Angels witnessed in cemetery

Published 12:56 am Sunday, November 11, 2007

NATCHEZ — Friendly ghosts haunted the Natchez City Cemetery again this weekend, but this year, each was a veteran of an American war.

Maj. Isaac Guion, greeted visitors with a three-cornered hat and Revolutionary War-era flag, telling how he joined the war and ended up convincing Spanish forces to leave Natchez. He fell in love with the town and stayed, marrying a Natchez woman and raising a family.

Sam Jones was assigned the role for his fourth year representing one of the cemetery’s residents.

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“I’m an amateur actor and a history buff,” Jones said. “So, it was just right, a perfect fit.”

The two are not unalike. Jones, too, served his country, spending four years in the Air Force. And, on a visit to Natchez to see friends, he fell in love with the town and moved to the Miss-Lou.

“I even married a Natchez woman,” he said.

A ghost from a little later in history, James Miller told how he signed up to serve in the war of 1812 when he was only 19 years old. By the time his company got there, the Battle of New Orleans had already been won.

Miller settled down to farm Tensas Parish, which, to his frustration, flooded every year. By coincidence or by choice, when Miller built a family home, he named it Waterproof.

The apparition ended his speech with a summary of his priorities — “Family life, hard work, Christian principles and serve your country when she calls.”

In real life, first-year volunteer Fred Emrick, too, has more in common with his character than one might think. Emrick also served his country, but he in the Air Force. The two both grew up in the Miss-Lou and chose to stay.

“He was kind of a civic-minded person, and I’m volunteering, too,” he said.

A short walk down the lighted path, Sallie J. Ballard was dressed in the uniform her great-aunt wore in WWI. While Ballard has been with Angels on the Bluff since its inception, she always worked organizing the event. This year, she was asked to tell visitors about Emma Gene Wensel Venn.

Born in 1884, Venn married and settled down. But when her husband wanted to move to Arkansas, she flat-out refused. She like Natchez and wanted to stay. He wanted to move for his career. So, in an unusual move for the era, the two got a divorce.

A few years later, one of her friends volunteered for the Red Cross.

“She thought it would be patriotic, since America was in the first World War,” Ballard said. “Her group got sent to France. She couldn’t wait to go. Gene wouldn’t’ go to Arkansas, but she was ready to go to France.”

There, Venn served with the Red Cross until a vehicle accident took her life in 1918. Her tombstone reads, “Died in service.”

Ballard sees some similarities between herself and her great-aunt.

“We’ve all been strong-willed women,” she said. “And in the community, I’ve done a lot of volunteering.”

The annual Angels on the Bluff raises funds for the upkeep of the cemetery.