Guiding began with in ladies’ cars

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 28, 1999

Mattie Jo Ratcliffe has been entertaining visitors to Natchez for 26 years. She doesn’t consider the people who travel to the oldest settlement on the Mississippi to see its antebellum houses, as tourists.

&uot;It sounds much nicer,&uot; she said.

From the early days of Pilgrimage when Natchez women opened their doors to out-of-town visitors, tourism has become big business, so much so that Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown considers it the city’s biggest industry.

Email newsletter signup

Tour guiding in Natchez grew from somewhat humble beginnings.

&uot;Back in the early days of Pilgrimage … we didn’t have any professional tour guides,&uot; Ratcliffe said. &uot;We had Natchez ladies who knew their hometown, and whoever had a car would appoint herself a tour guide. There were wonderful ladies who did that.&uot;

Once the motorcoach business took off, Ratcliffe said, tour guiding took off. Soon the garden clubs held a &uot;guide school&uot; to train those women how to tell the story of Natchez’s history.

Ratcliffe got involved in the second year of the guide school. In the early days, &uot;it was kind of a learning process,&uot; she said.

One of the most important things, Ratcliffe said, is teaching guides to be impartial – they sell the city, not one person’s book or gift shop.

&uot;We have a wonderful reputation up and down the river,&uot; she said. &uot;I don’t mean that we profess to know everything about Natchez. But we have to know about present-day Natchez too. There are just a myriad of details.&uot;

But besides knowing the city’s history, guides also have to know how to deal with tourists.

&uot;This is a people-pleasing and people-moving business,&uot; Ratcliffe said. &uot;There are many facets to being a tour guide. It’s not just learning history.&uot;

Motorcoach guides sometimes have to accompany 40 to 50 people across the city.

&uot;That’s a lot of people not only to make happy but also to move from coach to house,&uot; she said. &uot;You have to take care of these people.&uot;

One of the changes in Natchez’s tourism industry has been a greater emphasis on telling the whole story. The city is now developing a tour guide manual to be used in training the city’s certified guides. One section of the manual will be devoted to the city’s African-American history.

&uot;We want to make sure the information is complete,&uot; Mayor Brown said of the manual, adding that the city wants to include information on its 3,000-year history and &uot;all those points in between.&uot;

&uot;We have a long history – that’s what we want to interpret,&uot; Brown said.