Dying to meet you: Angels on the Bluff tickets selling fast

Published 2:46 pm Sunday, August 13, 2017

NATCHEZ — Local residents and tourists are dying to see the stories of the Natchez City Cemetery come alive each November.

Ten days after tickets for the 18th annual Angels on the Bluff cemetery tour went on sale, one night of the three-night event is already sold out.

“People from all over the country come every year,” co-chair Nancy Kimbrell said. “It is just amazing.”

Email newsletter signup

This year’s tours are scheduled for Nov. 9-11. Tickets for all 15 tours for Saturday, Nov. 11 are sold out, Kimbrell said. Tickets for Thursday night and Friday night are still available.

Tickets are $30 and must be purchased in advance from the Natchez Visitor Center at 601-446-6345 or 1-800-647-6724.

“I asked my son if he wants tickets and he said he would wait until it got closer to the event,” Kimbrell said. “I told him, ‘You will be out of luck by that time.’”

The Natchez City Cemetery Association has hosted the event since 2000. Each year, the group searches the cemetery for some of the captivating stories of its most interesting residents.

Ticketholders are led on a tour of the cemetery stopping along the way to listen to the stories recreated by local actors. Many of the actors are descendants of the people they will portray during the event.

“We have a great deal of fun listening and learning about all of the stories,” co-chair Terry Stutzman said.

What makes the event especially thrilling is when organizers stumble across a story few people have heard, Kimbrell said.

This year, Kimbrell said the tour will include the story of Lilly Ann Eliza Granderson, a woman who was born into slavery who secretly operated a school for slaves late at night to teach them how to read and write. The cemetery association did not know about Granderson until one of its members found the story while doing research.

“It is very exciting to discover someone (buried in the cemetery) that nobody has known about,” Kimbrell said. “All of a sudden a new story comes to life.”

Stutzman said all of the stories that will be presented will be just as fascinating, including the story of Kathryn Grafton, one of the founders of the Natchez Pilgrimage, and John Carkeet, who was a skilled craftsman who was killed during the Natchez Drug Company Explosion in 1908.

Stutzman said music and other entertainment will also be featured during the evening tours.

Local violinist David Troutman will play period music during the event, and the Curt Smith & Band and the Concordia Parish School of Dance will offer a special presentation at the site of one of the cemetery’s resident gypsies.

“We have some neat surprises in store this year,” Stutzman said.

Stories featured this year include:

Lilly Ann Eliza Granderson: Born into slavery in Virginia, Lilly moved to Kentucky at an early age where she learned to read and write. After being sent to Mississippi, where she worked in the fields, her health deteriorated so much that she was allowed to work part-time in the kitchen. For several years she secretly operated a “midnight school,” teaching dozens of fellow slaves to read and write. Carlee Reed will present Mrs. Granderson’s inspiring story.

John Carkeet: Dr. Doug Broome will portray this master craftsman whose plastering and stucco work once adorned many Natchez buildings. A Civil War veteran and father of eight, he was one of 11 victims of the greatest disaster to occur in early 20th-century Natchez.

Katherine Grafton and J. Balfour Miller: Elodie Pritchartt and Tommy Polk will portray the Millers, former owners of Hope Farm. Mrs. Miller, a founder of the Natchez Pilgrimage, lectured widely in the 1930s, encouraging audiences to make a “pilgrimage” to Natchez to visit its historic homes. Those early pilgrimages, lasting only a few weeks, eventually developed into a year-round tourism industry that now attracts thousands of visitors annually to Natchez.

Lillie Vidal Davis Boatner: “Lillie Vidal,” as she was known to her friends, was a tireless promoter of Natchez in the early days of its tourism industry. Drawing from family stories and a handwritten “Memory Book,” Nancy Hungerford will share some of Lillie Vidal’s most memorable adventures.

Robert Stewart: Sam Jones will portray Stewart, a skilled cabinetmaker from Pennsylvania who opened a shop near “Mr. Walter Irvine’s Tavern” in 1819. By the time of his death in 1866, Stewart had also established a thriving undertaking business and become a successful cotton planter.

Florence Irene Ford: The only child of Washington and Ellen Ford, Florence succumbed to yellow fever at the age of 10. Her unique grave is one of the most visited sites in the cemetery. Morgan Mizell will tell the heartbreaking story of Florence and her mother, whose early life was also marked by tragedy.

L.S. Cornwell: A Kentucky native, Cornwell arrived in the Natchez area in 1865, where he worked as a bookkeeper, blacksmith and editor. Rusty Jenkins and Lyn Fortenbery will share stories of Cornwell and his 30-year friendship with the Drake family with whom he once lived at The Elms.