Cemetery program to feature photographers
A hundred years apart, two men worked to ensure the images of historic — or, depending on your perspective in history, contemporary — Natchez were recorded in photographs.
This fall during Angels on the Bluff — the Natchez City Cemetery Association’s annual fundraiser, which features storytelling by actors of the lives of interesting people buried in the cemetery — visitors will meet both Henry Norman Sr. and Dr. Thomas H. Gandy.
Norman was the post-Civil War photographer whose extensive work documented the people and daily life of Natchez, and can still be seen on display in the Stratton Chapel Gallery at First Presbyterian Church as part of the Gandy collection.
Gandy was a long-time doctor who, in his retirement, restored hundreds of photographs taken by Norman and his son, Earl. He likewise donated 35,000 Norman photographs — negatives he acquired from Earl Norman’s widow in the 1960s — to Louisiana State University.
Natchez City Cemetery Association member Annette Holder said when deciding which famous residents of the city to depict this year, it seemed obvious to depict the two men on the same tour.
“(Photographer T.G. McCary) has been one of our actors before, and he said, ‘If you ever do Henry Norman, I want to play him,” Holder said.
“We wanted people to realize that these two men in two different centuries had this common interest in bringing this collection to life — Henry Norman as his life’s work and Dr. Gandy as his retirement’s legacy.”
McCary will be portraying Norman, and said he has admired the photographer’s work since moving to Natchez during the time Gandy was actively restoring it. Like Norman, McCary works with portraits and has a studio on Main Street.
Norman came to Natchez on a riverboat and worked as an apprentice for another photographer. Following the Civil War, his business boomed and he had his own studio by 1877, sitting portraits and photographing life in the town.
“By the time he was 30, he was being recognized as a premier photographic artist, and business continued to peak through the 1880s and 1890s,” McCary said. “He got a lot of his chemicals from Paris and New York, and he used the best materials — not only did he do the photography, but he did the developing as well.”
And those hand-developed photos, which Norman made using plate glass negatives, still pass the test of time as artistic accomplishments.
“I have looked back through his photos and reviewed them — his work was breathtaking,” McCary said.
Portraying Gandy will be Mike Roboski. Though he did not know Gandy, Roboski said it’s no small matter for him to be presenting the story of someone many people in the area knew, loved and remember well. He’s done some research, and he said he plans to speak with Gandy’s wife, Joan.
“It is an honor (to portray him), but there is a little bit of nervousness, because I don’t want to let those people down, especially Mrs. Gandy,” he said.
Even the little details matter, Roboski said.
“I have a goatee, and I am willing to shave it off in order to portray Dr. Gandy as best as I can — I am not going to do it half-hearted,” he said.
Other characters will make an appearance during the tour, including:
•Levi Weeks, the New Yorker who is not buried in the cemetery but who does have a marker there. Weeks was the architect for Auburn, and will be portrayed by Sam Jones.
•Brig. Gen. Charles G. Dahlgren and Rear Adm. John A. Dahlgren, who will be portrayed by the Doug Broome and David Carter, respectively. The two men were brothers on opposite sides of the Civil War.
•Jane Johnson, a woman who lived to be more than 100 years old and worked for many years at Auburn and was responsible on several occasions for keeping the house from harm. Barney Schoby Jr., who will represent the National Park Service, will tell her story.
•Rudolph Viener, an immigrant from Ukraine who moved to the area in the late 1880s. He started as a street peddler but eventually owned a wholesale grocery and cotton business. Viener will be portrayed by one of his descendants.
Holder said Viener was added into the tour this year at the prodding of a living family member.
The tour will also include a stop honoring the blues musicians of Natchez — Papa George Lightfoot, Jimmy Anderson, Elmore Williams, James Rowan, Hezekiah Early, YZ Ealey and Lil’ Poochie — whose stories will be told by Rusty Jenkins.
The blues stop will also include a musical performance in honor of the musicians by Terry Trovato, the Rev. Walton Jones, Jimmie Blanton, Kenny Jones, Bruce Scarbrough and Robert Sizemore.
Angels on the Bluff will be Nov. 7-9.
Character venues co-chair Cyndy Bailey said the Nov. 7 date was added because the tours for Nov. 8-9 had already sold out.
Tickets can be purchased at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.
For more information, call 601-446-6345 or go online to www.visitnatchez.org.