‘A Gala under the Oaks’ celebrates the Natchez City Cemetery’s 200th anniversary

Published 5:32 pm Friday, March 11, 2022

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A 200th Anniversary calls for superlatives! And superlatives absolutely are what those attending the Natchez City Cemetery’s 200th Anniversary “A Gala under the Oaks” will experience — the best, the most, the grandest of gatherings. On Saturday, March 26, from 7 to 9 p.m., gala-goers dressed “to the nines” for this grandest of city-wide early spring events will arrive to a most auspicious atmosphere under the massive canopy of the centuries-old live oaks in Memorial Park.

Here the cemetery’s history began when the Spanish, who occupied Natchez from 1779-1798, established its first cemetery in the current location of Memorial Park and St. Mary Basilica. In 1822, most remains were moved to the current site in the now-designated Cemetery Bluff Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jean Biglane

This gathering, orchestrated by the Natchez City Cemetery Board and chaired by Annette Holder, promises to be an enticing evening of dining and dancing, celebrating Natchez history and commemorating its 50,000-plus souls of African, American, Asian, and European descent. Guests will enjoy reserved seating at the event’s 30 tables-for-10, formally dressed and showcasing décor by Natchez’s nationally notable floral designer John Grady Burns. Complementing his creative displays, hundreds of tulips, planted by Garden Clubs of America members, should be in full bloom.

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Festive, delectable fare from a dozen local caterers, chefs and restaurateurs along with an open bar will delight all celebrants as will Switchmaker’s seven-member band performing a wide range of multi-genre and multi-generational selections from easy listening tunes to livelier tempos. Additional entertainers visiting the venue will be Angels on the Bluff cemetery tour characters presenting intriguing monologues during one of the band’s intermissions.

A most prominent component of the gathering will be the city’s first mayor and its current mayor both being there to represent the city fathers’ official welcome. Samuel Brooks, mayor from 1803 to 1811, remains a resident of the original city cemetery; and his contemporary counterpart, Mayor Dan Gibson, serving since the summer of 2020, will offer lively greetings to all present for this commemorative event.

Mayor Gibson affirms that the auspicious Natchez City Cemetery “has been a vital part of our history and draws people from all over the world; and if not for that cemetery, so much of our Natchez story would not be told. It really completes itself when you can hear so many stories of the people who have made Natchez.”

About the importance of the upcoming Gala in continuing the cemetery’s preservation, he remarked, “All the time, people brag about how beautiful and well kept that cemetery is, and that speaks volumes of so many who throughout the years through volunteer efforts alone have kept it going.”

Proceeds from “A Gala under the Oaks” will fund the cemetery’s Shelter House restoration. This one-story stucco structure, built in 1914 by Natchez native and notable architect Samuel Marx, is nationally recognized for its unique status as a reflection of both the century’s Craftsman style features and its mid-century Modernist influence.

Each of the Gala’s $100 tickets, a portion being tax deductible, can be purchased online at thenatchezcitycemetery or natchez.ms.us/150/cemetery. For questions or assistance, call 601-597-2195.

Celebrating the Natchez City Cemetery’s 200th Anniversary — its 200 years of our city’s heritage, 200 years of our families and ancestors, and 200 years of our eclectic cultures — equals hundreds of reasons to come dine and dance under the stars and majestic oaks in Memorial Park. The evening promises to be a spirited one!

GALA SPONSORS—Platinum Level: Bazile Lanneau, Jr.; Brookhaven Monument Co., Inc.; Century 21 River Cities Realty; C. R. Tillman Medical Services, Ltd.; Laird Funeral Home; Natchez Grand Hotel and Suites; Paul Green Real Estate; Terry and Spencer Stutzman; Stratton Bull, and United Mississippi Bank. Gold Level: Allen Petroleum Services, Inc.; Bluffs & Bayous Magazine; Carby & Carby Law Firm; Concordia Bank & Trust; Cook Lawn & Tractor, LLC; Delta Bank; J. M. Jones Lumber Co., Inc.; Kimbrell’s Digital Solutions; Mrs. Holder’s Antiques; Peddler’s Outdoor Hearth & Home; Riverview RV Park and Resort; Silas Simmons, LLP; and Terri and Barry Tillman. Silver Level:  Bergeron & Plauché, LLC; Byrne Insurance Agency, Inc.; Crye-Leike Stedman Realtors, Inc.; Eleanor and Bill Ernst; Guido Self Storage; Hallelujah Wine & Spirits, LLC; J. E. Hicks Distributing Co.; Mary and Dr. Fred Emrick; Moreton’s Flowerland, Inc.; Natchez Pathology Laboratory, Inc.; Natchez Veterinary Clinic, LLC; 601 Salvage; Stephens & Hobdy Insurance; Stout & Company, LLC; and T.G. McCary Photography.

Jean Nosser Biglane is a member of the Natchez City Cemetery Association Board of Directors.