Lorena "Rena" Bessey and Albert Mangin rented 618 Water St. shortly after they married, and after two years bought the two-bedroom home in 1919. They raised seven children there and added a bedroom.|
Albert, who owned A.L. Mangin Electrical Contracting, eventually wired the house for electricity, the same feat he'd accomplished for the famous Biloxi Lighthouse.
After 83 years on Water Street, Rena Mangin died in 2000 as Biloxi's oldest resident, a grand 107. Albert Mangin Jr., the couple's eldest son and a World War II veteran, continued to live in the house.
He fondly remembers his mother firing up the charcoal burner in the yard and boiling water to wash clothes. He remembers the exercise trapeze hanging from the ceiling of the boys' room, the wood floors and the high ceilings. The house to him was charmed and charming.
"My dad put a lifetime slate roof on it, and in all those storms we didn't lose a shingle," Mangin said. "I'd been there for all the big storms, the Hurricane of '47 and Camille, and we didn't get any damage. I was bound and determined to stay for Katrina but I started getting pressure from the family."
So he went to a friend's house, where the surge nearly drowned the two of them. Still, Mangin knows if he'd stayed on Water Street, "I wouldn't have made it." Katrina moved the Mangin home 10 feet north, but the slate roof held.
Today, the empty lot has a FEMA trailer, and the neighborhood a block from the beach and near downtown is cleared, with the exception of a few fixable houses.
"Right now I have an empty lot, nothing left but memories," Mangin said.
Like others who didn't have flood insurance and whose insurance company paid little, he hopes to qualify for a grant to rebuild, smaller and simpler.
"I'm 85, so it's problematical, but living in this trailer is just an existence," he said. "I have it so much better than others and I can listen to the music I love, but it's not the same."
He chuckled good-naturedly before adding, "I do have a clear view of Deer Island now."
- KAT BERGERON