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See you soon: Pilgrimage enters final days

brittney lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat Francine Dikes of Hattiesburg, from left, Stephanie Parvin of Hattiesburg and Eileen Modisette of Jonesboro laugh at jokes Scott Smith said during the start of their tour at the Burn Saturday afternoon.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Francine Dikes of Hattiesburg, from left, Stephanie Parvin of Hattiesburg and Eileen Modisette of Jonesboro laugh at jokes Scott Smith said during the start of their tour at the Burn Saturday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — Visitors to Bettye Jenkins’ home at Hawthorne got a splash of the season as Spring Pilgrimage entered its last round of house tours Saturday.

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Sondra Davis talks about the history of Hawthorne to tourists Saturday afternoon on Hawthorne’s last day on tour for Spring Pilgrimage. Hawthorne’s owner, Bettye Jenkins, used fresh flowers in each room of Hawthorne as decoration during Pilgrimage.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Sondra Davis talks about the history of Hawthorne to tourists Saturday afternoon on Hawthorne’s last day on tour for Spring Pilgrimage. Hawthorne’s owner, Bettye Jenkins, used fresh flowers in each room of Hawthorne as decoration during Pilgrimage.

Hawthorne was decorated with floral arrangements from the property that Jenkins made herself.

Every evening before the house was to be on tour, Jenkins picked the flowers that were in bloom to bring a little of the life outside into the house. Dutch iris, jonquils and tulips — among other flowers — add a dash of color as visitors move from room to room.

“This year is a little strange because things have been a little slow to bloom, and some flowers I planted haven’t bloomed yet,” Jenkins said.

“At first this year, I was apologizing because the Azaleas weren’t blooming, but (the visitors) were saying, ‘Look, it is green here and we haven’t seen green in a long while.’”

It was those tiny tastes of Spring that have largely driven the Pilgrimage numbers this year, Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Director Emily Edwards said.

Pilgrimage’s last few days may close stronger than usual after a long, cold winter that some regions of the country are only just starting to thaw out of, she said.

The cold weather initially set back some tours, and now people who have suffered from cabin fever are ready to get out and experience some warmth, Edwards said.

“I have talked to a lot of people from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota who said they still have feet and feet of snow, and that is why some of the tour busses canceled,” she said.

“Others were happy just to see green grass.”

Even with the weather-related setbacks, Pilgrimage has seen more tour groups this year than last year, though many of the groups were smaller than in the past, Edwards said.

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Scott Smith waves goodbye to tourist after they finished touring the Burn Saturday afternoon.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Scott Smith waves goodbye to tourist after they finished touring the Burn Saturday afternoon.

“It has affected our numbers; however, all of the shows and restaurants are reporting higher sales, so the people who have come and made it are staying longer and spending more money,” she said.

“We are neck-and-neck with last year, but before the weather we were expecting larger crowds.”

Tourism outside the official Pilgrimage season is usually strong through April and May, Edwards said, and she expects this year to be especially strong as those who had to cancel earlier plans make them up and others decide to seek their own relief in the southern Spring.

Edwards said she has anecdotally met more first-time visitors this year over last year, and the positive feedback has been overwhelming.

Carla Remegi of Hilton Head, S.C., said she and her husband drove two days to get to Natchez before Pilgrimage ended. They love antebellum homes and gardens and history.

“We have heard about (Pilgrimage), but never been here before,” she said. “Today was our first day, and so far we have enjoyed everything we have seen in Natchez.”