I spent two days last week making the rounds at the Columbus Pilgrimage, my first time at that pilgrimage. Stayed at the Lincoln House, behind the Amzi Love House, which was nice–enjoyed walking out through the jib windows and sitting on the porch swing sipping hot tea and watching the night.
My other pilgrimage experience has been in Natchez, and the two are an interesting comparison and contrast for me. In Natchez, I seem to recall that most of the house tours were a cross between self-guided and fully guided: in other words, docents would be in each room to answer questions, but you could wander into each room and spend as much or as little time as you wished.
Also, I don’t remember that many of the hostesses were wearing hoop skirts. In Columbus, in contrast, every house was a fully guided tour and the docents were all dressed to the historic nines. I have to admit, I prefer the non-fully-guided tours because it allows you to go at your own pace and you don’t have to spend time on rooms or pieces of furniture that you’re not particularly interested in. It also helps you get to each of the houses on the tour for the morning or afternoon–we missed Twelve Gables on the first morning because the tours of the other two houses took an hour and a half each. On the other hand, I learned alot in Columbus that I might not have taken the time to in Natchez. So, neither one is better, they’re just different. And different is A-O-K with me because I’m a very tolerant and understanding person, right?
We managed to squeeze two churches that were open on Saturday into the tour, and I really enjoyed that. First Methodist and Main Street Presbyterian were open from 10-4, and I liked the variety it gave as a break from the houses, which by that point had started to run together for me.
Both are very beautiful inside–I always love to see the insides of churches because that’s where they often shine and really show the heart of the congregation. First Methodist is the oldest church in town, begun in 1860, which as I recall was a bad year to begin a building–it wasn’t finished until after the war and it served as a hospital for soldiers in the meantime. Main Street was built later in the 19th century, but the sanctuary is very cozy and warm–loved the beamed ceiling and the stained-glass windows!
Those of us who have done several historic house tours have come to expect the old stories about taxes and petticoat mirrors. For the uninitiated, the tax story purports to explain why there are often very few closets in older houses: supposedly, houses were taxed by the room, and closets counted as rooms. The petticoat mirror story explains the mirrors located underneath hallway tables as being for women to check their petticoats before running out the door–unfortunately for the story (and it’s a good one), if you stand in front of an alleged petticoat mirror, you realize that you can’t actually see your legs below your knees, no matter where you stand, so if they were used for this, those women must have been running out with their petticoats showing all the time. I’m not going to tell the “true” story for either because I’ve come to believe that these stories have taken on such a life of their own and are such fun that they might as well be true–they certainly are true for the thousands of historic house docents who tell them, and why ruin it for them? Does it really matter if people like to hear these urban legends?
Here are some interesting variations on those stories I heard just in the two days I was in Columbus:
- In one house that had several closets but not many wardrobes, I learned that wardrobes, not closets were taxed and that’s why they only had a few wardrobes.
- Another house mentioned that jib windows were created because doors were taxed, so the jib windows functioned as doors but because they were called “windows” the tax man got all confused and didn’t tax them.
- The next house explained that jib doors were created because windows were taxed, so jib doors allowed you to have both a window and a door but call it a door, and again fool the tax man (who must have been incredibly stupid).
- Another house mentioned that closets were rare because doors, not rooms, were taxed.
- White Arches gets the prize for telling the truth about petticoat mirrors, breezily debunking the myth and making our jaws drop in astonishment.
- At another house, the docent stated that she had heard that petticoat mirrors weren’t really for checking petticoats but that she liked the story and was going to keep telling it. To which I say, “You go, Girl!”
Here are a few more pictures of what I saw. Tomorrow I’ll tell you which pilgrimage house was my favorite and why.