An excerpt from the book Southern Fried & Sanctified. Postage-free, signed copies available via the author website, click on title of the book to order and view the book’s photo gallery. All text and photographs copyrighted.
Natchez, Mississippi is the oldest city on the Mississippi River. Much of its endearing history still shines, from the twin bridges glistening across the muddy waters to the weeping oaks standing guard over the centuries-old cemeteries.
Make your first stop at the visitor center for a touring map of the downtown historic district, with suggestions on restaurants and a list of historic churches. Every turn brings you deeper into the past; it’s as if time stands still in Natchez. Early 20th century homes shaded by southern magnolias join antebellum mansions perched on hills with winding driveways.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the heavens open to the Natchez City Cemetery in a community of sacred treasures. Some are simple slates resting on the ground while others boast thick monuments gathered inside intricate wrought-iron fences.
The cemetery is so vast, cars are permitted along narrow passages. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the number of graves and requires multiple visits to explore each gravesite. Stopping to read the names, a life reduced to a single stone.
People of all races and religions are laid to rest inside 100 acres of rolling hills laced with sprawling oaks, cypress trees and crepe myrtles heavy with Spanish moss. It resembles an outdoor museum filled with exquisite funerary architecture. Massive mausoleums, finely etched fences and headstones eloquently carved with poetic passages.
A popular grave recounts the love between a mother and a child. The grave of ten-year old Irene Ford with steps leading down inside the earth. Irene died of yellow fever in 1871 and was terrified of storms. In building the burial site, her mother had a storm cellar installed, six feet underground, parallel with the coffin. When a storm was brewing, Irene’s mother would rush to the storm cellar, close the doors and console her daughter, even in the after life.
It is said there was once a glass wall built on level with the coffin so her mother could view her daughter’s coffin. Through the years the wall was covered in cement. To this day visitors place pennies on the pedestal to show their love and respect.