Sense of Place

Photo by Fontaine Howard 

One of the best accounts of antebellum Mobile comes from an English captain named John W. Oldmixon. In 1855, after spending a significant amount of time on the shores of Mobile Bay and those of the Gulf, the captain professed, “Nothing of the kind can be more admirable than these shores; the celestial blue of the ocean, the dazzling white purity of the beach, the aromatic perfume of these interminable pine forests, and the luscious odor of a thousand flowering shrubs and creeping tendrils, all for a moment fill the soul with delight…”

The Mobile of today has little in common with its 1855 self: Admiral Farragut was yet to steam into Mobile Bay, Joe Cain was yet to dress as a Chickasaw Indian chief and a car wouldn’t drive through the Bankhead Tunnel for another 86 years. But if there’s anything to take away from Oldmixon’s account, it’s that Mobile has always been a feast — for the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands. And though much of Oldmixon’s Mobile has been lost and altered, the sensations of daily life on the Bay remain unchanged from the captain’s 1855 observations and are likely to endure long after we’re gone.

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Here, get in touch with your sensual side as MB celebrates the glorious frenzy of a city that never fails to fill our souls with delight.


Photos by Kathy Hicks, Jeff and Meggan Haller 


Mobile sure is easy on the eyes. 
Where camellias burst then sag under the weight of a winter rain;
Azalea trail maids’ dresses bobble like newfound 
Easter eggs on a battleship gray porch floor;
A stately, serious cannon sports a fall explosion of orange or blue;
Government Street’s living canopy extends its reach;
The right-hand lane disappears beneath a summer afternoon flood; 
The blinding lights of the Bankhead Tunnel illuminate the drive; 
A pelican plummets head-first into the Bay faster than you can say “dinner;” 
Spanish moss sags like a beard; 
And the sun sets for Dauphin Island alone.

Photo by Dan Anderson 


Inhale slowly and breathe in our city. 
Where magnolia, jasmine and pine tantalize; 
The scent of roasted peanuts spills onto Lower Dauphin through the door of A&M Peanut Shop; 
Rain comes and goes, leaving the crisp air fresh and earthy; 
Chimneys and grills puff on gameday; 
Aromas of funnel cakes and MoonPies mingle with cigarette smoke and stale beer post-parade;
A brackish breeze washes over Mobile Bay;
And the interior of the USS Alabama rests musky and metallic.


TOP: Photo by Adair Freeman Rutledge, BOTTOM: Photos by Jeff and Meggan Haller, Todd Douglas 


Don’t fret Mobile: The tongue isn’t left out of the fun. 
Where bushwackers pack a chocolaty kick; 
Cast nets are thrown with a briny aftertaste; 
Rogue waves deliver salt to the lips; 
A sweet tooth meets its match at the hands of a Pollman or George; 
​Satsumas burst with wintertime delight; 
Seafood is so fresh the taste of the waves lingers; 
And mouthwatering hotdogs with sauerkraut and onion rings reside on Old Shell Road.


TOP: Photo by Wes Hodge, BOTTOM: Photos by Major Adam Colbert, Todd Douglas 


Mobile was made for the ears.
Where a fishing rod spins with a million miniature clicks; 
A rocking chair groans under the weight of that last bowl of gumbo; 
Football pads crunch on a Friday night; 
Your favorite song dissolves into static as you glide into the tunnel; 
Crickets and cicadas and tree frogs screech in rhythmic pandemonium and a mosquito hums its way closer to your ear; 
A Little Leaguer sends one deep into left field with a satisfying clink of aluminum; 
The thunderous roar of rain on the roof of your car  — and then abrupt, complete silence as you enter the Bankhead Tunnel.


TOP: Photo by Matthew Coughlin, BOTTOM: Photos by Jeff and Meggan Haller 


Without texture or temperature, what a dreary place this would be! 
Where our favorite snacks are “finger” foods, meant to be handled, deveined, shelled and shucked; 
Saltwater dries stiff on sunburned skin; 
The heat rolls out of an open car door and the cold burns from a metal bleacher; 
Thick humidity chokes and charms; 
Wood is weathered and coarse, from the boards of a pier to the trunk of an oak; 
The Bay floor oozes between skeptical toes; 
High velocity beads sting hands on a near-freezing night;
Brass instruments rattle the chest across a cold barricade; 
And rain falls heavy and warm and often.

text by Breck Pappas

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