Cindy Henson, left, and her sister-in-law Elin Snow polish banisters inside Waverley Plantation mansion on Wednesday afternoon in preparation for Pilgrimage. Henson and Snow’s family has owned and maintained the property since 1962. Photo by: Mary Alice Weeks/Dispatch Staff
March 27, 2014 10:24:20 AM
Catfish in the Alley returns, bigger and better, on Saturday as one of several special events that will kick off the 74th Annual Columbus Spring Pilgrimage.
The sixth installment of the tribute to African-American traditions and business owners synonymous with Downtown Columbus will feature a catfish cooking contest for the first time this year. Musical entertainment, including Terry "Harmonica" Bean and Grady Champion, among others, will also be featured at the festival, which begins at 10 a.m. and runs until 8 p.m. The event will be held at the site of the festival's namesake -- Catfish Alley, which is Fourth Street South between Main and College streets. In September, city officials unveiled a monument commemorating the area's rich history as a cultural and commercial hub for African-Americans and a gathering place for all races. Also featured will be the "Rise Above" Tuskegee Airmen mobile exhibit.
Garden & Gun magazine recently named the festival as its "Editor's Choice," signifying the event the publication's staff it would most like to attend among cultural events spanning 16 southern states.
The event is free with the option of purchasing a $7.50 ticket for a catfish plate from any of the competing vendors. A garden party at Colonnade Garden on 620 Second St. S. will be held from 3-5 p.m. Admission to that event is $10.
Other special events kicking off Pilgrimage include an exhibition from world-renowned floral designer Hitomi Gilliam at 2 p.m. Friday at the Trotter Convention Center. Tickets to her presentation will cost $10.
On Sunday at 2 p.m., storyteller Dolores Hydock and musician Bobby Horton will present "A Sweet Strangeness Thrills My Heart: The Story of Sallie Independence Foster, 1861-1887" at the Rosenzweig Arts Center's Omnova Theater. There is no cost to attend.
The official kickoff party will be held Monday on the lawn of the Tennessee Williams Home on Main Street from 5-8 p.m. The free event will feature a crawfish and shrimp boil as well as live music.
Monday will also mark the first day of Pilgrimage's staple -- Antebellum home tours, many featuring recreated costumes and entertainment activities from the 1800s.
Eleven homes, two churches and gardens will be featured in this year's installment, including the Waverley Mansion. The house, built in 1852, marks its 50th consecutive year on the Pilgrimage tour. While the mansion designated as a historic landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1975 is open for tours year round, Cindy Henson, one of the house's guides, said special preparation takes place each year in anticipation of Pilgrimage. This includes making sure the yard and garden are kept in pristine condition as well as polishing furniture in the dining room and sterling in the kitchen. The multi-floor stairway has 718 spindles, each of which must also be polished, Henson said.
"We're continuously cleaning," she said. "We wait until two nights before the tour to mop and wax all the hardwood floors."
"Tales from the Crypt," a tour of Friendship Cemetery re-creating the lives of personalities buried there, will return this year. It will be held April 2, 4, 7, 9 and 11 from 7 to 10 p.m. each evening. Tickets will be available at the cemetery and will be $5 for adults and $3 for K-12 students.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will be featured for two days on April 5-6 during the Wings Over Columbus, Heritage to Horizons Air Show at Columbus Air Force Base. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day for no charge.
Members of the Columbus Girlchoir will perform mini-concerts in multiple historic home kitchens from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 5. Tickets are $20 per person.
The inaugural Columbus Pilgrimage Half-Marathon 5K will start at the Tennessee Williams Home April 12 at 7 a.m. The race takes a course along the Tombigbee River bed through historic neighborhoods before ending at the restored Old Highway 82 bridge. To register and learn more, visit Columbushalfmarathon5k.com.
Mayor Robert Smith will host his unity picnic that day at 4 p.m. at the Columbus Riverwalk. That event is free and open to the public.
Pilgrimage traditions such as Artisans Alley at the Tennessee Williams Home, carriage rides and double-decker bus rides will also be held throughout.
The 16-day event, sponsored by the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, was expanded based on the success of last year's, which was the most lucrative in a decade, Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said.
"We are proud to welcome thousands of local, national and international guests to experience our exemplary historic home tours and unparalleled hospitality," Carpenter said.
About 10,000 visitors participated in 2013, representing 16 countries and 46 states. Carpenter said ticket sales totaled between $55,000 and $60,000, a 38 percent increase on 2012's results.
Tickets to each event except for Tales from the Crypt and the marathon will be available at the CVB building on 117 Third St. South. For a full line-up and more information, go to visitcolumbusms.org.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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