Tourists take a twilight stroll through Old Live Oak Cemetery on a ghost tour and learn of Selma’s historical figures that have now gone to rest. -- Ashley Johnson
Tourists take a twilight stroll through Old Live Oak Cemetery on a ghost tour and learn of Selma’s historical figures that have now gone to rest. -- Ashley Johnson

2013 Selma Pilgrimage has a ‘wonderful, successful year’

Published 8:36pm Saturday, March 16, 2013

Guests from out of town and just down the street wandered into historic homes and buildings in downtown Selma for the 2013 Selma Pilgrimage. Drivers honked and residents waved to the Junior Hostesses who twirled their parasols and wore period dresses on the lawns of several homes around the city. 

The pilgrimage this year was a wonderful success, said Jewell Williamson, chairman for the event.

“Many of the guests are return people,” Williamson said. “We just spoke to a couple from Birmingham and this is their 13th year to come. We’ve got a lot of people here and we feel like it was a real success.”

There were 13 homes and buildings on display for the tour and most of them somehow connected to the overall theme — Selma’s Jewish heritage and roots. Buildings such as the Temple Mishkan Israel, the Kayser-Turner-Searcy House and the Harmony Club, all were on display because of their historical value to the community, as well as their ownership by the Jewish Community.

“A lot of people didn’t know that all of these buildings had a heavy Jewish influence,” Ward 3 Selma city Councilman Greg Bjelke said, as he stood in the lobby of the Performing Arts Center to act as a guide for those on the Downtown Walking and Shopping Tour in a top hat and coat. “Many of the buildings downtown were solely owned by the Jewish community in town — places like clothing and dry good stores. They are surprised at that.”

Word of mouth spread quickly to pilgrims about a tent in Phoenix Park on Water Avenue that hosted replicas of furniture, like the Ark of the Covenant, on display like it would have been in Israel.

“Everybody is saying to go to the Tabernacle,” Bjelke said.

Organizers estimate that more than 100 came to the 2013 Pilgrimage, which also included events like a ghost tour through Old Live Oak Cemetery and a trip to Kenan’s Mill.

Sarah and John Chisolm said on Saturday they enjoyed being tourists in their own city and hometown.

“I have just passed by these houses a million times and it was fun today to go in and see what people have done to them,” Sarah said outside of the Koenigstahl-Williamson-Luker House. And her husband John added that they have worked at Pilgrimage before, but have, “never really done the tours.”

“So we are being tourists today and thoroughly enjoying it,” he said.

Junior Hostesses said they met tourists as far as Boston, Mass. and Illinois, but overall it was estimated that most out of town guests were from inside the state — like Annabelle Markle from Greenville.

“I have been coming for about 15 or 16 years and I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Markle said, also leaving the Luker House. “Each house is different and you learn something about the architectural features. I think what’s interesting about this house was that it was saved from being torn down, and that is wonderful.”

Long-time veterans of the Selma Pilgrimage, Jean Parrish, Maxine McDonald and Andrea Cross were stationed at the Vaughan-Smitherman Building, all doning period dress.

McDonald said she was charged with showing guests the Wilby Room, a room with furniture preserved from the Wilby Theater after it burned down in the 1970s. All three women have worked the event on and off for years since its inception.

They said they hosted a couple from Mississippi who were on their way to the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina.

“And they decided to just stop and go on tour, and they said they were so glad they did,” Parrish said. “They said they had no idea that all of this was here in Selma.”

To learn more about what homes and buildings were on the 2013 tour, visit www.selmapilgrimage.org.

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