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Spring Pilgrimage begins today

By Sabrina Simms

NATCHEZ — The birds are singing amid the flowering gardens of the columned front porches of Natchez’s grand antebellum houses, which can only mean Spring Pilgrimage is here.

The tourism industry flourishes this time of year, now so more than ever, said Lynn Beach Smith, director of sales for Natchez Pilgrimage Tours.

“I’ve exceeded my numbers this year,” Smith said. “This has been the best Spring Pilgrimage in the three years I’ve been here.”

Smith said the phones are ringing off the hook as people from all over escape the cold weather and the busy lifestyle of larger cities.

“People keep coming as the weather is warming up,” Smith said. “We’ve booked everything from church groups to garden clubs. … People come for the flowers, they come for the history … the river, … the music, the food — people come to rest and relax and get away from the rat race.

Smith said tourists enjoy that Natchez moves at a slower pace than larger cities.

“They come here and unwind … for an escape weekend … in these gorgeous homes. … Natchez is magical,” Smith said.

Pilgrimage Garden Club president Regina Charboneau said no Natchez resident or visitor should miss Spring Pilgrimage.

“People, the community and everyone locally needs to come see and be a part of these events and be the best advocates for visitors,” Charboneau said. “People need to know their own hometown — even come tour the homes — and see why people come to Natchez.”

Charboneau said many of the greatest antebellum houses of Natchez are open year round. However, Charboneau said, some houses are only open to the public during Pilgrimage.

“March and April are such beautiful months to come here, with the flowers in bloom,” Charboneau said. “What makes Spring Pilgrimage special is because it’s the one time of year that we open up the private homes (for tours).”

The garden clubs are offering tours starting at $15 per house for individual adult tickets, and children under 12-years-old can tour the houses for free. Tour packages and times are listed at natchezpilgrimage.com.

One main event for the Natchez Garden Club is the Historic Natchez Tableaux — a tradition that has entertained Natchez visitors and locals for the past 86 years.

The tableaux utilizes local talent from both adults and children to re-enact instances in Natchez history that date as far back as the Natchez Indians until the Civil War. Children are included in their performance of the little and big maypole, The Polka, Soiree and Can-Can dances.

Tableaux co-chairman Amy Brown said the tableaux uses a newly revised script by stage and artistic director Cheryl Rhinehart.

“It’s a real light and fun environment,” Brown said. “This year’s tableaux gives a fresh taste … a refreshing take on the tradition.”

The Historic Natchez Tableaux takes its usual stage at the Natchez City Auditorium. The event opens at 7:30 p.m. today and continues at the same time tomorrow and the following weekend. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and active military.

Charboneau said the money that circulates through the Natchez tourist industry is a driving force that keeps Natchez alive and the grand houses maintained in their historic beauty.

“Even if you went to Charleston you wouldn’t see as many wonderful homes as you would in Natchez… we’re like a little New Orleans. There’s something going on every weekend in Natchez.”

Tickets and more information can be obtained at natchezpilgrimage.com or by visiting the Natchez Visitor Reception Center on Canal Street.