Title: Columbus, MS; Pilgrimage Week
Category: Town Celebration/Holiday
Informant: Lieanne Walker
Nationality: American, caucasian
Age: Upper 60s
Occupation: Blue Collar— Homemaker, stockman, Home Depot Employee, etc.
Residence: Columbus, MS
Date of Collection: 4/21/18
The town of Columbus, Mississippi holds a pilgrimage week every year to commiserate the town’s history. Settled in the deep South, pilgrimage week revolves around the period just before the Civil War and reconstruction (mid. 19th Century). Pilgrimage week is generally held in the Spring, sometimes early April, and lasts approximately five days.
During the week, one of the main events is antebellum tours. Due to the nature of plantation style living during that era, a multitude of homes were built in that period and hold much of the town’s history and significance as a trade hub and economic cross-roads for cotton, molasses, and tobacco. Many of the homes were kept and maintained by families that have inherited the lands.
While not all of the homes have remained, the ones that are often house relics, clothing, and historic narratives. People living in these homes will open up their estates during the week and dress in clothing passed down from their ancestors. This clothing might include: Confederate uniforms, hoop skirts, antebellum dresses, coat and ties, etc. Women will often wear bonnets and carry fans. Visitors and locals alike are encouraged to tour these houses and are sometimes invited to rent out rooms for bed and breakfast.
During the week there are festivities that happen such as recipe contests, history reports, and parades.
Presiding over the festival is a Pilgrimage court. The pilgrimage court includes a king, queen, ladies, and gentleman. The Pilgrimage king and queen are chosen for being prominent young member of the community that uphold the town’s traditions. The pilgrimage queen is usually a first year college student studying at the local University where the pilgrimage king is typically a senior in high school. The court is comprised of high school males and females from the upperclassman level. The king and queen of pilgrimage week are responsible for attending specific antebellum tours, hosting events at their respective homes, and participating in the pilgrimage week parade. The two are crowned at the end of the celebration during the pilgrimage ball (the concluding ceremony of the event). The king and queen will usually also have a large banner or sign outside of their homes indicating their role in the celebration.
In the evening, candle-lit tours of some of these homes will be offered as well as cemetery tours. Younger members of the community (high school underclassman and below) will volunteer to research and dress up as some of the prominent past leaders of the past community and stand by their graves to give information and tell stories to passerby. These tours are held after sun down and lead by candlelight.
The Columbus Spring Pilgrimage is an award-winning event that has been widely recognized as one of the best and most authentic home tours in the South. The antebellum mansions of Columbus are impeccably maintained and as resplendent as ever. Many home tours feature recreated activities of the 1800s, complete with period costumes, which add excitement and even more authenticity to this historic event.
Columbus pilgrimage week is a way for both residents and visitors to celebrate the history of the town’s past while appreciating the aspects of Southern culture that bring fame to the area. Tourism is a main function of this event as well. When I was younger, my mother brought me to pilgrimage week once when visiting relatives in the area. Similar to the way people will make pilgrimages for religious purposes or self exploration, I felt then and still feel now a connection to the area and a bond with their history. While I’m not sure whether or not I’d call myself personally a “Southerner,” my roots bring me back to the area time and time again. Getting to visit and take part in these pilgrimage activities help give new meaning to the life my ancestors once lived and helps me get a better picture of who I am on an individual level as well.