We had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Slover, a Natchez native with a personal connection to the Spring Pilgrimage and the Historic Natchez Tableaux, the annual pageant. Jennifer smiles, “Both of my parents grew up in Natchez. My dad’s family has been in Natchez since the 1700’s. When my maternal grandparents moved here as adults, my grandmother became active in the Garden Club, and, eventually, my mother served as Queen. My parents moved back to Natchez when I was a child, and I began participating in the Historic Natchez Tableaux." Today, Jennifer answers more of our questions about the annual Natchez events:
Tell us the history of the Spring Pilgrimage and the Historic Natchez Tableaux!
“The stories of the beginning of Spring Pilgrimage and the beginning of The Historic Natchez Tableaux are certainly related. In 1931, the ladies of the Natchez Garden Club were slated to host the annual meeting of the Mississippi State Federation of Garden Clubs. In order to make the event special and to showcase the history of our city, the ladies decided to offer a special tour of some of the antebellum homes. This tour was such a success that they immediately began planning a larger one for the next year. To promote the tour, the entrepreneurial women launched a national advertising campaign and opened 24 houses to the public for ‘Garden Pilgrimage Week.’ The Tableaux began as a way to entertain and inform the tourists. It has traditionally been staged and produced by Natchezians and has always featured the children of Natchez as the performers. Thus, many people have been participating in Tableaux in various capacities since infancy. It was considered both an honor and a duty to be involved in the town’s production of its history.”
How are young members of the community chosen to be in the pageant?
“There are now two separate Garden Clubs, the Natchez Garden Club and the Pilgrimage Garden Club, and each chooses its own college-aged king, queen, and royal court. It’s very much like debutante ball…in costume! The process for choosing young people to participate in the Historic Natchez Tableaux has evolved over the decades. For many years, the participants were largely children of Garden Club members. Each Garden Club member recorded the jobs she performed for the club during the year, and this work was taken into account when a child was invited to participate. Some scenes required lots of children, but sometimes there were special, highly coveted roles that went to the children of hard working members. Other things were also taken into account, however, such as whether the parent owned and showed an antebellum home or whether the child was a ‘legacy’ whose parent had the same role. Some scenes were put on by various dancing schools in town; in this case, the starring role was assigned by the dance instructor.”
Tell us about your time as Queen!
“I was Queen of the Natchez Garden Club in 2004. Usually, you are invited to be Queen about a year before you serve. You must have time to get your dress made, to gather the necessary wardrobe for the whirlwind of parties you will attend, and to prepare for your ball. Each Garden Club announces its royalty with a party in December. From that moment on, you truly feel like a queen. People graciously open their homes to you and your court for brunches and cocktail parties that seem never ending. You are showered with lovely gifts as well. The main responsibility of the Queen is to play her part in the pageant and to throw a lavish ball. When I was Queen, the pageant was on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Because of this and the parties that surround those nights, some kings and queens would take a semester off of college. I decided to continue my studies at Millsaps, and it was quite a commitment to go back and forth between Natchez and Jackson so often. Mostly it was just fun because many of my college friends came home with me on the weekends to join in the festivities, and my king and court were all friends I had grown up with. We moved as a group from party to party.”
How are you currently involved with the Tableaux?
“Jump ahead 12 years, I now co-chair the Tableaux Committee for the Natchez Garden Club. I was excited to take on the challenge of preserving this event’s most cherished traditions meanwhile implementing a more inclusive history to keep the Tableaux relevant, interesting, dignified, and marketable. New York Time’s Best Selling Author and Natchez Tableaux native Greg Iles revised the Tableaux to encompass a more diverse and complete picture of the antebellum life of Natchez, and the Committee was charged with bringing this vision to the stage. We strive to establish a fresh brand that will reintroduce Natchez and the South both to our community and yours, just like those ironed-willed ladies in the 1930s. I invite you to Natchez, Home of the South.”
Thank you, Jennifer, for describing this Natchez tradition so beautifully! For more information on the Spring Pilgrimage, please click here.
Also, a special thank you to Janee McKinney for the wonderful photographs of this year’s Historic Natchez Tableaux!