Thursday, December 21, 2006
Tour company kicks off
By SUE WATSON
If walls could talk they would tell you lots. Last week Time Travel Tours launched its company from Holly Springs with a special tour for tour operators and the media.
Airliewood, Montrose, Crump Place and Davis House provided the set for the purely entertainment venue to be offered after the new year.
Lida Coxe, in her early 20s, appeared at Airliewood, finely dressed, to tell how distraught she is at General Ulysses S. Grant setting up his headquarters in the family’s new home on Salem right before Christmas.
“My father always said hospitality should flow from this house as freely as the Tallahatchie River,” Coxe said.
With Grant and his soldiers filling the house at Airliewood, the Coxe family had to go to their plantation house at Galena, she said, but the General invited the family back for Christmas dinner and the Coxe family graciously accepted.
“That was strange being a guest in my own house in our own dining room,” Coxe said.
Afterward, Coxe provided refreshing coffee ice cream and a tour of the house for her guests.
Irene Walter Johnson served brunch after telling guests of her happy childhood. Johnson was born after the war, the third youngest of seven siblings.
“We were just normal people until I was almost 10,” Johnson said. “Then a sickness came over here. My father was a founder of the Mississippi Railroad and an attorney - a man whom everyone looked to for answers to their questions.”
When the sickness came to the state and started moving north toward Holly Springs from Grenada, part of the Walter family fled to Alabama to ride out the epidemic. Having no news of trouble in Holly Springs, Irene’s mother returned with her children to the city to find it devastated by death. Her dad and three brothers were now in graves.
“My mother was inconsolable. Father and my three older brothers had died,” she said. “They were buried in the same grave at Hill Crest.”
Later her sister Anne, a medical school graduate, and her husband became medical missionaries in China. Her family missed her and really didn’t want her to go.
“Anne will come home when Anne is ready,” Johnson said. “She lives to work.”
Irene later meets young Oscar Johnson, a merchant in Holly Springs, falls in love, but is unsure if he fancies her.
Her answer came in an unexpected and public manner.
Johnson went to work carving a love note on a mimosa tree planted by Lida Coxe’s family - a four-day chore that each day left everyone in town guessing. “Oscar loves Ir...,” the unfinished note said.
“I thought it could be Iris Sloan,” she said.
Johnson said the note was “the most beautiful sentence I’ve ever read in my life.”
The two were married and moved to St. Louis where Johnson made his fortune selling shoes. The Johnsons purchased Walter Place intending to make the grounds into a beautiful park.
Johnson served brunch and visited with many of her friends who came to share brunch with guests. A stringed quartet from Memphis played classical music in the parlor.
Mary Burton (Tyson) threw her front door open to guests with a hearty welcome - “Y’all come on in. Our home is yours.”
A chatty Burton, in her early 50s and wearing formal black provided the most recent and juiciest gossip in a non-stop fashion.
Aware of her place ever so slightly above the common person, Burton tidily revealed bits and pieces of the dark side of others, reserving the sunlight for herself.
“One scandal at a time is what I always say,” she said, catching her breath.
Unscrupulously labeling her friend Mary as the neighborhood busy-body, Burton quipped, “I don’t know how we ever got along without her.”
“I’m quite the shocking person in Holly Springs,” she added. “My fondness (for scandal) certainly lightens up everything in Holly Springs.”
Burton, in her early 50s, knocked out everyone’s lights by marrying a young man in his 20s, Robert Tyson. It was her first and his second marriage.
Guests were given a tour of the home, offered drinks, and then moved on to Davis Plantation for a visit with Margaret Shackleford.
At Davis House they were met by Margaret Shackleford, who had just wrapped a gift to take to Virginia Mathis’ birthday party.
“I hope you will come to the party. It’s at the Presbyterian Church in Holly Springs at 4 o’clock.”
Shackleford then shared some pertinent information regarding the plantation.
“My husband and I came out here from Oklahoma City to redo this burned-out house,” she said.
The Shacklefords enjoy outings to Memphis even though they do have a black and white television to watch.
“He took me to ‘The Sound of Music’ in Memphis,” she said. “Have y’all seen it?
“I can’t believe the way the girls are carrying on in the theater. I guess it was mini-skirts they were wearing. I guess it’s hit Memphis.”
Then a little tiffed, Shackleford let her guests in on a problem everyone is having in Holly Springs where her sister lives.
The life of a beloved mimosa tree is being threatened by progress.
“Did you know the powers that be are going to cut it down?” she asked. “My sister and I played in that tree for years and years - but they are determined to cut it down.”
Then she placed her attention on more important matters - to the beauty of Davis Plantation she and her sister enjoyed so much as children.
Now heirs, she and her sister hoped to do something nice with the place.
“We just hope to do something that will be a tribute to our parents,” she said. “Time will tell....”
Time Travel Tours is a business concept developed by Joey Miller, who wrote the scripts for each character portrayed on the tour last week.
“My thought was that we needed a tour beyond what we have already,” Miller said. “Everything we have up until now promotes the Civil War. It’s like time stopped (at the Civil War). It’s the only thing that has ever been marketed and covers only about a 10-year period.”
Time Travel Tours is a lot more than that, spanning a 99-year period beginning in 1866 and carrying through to 1965.
“Granted, everything is antebellum, but everything in the tour is not antebellum. I felt it was more interesting to let people experience Holly Springs in depth. This is like nothing else anyone is doing anywhere.”
Miller, who spent 13 months developing the entertainment concept and scripts which contain a balance of factual and fictional material, said the idea for the tour company “just popped in my head kind of quickly.”
The idea to portray historic characters as if they were living was drawn from the cemetery tour performed at the Holly Springs Pilgrimage each year.
But it is much more than that.
“We had the characters, the periods, the years,” he said. “There are a lot more years and characters we want to do, but we wanted to keep it tight and spaced out in years.”
Walter Place Estates Cottages and Gardens and Burton Place are other properties that can be visited on the tour, he said.
The tour is special because of the use of the homes as the stages for entertainment. Most everything in the production came from the bosom of Holly Springs.
The videos and CDs for background music was provided by local businesses - every stop was supported by music of the era portrayed.
The costumes were made by a Holly Springs seamstress, the actresses were people from Holly Springs and the food and beverages were prepared locally.
“The one thing the first tour did for us - it proved to everybody we could pull it off,” he said. “There were so many people involved in front and behind the scenes - a lot of people willing to do this and helping us. Plus my three partners - David Person and Kathy and Joe Overstreet - were helping me.”
Melissa Kuhl, of Oxford, coached the actresses.
Lida Coxe was played by Lisa Liddy. Sandy Miller was cast as Irene Johnson. Mary Clay Brooks played the no secrets-barred matron but proper, good-time lady Mary Burton, and Margaret Ann Barruel was cast as Margaret Shackleford.
“Holly Springs sits out on the corner of the world, but to be such a small town, we have so many talented and educated people and so much culture,” Miller continued. “Holly Springs deserves a lot of credit for the success we had this week.”
Miller described the first run as both thrilling and scary. The thrill came from the freedom to imagine and try ideas. The scary part is making the tour work financially and keeping it refreshing and alive.
“There is a lot at play here,” he said. “Holly Springs is lucky to have as many old, beautiful pieces of architecture still here. We are lucky that people with ability have come into town and put their resources in these houses and are willing to share it.
“Also, tourism is the one thing Holly Springs, itself, has to offer. It’s a strength. This is simply a new take on that. It requires two things, a character and a story worth telling. The house becomes the reason for the story and everything else.
“Everybody is sentimental. Nostalgia is in you and people every now and then like the sense of going back in time.”
The character Lida Coxe is set at Airliewood in 1866. Irene Walter’s character appears in the 1905 post Yellow Fever epidemic period in Holly Springs, the Edwardian or Gilded Age.
Mary Burton portrays a slice of life in 1936, the year Holly Springs celebrated its centennial. Margaret Shackleford is placed at Davis Plantation in 1965, after she and her husband retire and come back to Holly Springs.
Miller said the business plan has been fine-tuned and he envisions the tour company expanding its tour offerings to other areas of Mississippi and into other states.
Locally, Time Travel Tours offer visits to two or three homes at a time on a rotational basis.
To learn more about Time Travel Tours visit www.experiencetimetravel.com.
(662) 252-4261 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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