Pilgrimage demands optimism

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It was almost too hot to be traversing the streets of Natchez going house to house on foot Tuesday.

But the 80-degree temperatures were part of the reason Larry Hogshead was here, not a reason to make him stay at home.

Larry, his wife Tamara, their 17-year-old twins and 12- and 5-year-old daughters, came to Natchez partly for the heat.

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It’s a bit cool in their part of the country — Murfreesboro, Tenn. — this time of year.

It’s not the couple’s first trip to Natchez, they’ve been four or five times, best they can remember.

But the trip is still a good “getaway,” Larry said.

The family was one group of only a handful of tourists taking the afternoon house tours. They were headed to “Southern Exposure” at Natchez Little Theatre Tuesday night and the Historic Natchez Pageant tonight.

Crowds are traditionally slow during the week early on in Pilgrimage, several veteran hostesses said. The weekends draw much better.

For Larry and his family, anytime is good.

“The city is amazing,” he said.

Bobby and Connie Junkin and friend Elaine Soloman — of Brandon and Texas — felt the same way after their tour of Texada.

“Everyone just makes you feel so very welcome,” Connie said.

Connie and Elaine are Civil War pioneer re-enactors, and they came to Natchez for inspiration.

Bobby got pulled along for the daytrip, he said.

And inside Texada a collection of costumed hosts and hostesses were simply happy to have someone with whom to share their stories.

From the contraption used to boil eggs in the fireplace to a drunken elephant in the backyard, Texada is full of stories.

But the house is only one of 24 houses on scheduled tours this spring. A handful of other properties are also open for touring at any time.

Each house and its inhabitants and hosts have a story to tell.

After four or five trips to Natchez, Larry Hogshead can’t pick a favorite house because there are too many good stories to remember.

For history buffs like Hogshead, Junkin and Soloman, there’s plenty to do in Natchez this time a year.

And for the 5-year-old traveling with Larry and family, well, “the hike” from house to house was the best part.

Rains are coming later this week. The heat will be replaced with cooler temperatures for at least a few days.

It’ll be rough on the tourists, one Hope Farm hostess said.

And the numbers may dip even smaller, but the ladies in hoopskirts stay optimistic about Pilgrimage numbers.

It’s always important that Natchez have a successful Spring Pilgrimage.

It may be more important this year.

Pilgrimage numbers have been on a steady decline for the last few years.

The loss of steamboat tours from New Orleans hurt badly.

Now with a failing national economy and dipping sales tax numbers, it can be difficult to remain optimistic about Pilgrimage.

But whether it’s the heat or the history, there’s something captivating about our town that just keeps pulling people in.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.