There's a new favorite spot for visitors to the USS Alabama Battleship to pose for their photos – an airplane donated by Mobile's own Jimmy Buffett.
At a Valentine's dance and dinner in the battleship's adjacent pavilion on February 9, there were lots of the usual attractions. The Mobile Big Band, playing music of the 1930s. The dance floor with 150 couples doing the Swing, Cha Cha, Rhumba, Waltz and Tango. The Mardi Gras-themed food buffet (spelled with one t) by in-demand caterer Alec Naman. The New Orleans-style beverage bar.
Now, an additional attraction had been added – a plane that belonged to, was flown by, and ultimately donated by Jimmy Buffett.
At the Valentine's event, the spot of choice for photos was in front of one of Buffett's planes.
Here was the announcement two days after Buffett's death:
USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park is thankful to have received a generous donation of two aircraft made by the legendary singer and Mobile native Jimmy Buffett.
When the aircraft first arrived at the park in 2022, Buffett wished to remain an anonymous donor. As the world mourns his passing, we are pleased to finally be able to share his generous contributions to the park.
The Grumman Goose and Boeing Stearman are both on display in the Medal of Honor Aircraft Pavilion. Visitors will see a wreath and an iconic Hawaiian-styled shirt that has been placed by the Grumman Goose in honor of Buffett.
The Battleship, park and pavilion sit almost at the county line between Alabama's Mobile County and Baldwin County. That's an appropriate spot of honor for the Buffett airplanes. Jimmy Buffett worked and lived both sides of Mobile Bay – Mobile County and Baldwin County.
Mobile: Buffett grew up in mid-town Mobile, graduating high school from "McGill Institute," now McGill-Toolen High. His first musical performances were as a trombone player in the McGill band. To purloin a phrase, he was "unsung."
Some early days as a singer and guitarist were at The Admiral's Corner, the bar at the corner of Government Street and Joachim Street in the famous Admiral Semmes Hotel. He played mostly for Mobile friends and a few hotel guests. He earned $5.00 a night plus tips. $5.00 was real money back then.
Buffett had a difficult time then getting the popular local radio station, WABB-AM, to play his early records. That experience resulted in a Buffett song and recording that also did not get much airplay. His WABB song, "If I Had a Saxophone," was such a non-hit that many Buffett fans do not remember it.
Buffett's parents lived during most of their working careers in Mobile.
Baldwin County: Buffett's parents, James and Peets Buffett, moved to the Eastern Shore of Baldwin County and enjoyed the sunsets and Jubilees in their sunset years.
Buffett's first known recording sessions were at a small, struggling studio in Baldwin County's Daphne.
Buffett would often headquarter in Baldwin County with his parents or his sister Lucy Buffett (Lulu) in frequent visits home.
He never forgot where he came from. Living and working in New Orleans, Nashville, Key West, the Caribbean, and in the sea and air (he was a pilot), he gravitated home to the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Jimmy Buffett was generous with his time and money. He anonymously donated two vintage World War II aircraft to the Battleship Alabama Park on the Mobile-Baldwin line.
He performed dozens of impromptu, unpaid sets at Buffett-ambianced spots in Baldwin County – Lulu's (a Gulf Shores restaurant owned by his sister, Lucy Buffett); Judge Roy Bean's (owned by Buffett friend Jack West); the Hangout; and fundraisers after hurricane damage and BP oil spill.
The legacies Buffett has left cover a lot of ground. His flyaway spirit of air travel is memorialized at the USS Alabama Battleship Park with two of his beloved airplanes.
Fly high, Captain.
Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor.
You can reach him for comments at [email protected].