Few tickets remain for cemetery tours

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 3, 2010

NATCHEZ — Natchez’s history will soon be told by those who know it best.

During the 11th annual Natchez City Cemetery Angels on the Bluff tours, seven stories of Natchez and its people will be told as visitors make their way through the dark, historic cemetery.

Actors research the history of the characters they are playing and retell compelling stories to bus-loads of attentive visitors.

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This year visitors will be treated to the stories of Alfred Bernard White, “The milliner of Natchez” Madame Marguerite Justine Marchand Benoist Mezeix, Ashley Vaughn, Professor Samuel Henry Clay Owen, The Fleming Family, Charles Ferriday Byrnes and Marian Montgomery.

White was a well known baseball player at the Catholic high school in the early 1920s. The story of his tragic death will be told from the point of view of his father, Clay White, at the empty tomb.

The Milliner of Natchez is known for her hats that appear in the Henry Norman photographs, but her family’s history wasn’t captured in photographs. A local descendant of the family will reveal the family secrets.

Vaughn edited the first Baptist newspaper in Natchez and later became the pastor at First Baptist Church in Natchez. The Rev. Doug Broome of First Baptist Natchez will tell the religious leader’s story.

Owen was the president at Natchez College for many years. The university was first supported by black Baptists of Mississippi and flourished under Owen’s leadership.

The Fleming Family story is one of tragedy and love. The family owner The Towers in Natchez, and several generations occupied the hosue.

Ginger Hyland and James Wesley Forde, who live at The Towers now, will tell the stories of the good and bad times the family had in the house.

Both are first-time actors for Angels on the Bluff, but after attending for several years, knew they wanted to be a part of the show.

“We were just fascinated on the tours,” Hyland said. “James mentioned that we wanted to do this and they made it happen.”

Forde said learning about the Fleming family history and the house’s history is relatively easy thanks to a book written by a member of the Fleming family.

“We have these great, descriptive narratives about the family and the life they led,” he said. “It’s a really good look at their life in Natchez.

“(Angels on the Bluff) is going to be good. It’s exciting.”

Byrnes was a local attorney who, along with his wife Roane Fleming Byrnes, entertained all of Natchez’s social elite. They are remembered as two of Natchez’s most colorful charaters. Their story will be told by their great-great-nephew and veteran Angels on the Bluff actor Rusty Jenkins.

Visitors will be entertained by Diana Glaze singing the songs and telling the stories of Marian Montgomery. Montgomery, an accomplished jazz swinger, released several albums for Capital Records. .

Glaze is a first-time Angels on the Bluff actors, but didn’t think twice about accepting the invitation to participate this year.

Glaze will be accompanied by a three-piece band that includes Terry Trovato.

“Terry thought I’d make a good jazz singer, and when he asked, I thought it would be fun to be a part of this,” Glaze said. “I’ve been through the tour, but it will be different on the other side this year.”

The tours will begin at dusk on Friday, Nov. 12 and Saturday, Nov. 13.

Angels on the Bluff publicity co-chairman Paula Estes said the money raised through the tours is used for year-round maintenance of the 100-acre cemetery.

“It takes more than $300,000 each year to maintain the cemetery,” Estes said. “We also have restoration projects and other projects we have to raise money for.”

Most recently, the Natchez Cemetery Association has been raising money for repairs to cistern houses located throughout the cemetery.

Tickets for the tours are $20 each. Tickets for Saturday are sold out, but a limited number of Friday tickets are still available, Estes said. Tickets can be purchased at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, 640 S. Canal St., or by phone at 601-446-6345.

“Tickets went on sale Aug. 1 and, by the time we had our September meeting, they were almost gone,” Estes said. “We always have a great response, and we are very grateful for that.”

Tours all leave from the visitor’s center. Ticket holders should arrive 30 minutes before their tour is scheduled to depart. No parking is available at the cemetery during the tours.