Nellie Jackson and Andre' Farish Sr. were friends.
On occasions Mr. Andre' has shared stories about Nellie and her girls with patrons of Under-The-Hill-Saloon. One of those stories is about the T-Shirt Nellie made for her business.
After Nellie's tragic death Mr. Andre' was contacted by the Houston Chronicle, which ran a story about Nellie in its Sunday edition on June 22, 1990. It reads as follows:
If you wanted a girl at Nellie Jackson’s place, you arrived before midnight and you arrived sober.
They were simple rules, but effective ones. For the better part of 60 years they had helped Nellie Jackson stay in business as the best-known madam in this Mississippi River town.
For that long, the city fathers – police chiefs, mayors, aldermen – had turned a blind eye to the goings on in the nondescript frame house with the red striped awnings on North Rankin Street.
Madam with a heart of gold
In that time, Nellie Jackson, with her heart of gold, bug white Lincoln and small French poodles, became arguably the most colorful and best known person in town, loved by mayors and doctors, saloon owners and neighbors.
Last week, at age 87, they laid Nellie Jackson to rest. They laid her to rest because a 20-year-old kid would not play by the rules.
He didn’t take kindly, the police said, to being told by Jackson to go home when he stumbled up the stairs to her porch in the early hours of July 5 and banged on her door.
He went to a nearby gas station, filled an ice cooler with gasoline and returned. There, police said, he doused Nellie Jackson and her front porch and in the process spilled gasoline on himself. When he struck the match, all three burned.
For the next week, Jackson languished in a nearby hospital, slipping in and out of consciousness, while in Natchez they said prayers for her at church and the mayor was among many who donated blood.
She was severely injured, with third-degree burns over 100 percent of her body. She died July 12, 1990.
The suspect, a business student from the University of Mississippi, was badly burned. He is in critical condition. Criminal charges are pending.
Four women and a child living at the house were not injured.
“She was special to anyone who knew,” said Andre’ Farish, a close friend of Jackson’s. “I guess it’s the circumstances, more or less. I had heard she had just up and kicked the bucket, I’d say ‘Well, she lived a good life.’ It’s just the damned circumstances.”
Arrival in Natchez
Nobody really remembers Nellie Jackson’s move to Natchez, a town of 22,000, or how she came to be as much of a fixture here as the antebellum homes and stately oaks.
She was born in nearby Wilkinson County on August 3, 1902, and as far as anyone can tell moved into the house on Rankin Street in 1921. When she turned it into a bordello is anyone’s guess, but for at least 60 years, that’s what it was.
“I was born in 1936 and she was well known when I came along,” said Tony Byrne, mayor of Natchez, from 1968 to 1988. “There wasn’t anything hidden so I don’t know when she started. But I do know that from when I was old enough to know, we always know about Nellie’s being there.”
Even when he was old enough to run for mayor, Byrne know Nellie’s was there, but didn’t do anything about it, because there were never any problems.
“She was operating before I was born and long before I went into office, so I wasn’t about to close her down.” Byrne said. “I didn’t get any complaints and maybe I’m a little different from most small city Southern mayors in my thinking, probably a little more liberal along the lines of prostitution and gambling, but I kind of believe red light districts ought to be legalized.”
Byrne said he believes his open support for and friendship of Jackson may have contributed to his loss in the 1988 election. He lost by 52 votes.
Jackson’s friends in Natchez remember her more for the quiet, fun things she did, than for the fact that she ran a whorehouse.
Apart from big cars and poodles, she was fanatical about baseball and horse racing and hardly ever missed the Kentucky Derby or the World Series with her husband, Jim Poole. He lives in Bossier City, LA., so he can be near the racetrack.
Farish, owner of the Under-The-Hill-Saloon said Jackson and Poole met in the 1970s in Las Vegas and had so much fun together they decided to get married.
“At the races, at the Series, wherever, it was Jim and Nellie in the front box,” said Farish. “Jim was a character straight, I mean straight, do-not-pass-go, out of Damon Runyon. He had the know-all and expertise and Nell had the money. They were hell on wheels.”
At his saloon looking out on the Mississippi River, Farish wistfully reminisced about when he first got to know Jackson, when in the late 1960s he opened a Volkswagen dealership on a bypass outside of town near some open fields.
“Every morning, I see this big old Lincoln out there in front of my building with these little old poodles running around,” Farish said. “That was the favorite place for her dogs to go to the bathroom in the morning. I’d get a cup of coffee and bring her a cup of coffee and we’d go out there and talk while the dogs were going to the bathroom.”
From then on, Farish said, Jackson took to calling him for advice on financial matters.
“I’d say, ‘Well Nell, look, I’ve gone broke in more businesses. You talk to your banker, don’t talk to me. I don’t know nothing. It’s obvious; look at my financial statement.”
“She’d say, ‘No, Mr. Andre, I trust you. I know you’re a business man and I trust you,’ I said ‘OK, ma’am, I’ll giver you the best information I can, but like I said, it hasn’t done me any good.’”
Always willing to help
For many people, Nellie Jackson was a legend because of her acts of kindness to neighbors and strangers alike.
“She was an utterly kind person,” said Joan Gandy, managing editor of the Natchez Democrat and a close friend. “I never know her to have hard feeling toward another. At her house, she had standards. She would not let anyone in drunk or after midnight.
“She cared about the young women who worked there. If they called up two years later needing help, she would help.”
She also helped if someone had been burned out of their house, or if someone needed help to go to school, or if some of the city’s nuns needed a ride to Baton Rouge or catch an airplane, or, in the Civil Rights troubles of the 1960s, a black activist needed help getting out of jail.
These acts of charity and the fact that she ran a quiet business are the main reasons Nellie Jackson managed to operate all those years with impunity. Natchez itself was the other reason.
“This has always been an open kind of community, being a river town with a bawdy reputation,” said Gandy. “Things are accepted here for what they are.”