Spring Pilgrimage changes with the times

Spring Pilgrimage changes with the times

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2011 8:01 pm

Natchez, Miss. — The 79th Annual Natchez Spring Pilgrimage, to be held March 12-April 16 in historic Natchez, Miss., will have brand new events and re-stage traditional presentations in a new light to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
This historic home tour is the longest running tour of its kind in America. Almost 80 years after its inception, the Spring Pilgrimage still captivates visitors with its vast collection of antebellum mansions and gardens, incredible story of preservation and survival, breath taking natural beauty, and a local population born and bred into the art of making you feel welcome.
As motorists drive into Natchez, it’s like stepping back into the days of King Cotton. It was the loveliest town on the Mississippi then, and it still looks much the same. Before the Civil War, half of America’s millionaires called Natchez home and left the most extensive, intact group of 19th century estates on the planet. The collections are unbelievable. The family stories are even better.
“What is so amazing about Natchez,” says Wendell Garrett, editor at large of The Magazine Antiques and renowned American historian, “is the outstanding quality and vast number of antebellum estates concentrated in such a convenient area. Fine furniture, chandeliers, silver; all these things were made to order and shipped to Natchez.”
“What is so intriguing about Natchez is its unique history, particularly its Civil War survival story,” says Marsha Colson, director of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours. “When our grandmothers first opened their homes to the public, they told our history from the perspective of their grandparents, many of whom were wealthy plantation owners and some of whom were Confederate soldiers,” she explains.
“Now we acknowledge that many of the Natchez elite were either neutral or Union sympathizers. Both of our representatives to the state secession convention voted against secession. Natchez was spared because it was not strategically significant. We surrendered in 1863 and were occupied by Union troops until well after the war.”
Commitment to telling the whole story and the sesquicentennial of the Civil War have inspired the ladies of Natchez to re-stage the Historic Natchez Tableaux, the famous theatrical production originally choreographed in the late 1930s.
“We’ll still play Dixie,” says Colson, “but when depicting the start of the Civil War we will fly the first flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, rather than the Battle Flag of the Confederacy which is a very controversial symbol.”
The tableaux will be much more inclusive of the Natchez Tribe of Native Americans and of the African American citizens, she explains.
For instance, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, a black opera singer who was born a slave in Natchez and eventually performed for Queen Victoria will be portrayed.
Tour docents will tell stories of Union occupation and friendships with Union officers, some of whom came to Natchez and stayed.
“The more we research, the more compelling the story becomes and the more excited we are to share it.”
Visitors will also find characters in costume on historic home tours. “Actors will portray historic individuals who once dwelled in these houses,” say Colson.
Proceeds from the Pilgrimages benefit the long standing tradition of historic preservation in Natchez where there are 13 National Historic Landmarks and over 1,200 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, the Natchez Pilgrimage has inspired preservation and similar events across the country. Planners and promoters now hope to inspire others to be more inclusive.
In addition to the home tours and tableaux, events include Southern Exposure (a 1950s Broadway satire of the Natchez Pilgrimage); historical reenactments; Southern Road to Freedom, a gospel tribute to the African American experience in Natchez; and Songs of the Civil War, presented by the Natchez Festival of Music and Alcorn State University. Visitors can also enjoy incredible views of the Mississippi River from 200 foot bluffs, a historic downtown, great restaurants, blues clubs, African American museums, an exhibit of 19th century photography and more.
The Natchez Pilgrimage strives to educate, entertain and inspire travelers, preservationists, history buffs and students by creating a fun atmosphere for experiencing real American heritage.
For a brochure or more information, go to www.natchezpilgrimage.com or call (800) 647-6742.

Published in The Messenger 2.25.11

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