COLUMBUS, Miss. — How to make one of the Southeast’s most magical visitor events more magical? For Columbus, Mississippi’s 73rd annual Spring Pilgrimage, the answer was simple: Add a touch of a true magician to the festivities.
This year, the two-week tour and celebration of historic homes and Southern culture will be highlighted by the grand opening of the Josh Meador Trail, marking points of interest in the life of the preeminent Disney animator who grew up in Columbus. Meador lent his magic brush to a veritable roll call of Walt Disney Studio classics, from helping to create the wondrous workings of the fantastical Fantasia to engineering the marvels of Captain Nemo’s voyage 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, for which he won Disney Studios an Academy Award.
Though Meador did not draw the Disney characters, it was his animating genius that brought them to life and created such dazzling effects as the vividly rising waters of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. That kind of unique talent makes Meador a natural addition for an event known for its own dazzling stagecraft in bringing history vividly to life, from the War of 1812 at Plymouth Bluff to the grand gilded ladies of the Victorian age.
Rather than an artist’s brush, Pilgrimage works its enchantment through beautiful historic homes and churches where hosts dressed in period costume and immersed in period lore step out of the pages of the past to draw visitors into a world beyond time. Candlelight tours also help to cast a spell, as do horse-drawn carriage rides through the Downtown Columbus Historic Districts, while the dramatic graveyard presentations of the award-winning Tales from the Crypt do their part to enrich the experience, recreating the lives of noted Mississippians and others interred in the city’s historic Friendship Cemetery.
But perhaps one of the most magical elements of Columbus Spring Pilgrimage, notes Nancy Carpenter, director of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), is the hospitality of the city itself. “The residents here are always delighted to welcome guests, and Pilgrimage is such a special time everyone in the city wants to be involved and play host.”
The hometown enthusiasm is matched by overflow attendance and is the result of more than just Southern hospitality. Over the years, working in conjunction with the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, the CVB has waved its own magic wand over Pilgrimage, expanding home tours into a multi-cultural, multi-sensory feast that today draws diverse crowds from all over the world ready to enjoy fun for every age, at events like Grilling on the River barbecue cook-off, Noon Tunes concerts, a 10K run through Historic Southside, the Mayor’s Unity Picnic and Artisans Alley, where browsers can shop and savor handcrafted period items and foods.
The Pilgrimage Kickoff Party begins Monday, April 1st at 5 p.m. with a crawfish boil and live music on the lawn of the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center on Main Street. The former parsonage turned welcome center is the childhood home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and conjurer of such classics as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Streetcar Named Desire.
Carpenter notes that Spring Pilgrimage combines the qualities associated with both of Columbus’ famous storytellers. “Pilgrimage is resonant in the romance and glamour that was so vital to Tennessee Williams, yet it also offers the family-friendly quality typical of Josh Meador’s outstanding work for Walt Disney. Spring Pilgrimage truly has something for everyone.”
A complete schedule of events, tickets and more information are available at the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, telephone 800-920-3533 or 662-329-1191, or on the web go to www.columbus-ms.org.