Thursday, April 19, 2007
First Pilgrimage is a big success
By MRS. VADAH COCHRAN
In the spring of 1936, Ruth Francisco, Marjorie McCrosky, Miss Nina Craft, my sister and I journeyed to Natchez for the Pilgrimage. Included in our itinerary was the Vicksburg Pilgrimage, also. We had a wonderful week and on the drive home we discussed Holly Springs, her history, her white pillared mansions, her quaint cottages, her various treasures. We thought she had far more than Vicksburg and compared favorably with Natchez.
Why couldn’t we have a Pilgrimage? We had a good beginning with the holdings of the occupants of the car. “The Pines” boasted petticoat tables, four posters, French beds, as well as rare old china and silver. McCarroll Place was completely furnished in antiques used by five generations, and Marjorie, always modest, would admit when pressed that the McCroskys also had interesting pieces of furniture. There were countless other Holly Springs residents with priceless possessions speaking of an era long past.
Everybody in the car, with the exception of my sister, was a charter member of the Holly Springs Garden Club. The club, then only two years old, had been organized by Mrs. Hamilton Harris, who served as its first president. The four of us in the car agreed then and there to urge the inauguration of a Pilgrimage by our club.
Ruth Francisco and I were the nominating committee for our next president and were most fortunate that spring in securing for this office Mrs. Egbert Jones, a wonderfully capable and experienced leader. She went to work immediately, mapping out plans for the celebration of the Marshall County Centennial in October, featuring especially a tour of the historic old homes.
The summer that followed was the busiest of my life. I had promised Mrs. Jones my full support and she held me to my word. My husband, interested in the project, gave me full-time use of the car with no limit on the gas.
Mrs. Jones’ head was fairly bursting with ideas. I was more or less errand boy, and happy to be just that. Our contacts with people over the country proved interesting. Some were interested and enthusiastic, others lukewarm, others openly defiant. Still determined, we kept straight on our course.
I will never forget the day Mrs. Jones sent me to the Rotary Club to present our plans for the Centennial. Gladys Harris, then vice president of the club, went with me to hold my hand and give me moral support. I made the best talk I could. I recounted the story of Mrs. Balfour Miller and how her vision and foresight had turned the eyes of the world on Natchez (whose Pilgrimages were only four years old at that time). I was filled with my subject and so in hopes they would catch some of my enthusiasm.
The Centennial plans, as I presented them that day, consisted of a four-day program starting Thursday, October 22, at 9 a.m. A morning tour of the historic homes would be followed by a horse show in the afternoon. In Spring Hollow on the evening of the first day, historical skits would be presented by the various communities of the county. Friday morning, another tour of the homes, with a jousting tournament in the afternoon, followed by the Confederate Ball that evening where the Queen of Love and Beauty would be crowned. A third tour of homes Saturday morning with spirituals in the afternoon and the Negro play “Heaven Bound” that night. Sunday consisted of special historical programs in all churches of the county, a pilgrimage to Hill Crest in the afternoon, and Negro spirituals again that night (by the Rust College Singers under their able director, Natalie Doxey).
The Rotaries listened attentively. They were gracious and polite; they were amused, not really interested. It all sounded rather fantastic! These were businessmen and the plans did not sound practical. Just one man was sold on the idea – that was Jim Tyson. I shall never forget how he came to my rescue. He said he had been going over plans for a Centennial celebration but had arrived at nothing concrete.
“This program planned by the ladies is fitting in every phase,” he said. “My congratulations to you, and I urge the endorsement and support of each Rotarian here today. If you need money (and we needed it dreadfully), I will help you raise it.” He kept his promise and helped us not only raise money, but in numerous other ways. His faith in our plans never failed because he had faith in Holly Springs. The majority of the men contributed generously of their means but had their doubts as to the success of the plans. Mrs. Jones had picked her 21 Centennial chairmen wisely and well. They were capable, interested women, and each was devoting full time to her assignment. Mrs. Katherine Mattison, skilled in newspaper work, was compiling the history of Marshall County, which she planned to publish in newspaper form.
Mrs. George Buchanan was making all arrangements for the horse show, a stupendous task. Mrs. Jim Tucker was in charge of the Confederate Ball. Time will not permit me to name all the chairmen, but one very important one was Mrs. Edgar Francisco, chairman of the Tour of Homes. Fourteen home owners promised to open their homes for the tour. I think right there I would like to name those first 14 homes opened in 1936.
NOTE: The Cochran House was open.
Through the summer months the members of the garden club toiled. Mrs. Jones and I were covering the county. The morning might find us in Byhalia, the afternoon in Cornersville, with a night meeting scheduled for Holly Springs. On through the heat of September we worked. Mrs. Jones, during those hot sultry days, had long discarded both girdle and hose. I, not being as young as she, foolishly clung to both.
Each day brought some new problem. Many people were skeptical about the whole plan. Holly Springs would never attract people like Natchez. We didn’t have the big estates. We didn’t have the Deep South setting, the azaleas, the moss-covered live oaks. We didn’t have “Old Man River” flowing by our door.
October at last rolled around with its brilliant fall coloring. Indian Summer days were at hand. Women now had their heads together over Godey prints as they planned their costumes. Others more fortunate had the real thing stored away in attic trunks.
Finally the eve of the Centennial arrived. The town was gay with bunting and flags flying in the breeze. A glad “Welcome” stretched across the square. Grandstand and grounds were ready for the horse show. Gaited and walking horses were on hand. The gymnasium, under artistic hands, had been transformed into a ballroom of beauty.
Spring Hollow was wired and the stage set for the county historical skits. The Negro choirs and the Negro cast for the play “Heaven Bound” were ready for the curtain to roll up.
Last but not least, the fine old mansions, spic and span, decked with flowers and with bright fires burning on their hearths, awaited their visitors. Would they come? All through the night I would wake and ask that question, Would they come?
The morning of October 22 dawned with heavy clouds hanging low. With trembling fingers I hooked on my hoop skirt. (By the way, mine was the first Pilgrimage dress Bessie Rankin ever made. Today, after 12 years’ experience, she turns out lovely, artistic creations). Thus gowned and adorned in my mother’s jewelry, I joined other ladies at headquarters located in the Elks Club, now the Van Dorn Hotel.
A Negro orchestra, hired for the occasion to lend a Deep South atmosphere and stationed on the veranda, could be heard tuning up their instruments. “Tick-tock-tick-tock” went the clock on the wall – minutes were slipping by. “Thump-thump” went my heart. Butterflies were in my stomach. Would they come? The same question again and again!
The old town clock atop the Court House began to strike - - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight - - it was nine o’clock! The Negro musician struck up Dixie, the front door flew open, and there they were – people - people - people - people!
People from Memphis, from the Delta, from the hills, from the prairies, from Tennessee, from Arkansas, from far-away places, on they came!
Tears of pure joy were streaming down my face. Our dreams had come true, our days of toil repaid. We were running Natchez a close second. Once again our beloved town would be called “The City of Flowers,” “The Athens of the South.”
The band out front was playing “Dixie.”
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