Southern Living article features Natchez characters

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 13, 2009

NATCHEZ — From bluff-top homes to the folklore of the cemetery and the grit of Under the Hill, Southern Living has written about it all.

Six pages in the March issue are devoted to Natchez — not its buildings and history — but the people that make the city unique.

The article features a handful of characters in Natchez, devoting a snippet of information to each person.

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The writer, Tanner C. Latham, had been familiar with Natchez for two years, Tourism Director Connie Taunton said.

Taunton said Latham had always said he wanted to write a piece about the people of Natchez.

When he finally came in November, Sally Durkin, media liaison for the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he wandered through town for a few days collecting his information.

Just wandering was how he found Mary Jane Gaudet outside her house on the bluff, tending to her flowerbeds.

Gaudet said it’s not unusual for people, even complete strangers, to stop and talk to her for a while as she’s working in her front yard.

“I’m frequently stopped,” she said. “I talk to everybody. I’ve talked to so many people in my front yard it’s unreal.”

And for Gaudet, having a chat over her flowerbeds with the travel writer was no different.

“I feel like I was a friend of the writer; he was so easy to talk to, I didn’t think he was going to feature me,” she said.

In the article, Gaudet is boasted as a connoisseur of Natchez history.

“I am honored to be a part of it. I’m truly honored,” Gaudet said. “But I am thrilled for Natchez. It’s a fantastic luring bait to get people to get here and appreciate it.”

Latham also found his way to the Natchez City Cemetery, where he interviewed Director Danny Brown.

Brown said one day he noticed two people walking around the cemetery and taking pictures.

Like he does for any visitor, Brown approached the two with a brochure on the cemetery.

“I walked into an interview and didn’t even realize it,” he said.

The conversation began with Brown detailing his everyday maintenance work in the cemetery, which sparked Latham to call the cemetery’s appearance “pristine.”

And then Brown was asked what in the cemetery stands out to him.

“My first response was the infant graves that you come across — how they were so young, and what they died of — and it kind of tugs at your heart,” he said.

Then he told Latham the story of Louise The Unfortunate, a prostitute who received a proper burial.

“(I) told them that we have famous generals, governors and mayors all the way to famous prostitutes,” Brown said. “And that’s what’s so intriguing about the cemetery, because it’s a vast variety of people and cultures.”

He said he feels “honored and humbled” to be a part of the article.

Others featured in the article are Anne Willet, owner of the Pig Out Inn; shoe shiner Ed “Unk” Montgomery; Ruthie Coy, High Cotton chef Doug Hosford; Under-the-Hill Saloon bartender John David Montgomery; and Reuben “Buzz” Harper

Taunton said the publicity the article is giving Natchez is great. She said had the city elected to run a six-page ad in the publication, it would have cost $1.2 million.

But this is free.

“You can imagine how elated I am about getting these six pages,” she said.

Taunton said she appreciates the uniqueness of the article and how it diverts from just a story about buildings.

“(Latham didn’t) want to do the typical tourism side from the houses perspective and carriages, because it’s been done a lot,” she said.

And so when he told her he wanted to focus on people, she said she was supportive.

“We have so many colorful people in Natchez, we could have taken up the whole magazine,” Taunton said.

She said it’s coincidental that the article’s publication falls in the same month as Spring Pilgrimage’s kick off.

“It fell like this, and we’re just thrilled,” Taunton said.

The issue has not yet hit the newsstand, but should in approximately one week.