updated 6/12/2005 3:22:37 AM ET 2005-06-12T07:22:37

It was 88 degrees and humid. Folks were eating fried catfish and hushpuppies and listening to bluesman Terry “Big T” Williams sing about the delta, while the Governor of Mississippi greeted old friends.

Just another day in park — New York City’s Central Park.

Like every Mississippi governor since 1979, Haley Barbour showed up Saturday for the annual New York Mississippi Picnic in Central Park. The event was established 26 years ago by Rachel McPherson after she moved to New York for graduate school from Monticello, Miss.

“It bothered me back then that both Mississippi and Central Park had such bad images,” McPherson said. “So we celebrate both of them for a picnic.”

Although fellow Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg was outside the city celebrating his daughter’s wedding, Barbour took the stage and thanked him for the Mississippi weather — weather reports had New York on Saturday as hotter and stickier than Jackson, Miss.

“What would catfish be if you weren’t sweatin’?” Barbour asked.

McPherson, who also founded the New York Society for the Preservation of Mississippi heritage, says has 5,350 Mississippians with New York City addresses on her mailing list.

She said this year’s picnic was meant to celebrate the Mississippi blues with the live music from deep in the delta. Simmons Farm Raised Catfish of Yazoo City, Miss., flew in 360 pounds of catfish and 80 pounds of hushpuppies for the event.

The picnic is also a marketing tool for the state to attract tourists and retirees. It was attended by some curious New Yorkers, alumni of Mississippi colleges and universities and a few hundred people with Mississippi roots.

Many of them said they felt right at home.

Rebecca Bertrand, the student body president at the University of Mississippi, came in for the event to represent her state.

“This feels just like the football tailgating at the Grove,” she said referring to the university’s famed campus vista.

Olivia Lusco and her friend Kate Fenton, Ole Miss students spending their summer in New York, were happy to have a taste of home.

“It’s nice to share Mississippi hospitality with New York,” said Lusco. “Not that they need it, everyone’s been so nice here.”

“We’ve got all the fixins,” said Barbour. “Catfish, barbecue, beer. What else is there?”

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