral home to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church where the funeral service was held. Rector H. W. Wells officiated at the traditional Episcopal funeral rite. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was a large one, but the church was unable to accommodate all those who attended, and large numbers of of mourners who had traveled from all parts of the United States, gathered outside on the lawn and in the street. When the body was consecrated to the earth at Rose Hill Cemetery, legend has it that more than 5,000 people witnessed the burial. Queen Kelly Mitchell’s burial was the first of several other royal burials that would occur in Rose Hill Cemetery. When King Emil, Queen Kelly's husband died in 1942, he was buried in Rose Hill in what was referred to by locals as the "Gypsy Royal Plot."