Date: Saturday, May 2nd, 2010
Parked at: Riverview RV Park, Vidalia, LA
Ok, I may be sounding like a broken record at this point, but we STILL weren’t ready to head North after watching the weather. Friday night there were numerous tornado outbreaks between us and Illinois and now the rain has been so torrential that people have had to be rescued from cars on our potential routes I-40 and I-24. We figure waiting one more day to head North was in order.
That said, our planned one-day stop in Natchez is now in to Day 4, but we still have plenty we want to do and see. It’s so wonderful to be able to be this flexible in our schedules. We need to be sure to give ourselves lots of buffer on our calendars because it makes this lifestyle so much more enjoyable.
For the first time, I’d finally looked at some of the Natchez brochures we’d picked up and realized that the Natchez Visitor’s Bureau has a 20-minute moving on the history of Natchez.
I had assumed the movie was free since it was at the visitor’s center but it was actually $2 per person, no biggy. It was well done and sort of tied together all the fragments of Natchez history we had been piecing together ourselves in our prior 3 days of exploration.
The Visitor Reception Center itself could easily take up hours of time just to walk the exhibits and listen to all of the different audios that go with them. I always get caught up in the audios narrated by the older natives who really lived the history, like the one with the elderly third-generation brick mason whose grandfather had been a slave making and laying brick for the basilica here.
After the visitor’s center, I already had our next stop in our GPS. One of my favorite authors in recent years has been Natchez native, Greg Iles. The books I’ve read have all had Natchez as a backdrop. The first I read, ‘Turning Angel’ was a particular favorite and I was thrilled to find out that the cemetery statue, ‘The Turning Angel’ did actually exist in the Natchez City Cemetery. The illusion of the angel ‘turning’ occurs only in auto headlights after dark so we didn’t experience that but the statue itself was mesmerizing.
The angel actually overlooks the graves of five young girls who were killed in a tragic explosion in downtown Natchez in 1908. The girls were working in the pharmacy when it exploded, Mary E. Worthy, was the youngest, only 12 years old. No child labor laws at that time.
Once in this cemetery, there was no end to the interesting history that you encountered with each step. Although my hometown is an old rivertown like Natchez, this cemetery is so much older and so very different from those in our hometown of Quincy.
Near the front of the cemetery, we encountered this section of Confederate soldiers.
Farther back in the cemetery there was this section of ‘unknown’ confederate soldiers…someone’s son, brother, husband, who never returned home and was never found by his loved ones. Yup, this gets to me, even 150 years later.
This is the tomb of a Natchez family, the Learneds, who made their fortune in the lumber business. The first crypt was filled in the early 1800’s and has continued to be used for the interment of the Learned family members in recent years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tomb like this where over two hundred years’ of family members are buried together. There’s still lots of room so I suppose the living relatives already know where they will be laid to rest.
The other feature of this cemetery that we found interesting was the way there was so much segmenting of the cemetery into family sections, sectioned off by various types of fencing, most predominantly ornate ironworks. The iron gate below we found particularly intriguing with all the varied symbols of Freemasonry.
Ken also noticed that there were only men in this section of the grave who had nothing on their gravestones indicating they were husbands, or fathers, whereas most other tombstones of similar time mentioned such relationships. It’s as if this was a place where Freemason bachelors were buried….hmmm???
We also noticed a section where the headstones were of the “Bowie” family, quite possibly relatives of the famous Jim Bowie (Alamo…Bowie knife) who was born in Natchez.
Ok, on to the more cheery sections of Natchez. Part of the fun in this town is the sites you find just driving around, like this ‘uniquely’ decorated cottage along the bluff….and, what you can’t make out in the photo is that nearly every window pane is covered with some sort of sticker!
Rather than do any more tours of mansions, we simply drove around town to gawk at the gorgeous buildings. There were horse and carriage tours that did similar routes to what we were doing on our own. Here they are in front of Stanton Hall. For movie and history buff’s, this mansion was used for all interior shots for the movie series ‘North and South’.
The other stop on our Natchez tours for the day was to take a look inside St. Mary’s Basilica.
This gorgeous Catholic church was started in 1842.
It resembles in many ways, a combination of the statuary and painting in St. Francis of Assisi Church and the marblework and stained glass in St. John the Baptist Church in Quincy, both of which were built in similar timeframe.
However, St. Mary’s has been meticulously maintained on the inside so they obviously have been able to apply more funding to this effort than we have in Quincy. My gut tells me there are benefactors here that are contributing based on historical significance not just parishioners maintaining a church. The artwork, marble, sculpture, stained glass are all in pristine condition.
St. Mary’s does seem to be in need of some repair work on the outside, but then I guess like any true spiritual endeavor the focus is on the inside not the outside!
Our final stop for the day was once again, for the third time this visit, at the Pig Out Inn. While we intended to eat back at the rig tonight, we decided to add a special Natchez treat, mini pecan and sweet potato pies.
These are homemade little treats that are $1.75 each. Our first two visits to this restaurant we were too stuffed to buy dessert so we had to make a special trip back to be sure that we’d tasted this part of their fine fare. Needless to say, yet another great item to be recommended on the Pig Out Inn menu.
We spent the evening checking the Weather Channel, local channels and www.weather.com to finalize our decision on the route to take and time to leave on Sunday morning. Talk about getting detailed….we picked 8 towns along alternate routes and then in a spreadsheet laid out the hour-by-hour forecasts on Sunday for each. From there we were able to determine that if we left by 8am on Sunday and drove up Louisiana, then through Arkansas, that we should be able to skirt behind this dastardly storm system and then loop back in to Illinois.
I think both of us slept better knowing with all the horrid weather everyone had been experiencing, we now had a plan to get home.