127. Pilgrimage–Not Just for Pilgrims Anymore

28 Mar

Shadowlawn, Columbus, MS (c. 1848)

Shadowlawn, Columbus, MS (c. 1848)

Yes, folks, Tara may be gone with the wind (or more accurately, fire), but throughout the South you’ll find many a pre-war home still standing. Judging by the variety of coffee-table books and Pinterest boards on the subject, folks really enjoy looking at these not-so-humble abodes. But what’s better than ogling photos or casting admiring glances from across the street? Why, being invited inside, of course! For a fee, but still.

During a spring pilgrimage, Southerners travel from far and wide for the opportunity to stroll the gardens and peek under the dust ruffles of these stately mansions. In all my years living in Mississippi, I can only recall taking a tour once, during which I was shown a “secret” dresser drawer wherein treasures could be stashed. I recall thinking, “Hey, my mom’s dresser has one of those!” Of course, one would be disappointed to discover that the “treasure” in Mom’s secret drawer consisted of birthday cards, old letters, and memorabilia. Her actual treasures? Well, she stored her jewelry in Band-Aid boxes tucked away deep in the cabinets. Sometimes hidden so well, she couldn’t find it herself.

For my mom’s side of the family, the pilgrimage was a time to bust out the hoop skirts and tricorn hats and put on a show. I inherited my fondness for all things fancy from the Lucas’. Two of my mom’s siblings were antique dealers and almost all the rest were regular customers. Every family reunion had a touch of the estate sale feel. But with more casseroles and cake.

Mom and Jenna (post nap)

Mom and Jenna (post nap)

For many years, my aunt Clara’s home Shadowlawn was part of the Columbus, Mississippi, pilgrimage tour, so naturally we were, too. My sister and I stood on the front lawn greeting visitors with a smile, wave, and perhaps an occasional “Welcome, y’all!” Each of my mom’s siblings would be assigned a room and provided with talking points along the lines of “the antique Victorian half tester bed” or “this vahse…” (never “vase,” always “vahse”).

I’m not ashamed to tell y’all that one of the highlights of my pilgrimage career was being promoted from lawn duty to room guide, and not just because the indoors had air conditioning. I can’t recall many of the room’s furnishing, but I’m certain there was an antique washstand (like the one we had at home) and at least one “vahse.”

During one particularly taxing day when my sister was around four or five, she climbed up on one of the beds and proceeded to nap. As the story goes, more than one tour taker was startled when Jenna moved saying, “I thought she was a DOLL!” Clearly, they do not know my sister like I do.

Me, dreaming of glass doorknobs...

Me, dreaming of glass doorknobs…

Between pilgrimages and July 4th family reunions, I spent a lot of time exploring Shadowlawn, from the room ‘o dolls from around the world to the exotic taxidermy collection. Once, I even spent three days locked inside a downstairs bathroom. (Ok, it might’ve been half an hour, but I’ve adjusted for kid time.) While I was in there, I admired the doll whose crocheted skirt doubled as a toilet paper cover. We never had one of those. On account of “they’re tacky.” Beside our toilet? A replica of Rodin’s statue “The Thinker.”

One of my favorite things about Shadowlawn was the glass doorknobs. As a kid, I told myself that one day I would live in a house with glass doorknobs. And now I do. My walnut vanity has not one but two hidden drawers. But I’ll most likely never own a vessel worthy of being called a “vahse.” Keeping it real, y’all.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

As I write this, more than two decades since my last visit to Columbus, I wish I had paid more attention as a kid. I wish I’d appreciated the opportunity for such a pilgrimage. These days, Shadowlawn is a bed and breakfast, so I could go back if I wanted to. But now that Mom and most of her brothers and sisters are gone, it just wouldn’t be a pilgrimage.

In case you’re curious, it’s Spring Pilgrimage time in Mississippi. The Natchez Pilgrimage continues through April 9th and the Columbus Pilgrimage runs March 31 through April 13.

Have you toured an antebellum home? What did you think? Please do tell.

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8 Responses to “127. Pilgrimage–Not Just for Pilgrims Anymore”

  1. Hope March 28, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    What a lucky (and precious looking) little girl you were to have connections to a house on The Tour! I served as a docent a few times on the Marietta GA pilgrimage, but they weren’t fond of me because if I didn’t know the answer to a question, I would just make up something.

    Great and fun story!

    • Kim Holloway March 29, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Hope, love it! At least 50% of the information imparted by any tour guide anywhere is made up on the spot. Much like the preceding statistic.

  2. Hippie Cahier March 29, 2013 at 5:07 am #

    These photographs are treasures themselves.

    One wonders if the idea of Tilda Swinton’s performance art (“The Maybe,” at MoMA) might have been inspired by Jenna’s nap.

    • Kim Holloway March 29, 2013 at 11:30 am #

      Thanks, Hippie, now I’m wondering that myself. Just looked up photos of “the maybe” and they’re eerily similar. No offense to Tilda, but Jenna looked way cuter.

  3. Jenna Holloway Cochran March 29, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    I believe the tale went that I slept each pilgrimage in the same bed every year (well, at least every day for that year maybe). That is one of my favorite stories about me, makes me feel as cute as I am. 🙂

    Too bad you don’t have the actual picture of me asleep on the bed; Mom had that one on the mantel…of course now it is probably stuffed in a closet from Ann…lol But thanks for sharing the other picture, I guess I could show Eli that one and ask him who it was and see if he thinks it is him…

    • Kim Holloway March 29, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Jenna, glad to offer a reminder of a tale that makes you feel as cute as you are!

      When I’m home, I’m going on a photo hunting expedition, seeing as I have so few family pics.

  4. geeziecreezie April 2, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    I love pilgrimage time! I’ve been to the one in Natchez (love their pageant!) and the one in Columbus. There is a new part, done by the MS School of Math and Science, where students study people buried in Friendship Cemetery and make a monologue about them. It’s super fun.

    • Kim Holloway April 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

      The goth 17 year old who still lives inside me would so LOVE to do the Friendship Cemetery bit!

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