Sunday Focus: Fall Pilgrimage filled with new events, innovations
NATCHEZ — Fall Pilgrimage, a season of exclusive tours and events in Natchez, began Friday and lasts through Oct. 14.
The event has exposed visitors from all over the world to the many antebellum houses and mansions in the area as well as to Natchez tales mixed with history, legends and spooky mysteries, said Pilgrimage Garden Club president, Eugenie Cates.
“We are thrilled,” she said. “We’ve got so many international visitors coming through town. You can hear the languages spoken in the hallways in these historic properties — everything from Dutch, German, French and just every part of the world.”
Cates said most people are raving about a series of ghost tours offered during Fall Pilgrimage.
“We’ve got so many wonderful after-hours tours this year,” Cates said, “and we have a series of three ghost tours at Longwood, The Towers and The Burn — gosh are they popular.”
Cates said the Pilgrimage Tours website has been revamped to enhance ticket sales and pull a broad range of guests who may have never visited Natchez before.
“We have a new ticketing system that is working quite well for us,” Cates said. “It is in 28 languages and reaches 166 countries through our website. It is also connected to Trip Advisor so folks looking at Trip Advisor — they might be down the river or further up in the Vicksburg park — may decide to come to visit Natchez and can purchase their tickets through the Trip Advisor app.”
Cates said tickets and tour packages would also still be sold at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, where agents would also be standing by at an information booth for anyone with questions during business hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cates said upwards of 500 tickets had been sold online before the opening day of pilgrimage.
“This is the first year, I would say, that we’ve had such a large number of pre-sold tickets that have been done online,” Cates said. “We are really excited that so many people are planning ahead and planning to attend.”
New this year
A ghost tour at The Burn is making its debut during Fall Pilgrimage, said hostess Bridget Green.
In the place of the usual historical tour of The Burn, attendees would hear about unexplainable experiences she and her guests have seen or heard about over the years instead and sip a glass of wine in the garden.
“We moved into The Burn in 2006,” Green said, “and since we’ve had all kind of experiences between myself, my husband and our guests. I don’t know if they were ghosts or not, but things have happened.”
Green said she heard similar stories from different guests who’ve never met before and stayed at The Burn, stories about them seeing a woman in a white gown standing at the foot of their bed and then vanishing after they had turned on the lamp.
“That’s just one of the stories we’ve heard,” Green said of the vanishing woman.
After the tour, Green said visitors would be able to venture out into the garden for a glass of wine.
“Nothing is fabricated,” she said. “Everything we tell about during this tour is a true account of something that actually happened to one of us. … Fall Pilgrimage is the first time we’ve decided to let everyone hear our story.”
Ghost tours at the Burn start at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday. Tickets are $30 each.
Ginger Hyland and her husband James started hosting a Paranormal tour at The Towers three years ago during Spring and Fall Pilgrimage and would continue the tradition this year on Saturdays at 7 p.m. with optional champagne and light refreshments, Hyland said. Tickets are $35 each.
“Tickets to The Paranormal Tour at The Towers are selling like hot popcorn,” said marketing manager, Linda Smith. “Everyone just loves it.”
Ginger Hyland said her husband uses tools like a ghost meter to detect paranormal activity while their guests may see and hear things they didn’t know were in the room.
“Not only do you get to see a beautiful antebellum home, but you get to hear about things that happened long ago and things that are still going on today,” Hyland said. “If you bring your cellphone and take pictures, you might find some ghosty things that are pretty unexplainable. … Some old souls from long ago are still here.”
Cates said people on social media are also raving about the ghost tour at Longwood, which starts at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10 and 11. Tickets are $20 to $35 each.
“They have a fabulous tour that starts at dusk on 90 secluded acres and in an unfinished house that is pretty creepy and fun.”
With each spooky experience is a touch of history, Cates said.
In one particular experience, guests will be a part of a reenactment of a wake service that actually took place at Sunnyside Bed and Breakfast. Tickets start at $20 to $25 each.
An authentic 1800s dining experience — complete with silver, china and table adornments — is also available at Choctaw Hall at 6 p.m. Oct. 5 and 12, tickets to which are $55 each.
Cates said many houses are open for tours exclusively during Pilgrimage.
“There are 17 private homes that are not open to the public except this time of year,” she said. “They are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
Individual house tours are $10 to $20 each, Smith said.
Guests may also choose three houses for a discounted price from $30 to $45.
Tours at Stanton Hall, Longwood and Rosalie are also available for $25 each or $60 for all three, Smith said.
For more information about Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, call 601-446-6631 or visit www.natchezpilgrimage.com. Tickets and tour packages may be purchased online or at the Natchez Visitor and Reception Center.