Innovation: Get familiar with ‘Tapestry’ to energize tourism

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 8, 2009

The words “innovation” and “history” aren’t often called on to mesh, but that’s what has happened among the owners of antebellum attractions in Vicksburg. “Tapestry” is the name they’ve chosen for several weekends of tourism emphasis that begin this coming weekend and extend into April. Everyone who cares about the local economy — and that should be all of us — needs to be aware and attuned to these events and be ready to guide and assist visitors.

Anyone who knows Betty Bullard, owner of Main Street Market and the George Washington Ball House, knows her energy and her enthusiasm. She initiated her most recent projects — one now a successful restaurant and the other restoration of a home others thought beyond hope — after an age when most of us are content to rest and retire.

She correctly observed that visitors are no longer fulfilled by walking through historic homes and hearing stories. They want more immersion in the lives of the people who built and furnished the homes, to visit with them “in person.”

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To that end, and with the enthusiastic support of Bill Seratt of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and Carolyn Stephenson, president of the Vicksburg Bed & Breakfast Association, relevant experiences will be added to home tours. There will be jewelry-making, an explanation of Civil War surgical practices, a history of the Vicksburg slave trade, presentation of the art of making stained glass and more. Collections of fine china, silver, antiques and period tools will also be presented in character by people dressed in period clothing, extending living history in the manner that has become extremely popular among visitors to the Vicksburg National Military Park.

“We knew we had to kick it up and reinvent what we were doing,” Stephenson said. “There’s one thing we have in Vicksburg that’s never going anywhere, and that’s our history. We’re taking the stories and history we have here and weaving them into the tapestry that is Vicksburg.”

The innovations have been advertised and promoted regionally.

“If you’re going to try to build a brand that can grow into a major national product, you can’t do it half way,” Seratt said. “For this to work, it has to be a quality presentation and product all the way.”

Sixteen homes and properties such as the Old Court House Museum will be on tap for Tapestry and there also will be concerts on the courthouse lawn.

What each of us needs to do is make sure our family and friends who live in nearby towns and cities are aware of these events. Perhaps, there are local residents who will take the opportunity to learn more about Vicksburg and its history themselves. In almost every city where tourism is a vibrant industry, each and every citizen has become a knowledgeable, helpful host. That’s a model each of us should follow. To help Tapestry is to help each other.