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Houses undergo finishing touches for Pilgrimage

NATCHEZ — Groups of tourists are, hopefully, packing their bags, homeowners are readying their houses and Natchez Pilgrimage Tours executive director Marsha Colson said she is keeping her fingers crossed.

“We are feeling very good about Spring Pilgrimage this year,” Colson said. “Group numbers are way up from last year for the home tours and the Tableaux, but you never know about individuals. They just show up.”

Colson said the break in cold weather should garner more last-minute trips to Natchez from people in cities like Baton Rogue and Alexandria.

Colson emphasized the curiosity and excitement from the community for the Historic Natchez Tableaux, especially the free tickets for Miss-Lou residents.

Adams County and Concordia Parish residents with identification may obtain Tableaux tickets for performances today and Saturday at the Visitor Reception Center or at the City Auditorium ticket window just before the show starts. The free tickets are available on a first come, first served basis.

“Our ticket counter and group tour people are so busy,” Colson said.

Most house tours take approximately 30 minutes, but Colson said guests often like to linger on the grounds, and some homeowners provide a place to sip lemonade and relax.

“People are greeted at the door if the weather is nice,” Colson said. “And most people are greeted in costume.”

Colson said every house tour is different, some have a set order in which to view the rooms, and some can be toured at will by the guests.

Catherine Ratcliffe, who lives in Routhland which is owned by the Ratcliffe family, has frantically been preparing for the home tour. Ratcliffe said ordinarily she would have used this week just to apply finishing touches like fresh paint, vacuuming, dusting and shining the chandelier.

“This is an unusual year,” Ratcliffe said. “Our ceiling in the dining room fell in three weeks ago. So this year we are undergoing major damage control. Our focus is getting the dining room back in some kind of order before Saturday. That’s all we’ve been able to think about.”

Ratcliffe said it was 6 a.m. on Feb. 21 when she and her husband Everette heard a terrible noise.

“We thought a tree had fallen on the house or it was an earthquake,” Ratcliffe said. “The whole house shook, glass was shattering. We jumped up and started searching the house. My husband went in the dining room, and I just heard him say, ‘Oh my God.’”

Ratcliffe laughed when she said she instinctively reached for the switch to turn the lights on.

“So, instead of the normal things we would be doing, we had to totally redo a room in three weeks,” she said.

Ratcliffe said Thursday they added a rug and hanging drapes to the re-plastered, repainted room, so the project is shaping up quickly. She said they don’t know yet what caused the ceiling to collapse.

“The thing is, if we had been in room, we would have been killed,” Ratcliffe said.

The impact splintered the 1820s dining room table, damaged furniture, broke pieces of Maison China and shattered the Venetian glass chandelier.

“We are just thankful no one was hurt,” Ratcliffe said. “They are just things, and they can be replaced. We’ve had a lot of help from friends and others, and that has been wonderful.”

Ratcliffe said an easel will display photographs of the damage, so guests can compare it to the restored space.

The red and blue house tours begin Saturday. The doors of Auburn, Linden and Routhland will open from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Greenlea, Governor Holmes House and Texada will be open from 1:30 to 5 p.m.

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