Thursday, August 14, 2008

Natchez Journal -- Chapter Three (Angels on the Bluff)

One of the most memorable places we visited in Natchez was the beautiful Natchez City Cemetery.

The cemetery overlooks the Mississippi River, and covers approximately 100 acres of land. It was established in 1822, and a tour of the cemetery gives you a glimpse back in time to the early days of historic Natchez. Many of the builders of the magnificent Natchez antebellum homes are buried here, and even a steamboat captain or two.

Perhaps the most famous monument in the cemetery is this beautiful angel monument which overlooks five headstones, each with the same date of death.

On March 14, 1908, there was a HUGE explosion at the Natchez Drug Company, which was a five-story brick structure. The explosion was so massive it totally destroyed the five-story building killing numerous people including the business's employees who were working at the time.

The owner of the Natchez Drug Company was so devastated that he purchased a lot to bury his employees and he purchased this angel monument to place at their grave site. His youngest employee was 12 years old.

This monument is now referred to as "The Turning Angel" because at night when cars drive by on Cemetery Road their headlights shine upon the monument and to some it appears to turn as their car passes by. Natchez native and bestselling author, Greg Iles, wrote a book called, "The Turning Angel."

Another impressive monument is the Christian Schwartz monument. Mr. Schwartz built the antebellum home called "Glen Auburn," which is pictured in Chapter One.

To me, one of the saddest -- and eeriest -- monuments we saw was that of Florence Irene Ford, who died of yellow fever when she was ten years old. During her short life, Florence was extremely frightened of storms and whenever one occurred she would rush to her mother to find comfort.

Upon her death, her mother was so struck with grief that she had Florence's casket constructed with a glass window at the child’s head. The grave was dug to provide an area the same depth of the coffin at the child’s head, and this area had steps that would allow the mother to descend to her daughter’s level so she could comfort Florence during storms.

In this picture you can see the trap doors behind little Florence’s tombstone, which covers the stairway her mother used. They can still be opened today.

In the mid 1950s a concrete wall was erected at the bottom of the stairway covering the glass window of Florence’s coffin to prevent vandalism.

This sweet little cherub watches over Florence now ...

This impressive mausoleum belongs to the Learned family who were wealthy lumber pioneers in Natchez.

It has a unique stained glass window in the back of it which you can see through the ornate iron door and in the closeup below ...

The last story I'd like to share with you
is the story of Rosalie Beekman.

Rosalie was seven years old when the Union gunboat U.S.S. Essex bombarded Natchez on September 2, 1862. Her parents, Fanny and Aaron Beekman, operated one of the businesses on Silver Street Under-the-Hill when Natchez came under bombardment.

As the family and most all of the people Under-the-Hill ran to flee the bombardment, Rosalie was hit and fell to the ground mortally wounded. When her father called for her to get up and run she replied, “I can’t Papa, I’m killed.” She died the following day, and became the only person to die from hostile action in Natchez during the Civil War.

On our way out of the cemetery, I spotted this beautiful cross and love the old urn with the vines growing out of it ...

A note of interest: Each year, usually the first weekend of November, the Natchez City Cemetery presents its elaborate "Angels on the Bluff" presentation at the cemetery, with selected grave sites being featured. This production presents local citizens who portray individuals buried there, and many of the local actors are descendants of the individuals they are portraying.

Guides direct groups from grave to grave where local actors dressed in period costumes tell stories about the lives and/or deaths of various people buried there. Several of these presentations are accompanied with musical tributes.

I hope we'll be able to attend "Angels on the Bluff" in November (it's on the 7th and 8th this year). I'm sure it's an impressive presentation.

Now, back to ... "the rest of my story."

After we left the cemetery, we drove downtown and browsed in two or three of the antique shops and then went to the hotel and checked out. By then, it was past lunchtime so we headed to our favorite place in Natchez to just hang out and relax -- Fat Mama's Tamales, which is also known for their "Knock You Naked Margaritas!"

Sadly, by the time I write this, Fat Mama's will be moved into a larger brand new building a half block away from the old location. We are really going to miss the old place which was brimming with character and was part of the fun of going to Fat Mama's. Here are some pictures of the inside, for old time's sake ...

This is "Fat Mama" herself ...

And after eating a couple of dozen hot tamales (between the four of us), and toasting my brother-in-law and his wife with wishes for a safe and fun journey to Nova Scotia, we said our goodbyes and left for home.

One of the fun things about writing a blog is that you get to "relive" a trip or experience you're sharing, and this is true of our visit to Natchez. We've been there numerous times in the past, but I don't think I've ever enjoyed it as much as I did this time. I hope you enjoyed it, too.



Diane@A Picture is Worth.... said...

I really enjoyed this tour of the cemetary. When we go back, I'll know so much more and enjoy my visit there! I think I have some relatives mom and aunt have discussed going, and we may do it!

I know I've told you before, but I really enjoy your blog, and look forward to seeing where you've been and all your photos and comments!

Anonymous said...

Dee from Tennessee

What a treat this has been for me....sincere thanks!

Cottage Rose said...

Thank you so much to all the wonderful stories and the photos. I really felt the heart ache and sorrow when I was reading your post. They are sad stories but on the other hand very interesting to hear. Thank you for the tour.


Tracey said...

Very interesting post! I love Greg Iles, he is one of my favorite authors. I really, really want to go to Natchez. Thanks for sharing :)

nikkicrumpet said...

I've so enjoyed this tour. It's such a beautiful place with so much character...thanks for bringing us along!

Cherry's Jubilee said...

I had a lovely trip through your blog! That cemetary is beautiful. I hope to visit the South someday. Thank-you for the visit. cherry

Alexandria said...

Regarding your post of the Turning Angel, I live in SE Idaho and have traveled to Salt Lake City to take photos of the cemeteries there. In Mount Calvary Cemetery, there is a stone angel that looks very similar to "The Turning Angel"
Thought it to be interesting...