It was a popular cultural attraction along I-55 North halfway between Exits 51 and 56, neatly tucked between a hay field and horse pasture out of the passenger side’s window. It was most spectacular in the evenings, just as the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon–bathed in a picturesque sepia. An untold number of Americans–and folks from around the world–had viewed it and even photographed it over the past four decades. And, on Sunday evening, its ever-so crippled self finally gave in to a wind gust that accompanied a late-summer thunderstorm, closing the book on a Copiah County icon.
The Rainbow Barn, a part of the Dixie Gardens property–located on Dixie Garden Road–that belonged to the late T. A. ‘Bubba’ Huntington, fell to the ground during Sunday’s rough weather. Mrs. Renata Huntington, Bubba’s wife, suspected the time was fast approaching when the old structure would cave.
“It had gotten to the point where nothing else could be done to stabilize it,” Renata said.
Hurricane Katrina, back in 2005, gave the barn a mighty blow, taking half of the roof with along with her. Bubba had it repaired some months later, but structually, it was deteriorating. Then, in 2008, the outer bands of Hurricane Gustav blew through the area, further destabilizing the barn. A local contractor, Brad Goodman, aided in patching it again, and even replaced the flags on top of the three turbines on the roof. But, the elements were taking a toll.
“Dad was very proud of it after the last major repair job,” said Bubba’s son John, who worked with his dad right up until Bubba’s death last fall at Huntington Lumber Co. of Hazlehurst. “It is just unbelievable and sad that it’s gone.”
HOW IT ALL STARTED
The Rainbow Barn was just another red barn that sat on a farm in rural Copiah County, much like the one on the Caldwell Ranch off Highway 28, west of Hazlehurst. It was used as a horse stall, a tack room and for storing square hay bales, just like any other old barn
But, all that changed one day back in 1976. “We had moved out to the country when I was 12 after living in town all my life. That summer, while I was trying to find something to do, Dad encouraged me to paint the rainbow on the barn,” explained John.
Bubba was inspired by a photo of a similar mural, accompanied by an article, in a magazine.
“I worked on it for several weeks, all the while standing on a homemade wooden ladder,” John said.
Once finished, it was an instant attraction. “We had several Halloween parties out there,” added John.
Then, the travelers on I-55 began stopping. At times, several vehicles could be seen with folks out photographing the scenic view.
A TRULY RARE SIGHT
Once, a few years ago, John had gotten on I-55 south at Martinsville just after a brief rain shower. Heading south, he looked over to his left and saw the “most unbelievable sight–a perfect double rainbow over the rainbow barn!” While he didn’t have a camera with him on this trip, John noted that several drivers had pulled over to seize the moment.
In later years, as square baled hay gave way to the round bales, the barn was used less and less. Bubba kept a few tools inside and utilized a small part of the tack room. As he fell fast to the effects of Alzheimer’s over the past few years, the barn became nothing more than an icon.
On Sunday evening, her dogs may have foretold of the event.
“I was reading a book in my bedroom and listening to classical music. The storm had begun, and they came in and began incessantly pawing at the bed. All of a sudden I heard a big clap of thunder,” Renata said.
She said on Monday that when she woke up “I couldn’t see the red through the window, so I knew something wasn’t right.”
A look outside told the whole story–the barn was gone, flattened like a pancake.
“It’s sad, but I’m glad Bubba wasn’t here to see it.”
As she bristled through the debris, she found a 6-foot piece of the rainbow still intact and will use it in part of her flower garden near the home.
“It’s something that can be salvaged that will be a reminder,” she concluded.
Perhaps, one day, another such structure will take its place. Until then, we can all still picture the Rainbow Barn in our minds as we head north on I-55.