Get your tickets to this ‘Boo’tiful Mississippi cemetery tour before they expire
Published 11:25 am Thursday, July 20, 2023
“Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains . . .” – so begins a most-loved Christmas hymn. However, at this time of year and for our near-and-far supporters of the Natchez City Cemetery, the Angels news we are eager to hear regards Angels on the Bluff 2023!
On Nov. 9, 10, and 11, the Natchez City Cemetery Association will host its 22nd Angels on the Bluff. This three-day event showcases local talents representing some of our intriguing cemetery residents abiding among the thousands of hallowed souls at rest here since its establishment in 1822 for those of varying heritage, faiths, and beliefs. Thursday offers 15 tours with Friday and Saturday hosting 17 tours each.
This year’s Angels tour will celebrate the lives of the following women and men whose concern, interest, determination, and/or perseverance influenced both those of their times and of times beyond their existence, some thriving among the citizenry for decades, some suffering untimely and unfortunate circumstances. All, of course, will intrigue with their tales and fascinate with their fortunes and misfortunes alike:
James Noyes Bartlett Reed: Born in Natchez in 1876, young Mr. Reed piloted a Mississippi riverboat but soon turned to carpentry, eventually becoming a contractor with R.E. Bost, owner of a local contracting firm that constructed at least 30 Natchez buildings. Mr. Reed is credited with restoration work on historic properties as well as with construction on the cemetery’s four late-nineteenth-century Cistern Houses, perhaps the only surviving cemetery structures of this kind.
Caroline Benoist: One of the first public health nurses in Mississippi, Miss Benoist was born in Natchez in 1896 and educated at Stanton College, Miami University in Ohio, and Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore. She was at the forefront of maternal and child health care and designed an incubator for newborns. She lived to be 104 and died in the house in which she was born.
William Preston Grayson: Born in Tennessee in 1810, Mr. Grayson worked for the Bank of New Orleans in the early 1860s. During the Civil War, he was a government agent assigned to purchase cotton. He met an untimely death in a railway accident on the Chunky Creek Bridge when the train left the trestle and plunged into the creek. His body was among those recovered with help from soldiers of the Choctaw tribe, who were camped nearby.
Gerard Brandon: Born in 1861, Mr. Brandon had an active and varied career on both the state and local levels until his death at age 94. Educated at Jefferson Military College in nearby Washington, Mississippi, and at the University of Mississippi, Mr. Brandon waited until he had put his six siblings through college before proposing to his sweetheart. His career included being Superintendent of the Natchez Public Schools and serving as an attorney, City Solicitor, and member of the State Senate.
Georgiana Taylor: Although she never had children of her own, Miss Taylor worked as a midwife, delivering babies to both black and white families. She also took in her two nieces upon the death of her sister in 1896. Her home on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street still stands as does her beautiful monument that prior to her death in 1911 she had commissioned to be erected upon her passing.
William Woodrick McGuire: Music teacher and band director at Brumfield High School in Natchez, Mr. McGuire had encouraged his students to go to the Rhythm Night Club to hear the Walter Barnes band on that fateful night of the fire in 1840. He, along with his students who attended that night, tragically perished. His photo appears on a historic marker in front of Greater Mount Sinai Baptist Church on St. Catherine Street in downtown Natchez.
Louise the Unfortunate: Long known only by these three words on her headstone, Miss Louise’s story is a poignant one and still full of mystery. It is said that after the Civil War, she died at a brothel in Natchez’s infamous Under the Hill. With the help of a local minister, money was collected for her monument.
Pat Burns, Sr., and Patrick Burns: Grandson to Patrick Burns, who emigrated from Ireland in 1837 and founded Burns Shoe Store, “Mr. Pat” was born in 1911 and helped establish the firm Burns-Hicks Insurance Agency. As a third-generation member of a large community-minded family, he was active in many business and volunteer groups in Natchez until his death at age 91.
Tickets for Angels, the Natchez City Cemetery’s primary fundraiser with its traditionally sold-out performances, go on sale Aug. 1 on the cemetery website at www.thenatchezcitycemetery.com and on the City of Natchez website at www.natchez.ms.us. In purchasing each $45 ticket, you will indicate both the date and time you are reserving.
Tours leave every 15 minutes by bus from the Natchez Community Center at 215 Franklin St. in downtown Natchez with ample parking nearby. After about an hour and a half, the tour bus returns to the center. Each of the approximately one-mile walking tours proceeds mostly along the cemetery’s roadways with some digression across grassy areas. Arrive for your tour 15 minutes before the departure time shown on your ticket, bring a flashlight, and wear comfortable walking shoes. Also, bring a jacket or coat and plan to layer appropriately given the temperatures at the time; for the breezes up from the river and across the cemetery can be quite brisk.
Co-chairs for Angels on the Bluff 2023 are Meg Hazlip and Phebe Winters, who share their enthusiasm and gratitude in saying; “Once again we look forward to presenting this wonderful event, featuring yet another cast of interesting, real-life characters who reside at our beautiful Natchez City Cemetery. Thanks to our many volunteers, visitors virtually will ‘meet’ these cemetery residents at their gravesites and hear their stories.”
You will not want to miss this year’s tales to be treasured and lore to be long remembered. Book your tickets early for this signature event that honors, celebrates, preserves, and protects the homes of more than 50,000 who have been laid to rest in the hallowed grounds of this historic cemetery. Be among the thousands who have come, some often and many annually, to immerse themselves in the reminiscence of storied pasts, told amidst the ambiance of quiet candle-lit lanes winding beneath the silhouettes of aged oaks in our centuries-old and deeply cherished Natchez City Cemetery.