Historic Mississippi town cancels house tour event for first time since World War II

Published 9:08 pm Monday, March 16, 2020

Natchez Spring Pilgrimage has been postponed while Natchez Pilgrimage Tours follows the recommended protocol from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Natchez Coronavirus Preparedness Task Force.

During Spring Pilgrimage, many privately owned houses in Natchez open their doors for business during what is typically the busiest time of year for tourists.

However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic guidelines issued from the White House that restrict public gatherings of 10 or more people, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell issued a statement Monday evening that officially requests all homes included in the spring tours close their doors immediately.

“During this time of national, state and local emergency, I am officially requesting that the citizens of Natchez strictly comply with the new guidelines issued by the White House (Monday). … I am extremely distressed knowing that this will cause economic hardship for us all, but it is important that we follow the lead of the national and worldwide experts.”

Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Director Eugenie Cates said effective immediately, all Spring Pilgrimage house tours and evening events such as the “Save the Hall Ball” and “Royal Evening at Longwood” performances and practices would be postponed until hopefully no later than May depending on when the pandemic subsides.

“In the past few days, we have moved from the certainty of an ‘over the top’ projected Spring Pilgrimage ticket sales and performance at Longwood to a circumstance where many things in our world feel uncertain,” Cates said. “Needless to say, this is an unprecedented experience for us all and we are taking very seriously each decision related to COVID-19. We care about the financial impact tourism has on our community, but we care more deeply about the safety and well being of our community.”

Cates said the only other Spring Pilgrimage cancellation in Natchez History was during World War II.

The tradition of Spring Pilgrimage house tours was founded in 1932 when an unprecedented ice storm threatened Natchez economically and the community worked together to bring the seasonal garden tours into peoples homes, she said.

“We too, together, will navigate these uncharted waters and will prevail,” Cates said.

Tickets that were purchased after Feb. 13 cannot be refunded, however, ticket holders may redeem their purchases through the end of Spring Pilgrimage in 2021, Cates said.

Natchez Garden Club President Donna Sessions said Monday afternoon that both Magnolia Hall and the House on Ellicott Hill would be closed to tours until further notice and that the Historic Natchez Tableaux, a spring pageant also hosted by the Natchez Garden Club, has been postponed indefinitely.

“Following the recommendations of our mayor, Gov. Tate Reeves and the CDC, we have made the decision to close Magnolia Hall and the House on Ellicott Hill until further notice,” Natchez Garden Club President Donna Sessions said Monday afternoon.

“We’re going to make some plans but I can not give a date of when it will be right now,” Sessions said. “We feel that this is important for the health of our visitors and our volunteers that work so diligently during pilgrimage. It’s been a very hard decision to make, but we have to follow our conscience and our executive board feels like we have made the right decision.”

On Saturday, tourism officials said American Cruise Lines suspended dockings at Natchez for the week of March 16 through 20, and American Queen Steamboat Company announced it was immediately suspending operations across all ships and would resume service on April 12.

The decision was made following wide-spread governmental restrictions across ports, cities and public institutions.

Ticket questions can be emailed to confirmations@natchezpilgrimage.com.