Carl the Downtown Rooster is still stealing people’s hearts in Ocean Springs,The Magnolia State, and beyond in a new children’s book, Carl the Rooster.
“I’ve never written anything before,” said author Chelsea Prince.
“Carl helped me break out of my comfort zone and do something new,” she said. “It’s a very simple story but it’s been a big process and I’ve learned a lot. I am a strong believer that if you want something to happen then you should make it happen. Don’t wait around for someone else to do it. I thought a book should be written about Carl, there wasn’t one, so I made one. Even though it is technically a children’s book, it is really for everyone. It wasn’t just kids who enjoyed having Carl around. People of all ages and backgrounds loved him. I think this is a memory book for anyone who has felt the unique magic of Ocean Springs.”
With the addition of well-known and highly respected Ocean Springs artist Ben Prisk, Carl’s giant personality is spread over 48 glossy pages of Carl the Rooster. The story has him shaking his tailfeathers and crowing a few cock-a-doodle-doos as he befriends a feral kitten.
“Carl made the kitten feel special as he takes him under his wing and makes him his friend,” Prince said. “The kitten follows Carl around town as he takes him to his favorite places and events in Ocean Springs while telling him why it’s such a great place to call home.”
Prince and her family first stumbled on Carl in the spring of 2020 when her husband transferred from Eglin Air Force base in Florida to Keelser Air Force base in Biloxi.
“We were looking for a home, our very first stop was at the famous Tatonut Donut Shop,” she said. “Due to Covid, we needed to call in our order and sit outside. It wasn’t long after taking our very first bite of the best donuts we had ever tasted that we heard a loud cock-a-doodle-doo. To our surprise, two beautiful roosters were crossing the road side by side. We got a good chuckle at the sight when a friendly local noticed and welcomed us to Ocean Springs and proceeded to tell us stories of Carl the Rooster.”
As Prince, her husband Ben, and their three children, Hadley, 7, Harris 5, and Sloane, 3, set up their new home in Ocean Springs later that summer, she heard countless stories about Carl the downtown Rooster.
“We were beginning the next chapter of our lives and it was hard to meet people or go anywhere because everyone was social-distancing or quarantined because of Covid,” she said. “My family often would take drives or go on walks in downtown Ocean Springs to get fresh air and it gave us something to do. It wasn’t long before we became acquainted with Carl. We started to look forward to visiting him and my kids would see who could spot him first. He was always doing something funny while brightening someone’s day. Over the next couple of years, we would watch him strut around confidently or be in a hurry to get somewhere.”
Prince said she and her family would create different scenarios in the rooster’s life anytime they had a Carl sighting and would pretend they knew exactly what he was saying, thinking, and where he was trotting off to that day.
“It always made us laugh and feel happy,” she said. “He became such a big personality and character in our lives. I truly felt like I was living in a storybook taking place in the most picturesque small town and Carl was the main character. This was Carl’s town and we were just part of it.”
Prince started keeping a record of the special moments she and her family shared with Carl and before she even realized it, she was writing a book that captured Carl’s personality and the uniqueness of Ocean Springs. After numerous months of revisions, edits, and stumbling blocks, she was finally ready with a story she wanted to share and publish, but first, she needed an illustrator.
“I knew the illustrations would be what captured people’s attention and I wanted to make them laugh,” she said. “Carl did funny things and we have a funny town. That’s what makes it so great. I sought to find the right illustrator. I wanted a local artist and someone familiar with Carl. I didn’t think anyone else would have understood my vision. Carl was larger than life. It is a fictional story with a lot of imagination based on a real rooster and his actual routine.”
And that search led her to Prisk, who has been linked to such projects as Adult Swim, Squidbillies, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and numerous others. When Prince was searching for an illustrator, mutual friends connected the pair.
“I’ve always been a fan of chickens,” Prisk said. “Chelsea was just so enthusiastic and I just wanted to be part of it.”
Prisk said he illustrated the popular Ocean Springs hotspots as well as annual events including Mardi Gras, Crusin’ the Coast, and the Peter Anderson Festival.
“We have it all,” he said.
Prince and Prisk, we’re just beginning the illustration process in April 2022, when Carl disappeared from his favorite perch at Twisted Anchor Tattoo on Government Street. Seven months later, a 36-year-old Jones County woman was found guilty of animal cruelty in the killing of the town’s beloved mascot. The events devastated the community and made national news.
Prince said she and her husband were leaving for a trip to Florida when a viral video of Carl being snatched from his perch was publically released. She knew the downtown shop owners had a social media campaign asking for Carl’s safe return and she thought the rooster would make it home before their trip ended.
“We were out to eat when I got the text that Carl was officially gone,” she said. “I think it hit me extra hard because I had invested so much time into creating this book. I had to leave the restaurant because I started crying too hard. I remember starting to laugh while I was crying imagining a stranger asking me if I was alright and having to tell them ‘I’m crying because my town rooster was murdered.’ I knew how ridiculous it sounded. But, there I was, crying and laughing like a crazy person outside a restaurant in Florida. I was devastated and my heart was broken. I loved Carl.”
And Prince was not alone at that moment. Stories of grief flooded social media as people across the Gulf Coast learned and dealt with Carl’s senseless death. Despite the heartache, Prince is proud to show her children, who are now 10, 8, and 6, that she set a goal and achieved it despite the sorrow.
“I hope they learn from this experience and always show kindness to animals, know that actions have consequences and despite some negativity in the world they can do a lot of good and bring about positivity,” she said.
Prince and her family now plan to make Ocean Springs their permanent home.
“We have fallen in love with Ocean Springs and have decided to stay and raise our kids here,” she said. “We immediately felt like we belonged and it now feels like home. My husband is opening a family medicine practice here after he separates from the Air Force this summer, and I recently founded the Ocean Springs Historical Society. I do have other book ideas up my sleeve. I am trying to focus on one thing at a time, but stay tuned. I love living in a place that celebrates its unique citizens, and even its roosters.”
Carl the Rooster can be purchased by clicking here.
Photos are courtesy of Chelsea Prince and Ben Prisk.