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Officials plan ‘incredible’ Fall Pilgrimage event

NATCHEZ — With the cancellation of the 2020 Natchez Spring Pilgrimage due to the COVID-19 pandemic came a major blow to the local economy, resulting in some restaurants and other businesses having to close down for the foreseeable future.

By the time the shutdown passes and the economy starts to get back to normal, hopefully by the fall, another major event will take place in Natchez — the 2020 Natchez Grand Fall Pilgrimage, which is scheduled for Sept. 26 through Oct. 23.

Eugenie Cates, Natchez Pilgrimage Tours director and Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club president, said the Natchez Grand Fall Pilgrimage event would be different from the usual Fall Pilgrimage for a variety of reasons.

“It’s going to be incredible because many plantations and mansions are on the list. Twenty-five homes will be included. Usually we have 19 or so open,” Cates said. “Some of the spring homes are not involved in the fall. Extra homes will be on the list. You can see all of Natchez in one visit.”

While Cates said the fall pilgrimage attracts tourists from around the world, this year’s event should have more of a regional feel to it.

“We have a lot of activities for the visitors. We are quite safe. We’ve had some cases of the (coronavirus). But I feel like this shall pass before then,” Cates said. “Our statistics show that most of our visitors are from Louisiana, Tennessee and other neighboring states such as Texas and Arkansas. We’re going to have a great drive market.”

Cates said that tickets can be ordered at Natchez Pilgrimage Tour’s website, natchezpilgrimage.com.

Organizers began promoting the Grand Fall Pilgrimage on the website and through a social media campaign earlier this week, Cates said, so people can start making plans to visit.

“They want to get out,” Cates said. “We have a beautiful website. You can purchase the tickets now. They’re checking back to see when they can come back to visit Natchez. If gas prices stay where they are, it is the right time to visit us. We want to do what we can do to make it fun and special.”

Cates said that since making the announcement of the Grand Fall Pilgrimage late Tuesday afternoon, organizers have had 3,800 visits to the site.

“Historic homes, a lot of them are not open except during the pilgrimage. We are limiting the number of tickets served per hour to about 15. The tours usually last an hour. We have tours on the hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Cates said. “These houses are big and roomy. It’s family-oriented. The bed and breakfasts are also listing the number of rooms you can have. They will take up to eight guests.”

Cates said that while the coronavirus outbreak shut down the Spring Pilgrimage, the Pilgrimage Tour and the Pilgrimage Garden Club were ready to go for the Grand Fall Pilgrimage.

“We’re really excited. We wouldn’t do it if we were mandated not to do it,” Cates said. “That gives Natchez an advantage. It’s not a big storm that shut us down. We just have to dust up and we’re ready. You can get a three-day pass and visit up to 10 homes. Or you get a one-day pass and play golf and go Under the Hill and watch the sunset.”

As for what people should expect to see and hear during the Grand Fall Pilgrimage, Cates said, “They should expect to see architecture, hear stories and narratives about the homes. If you take a tour to that house, there will be a heritage narrative, about the past and the future. They eat out. They listen to music. They can attend nighttime events. They might even hear ghost stories. They will have a taste of hospitality. A chance to get out and do something different and entertaining.”

Cates said the main thing she hopes to accomplish from the Natchez Grand Fall Pilgrimage is getting people back to Natchez because it is one of the largest events in the city.

“It brings sales taxes to the town. It helps the economy. So many people are involved in tourism,” Cates said. “Natchez has to create the excitement, and we have the product so we can get our restaurants and B&Bs open. We just extended it by two weeks to a four-week event.”