- Associated Press - Sunday, August 24, 2014

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) - If the new tour guide at Melrose seems wise beyond his years, well, he just may be.

CJ Dee, a sophomore at Alcorn State University who began an internship with the Natchez National Historical Park earlier this month, is the grandson of a Melrose expert, Fred Page.

Page originally worked for Melrose owners George and Ethel Kelly - as a butler - before the house was sold, eventually to the National Park Service. After the sale, he stayed on as a tour guide.

To Page, Melrose is not just a piece of history, but memories he will gladly share - especially with his grandson.

“He knows a lot; he still tells me a lot,” Dee said. “I’ll go home, and I’ll say something I don’t know and (Melrose staff) doesn’t know, and I’ll say ‘Grandpa, What was that?’ and he’d yell ‘It was’ this.’”

Dee’s internship came at the recommendation of his grandfather.

“I thought he’d be the right fella,” Page said. “He’s good to talk to. He’s been like that since he’s like a little boy. He’ll do what you asked him to do, and he’ll be smooth and real nice.

“I wouldn’t recommend him if he wasn’t good, but I recommend him very highly.”

Dee lived with his grandfather as a child and often visited Melrose for tours.

Page’s knowledge didn’t come from an interest in the house, but out of necessity - it was his job.

Today, for example, he can tell if the lace on the curtain is Belgium or French.

“I was blessed I could remember a lot (Ethel Kelly) told me,” Page said.

Page came to Natchez when he was 18 in the 1950s, when the community was heavily segregated. Page said he worked several jobs in which he dealt with people of all types and races.

His focus became the people.

“When you talk to people, if you can’t help people, don’t say anything,” Page said.

Dee said the family policy of kindness and talkativeness was something he learned at a young age.

“You can change someone’s day just by saying ‘Hey,’” Dee said.

Once Page began to give tours regularly, his style of presentation became famous among the visitors at Melrose.

“It was a gift from God,” Page said.

These days, Dee tries to emulate grandfather’s style.

He keeps his hands moving when he talks; he keeps the conversation flowing - just like Page.

It’s working.

“I had a lady call in this morning and telling them how good my tour was,” Dee said.

Dee has an advantage though, despite his young age, he brings his grandfather’s 53 years of experience on the job to work each day.

“He was here longer than anyone,” Dee said. “If you just want to talk, and you have nothing to do, he’s great to talk to.

“The last time he was here about 10 to 12 people followed him from the visitor center. They said they could listen to him all day.

“I’m kind of trying to follow in his footsteps. It really makes him happy that I’m here. Every day I come home he’s like ‘what’d you learn today,’ ‘what you’d do today.’

“He’s always asking questions.”

Melrose is one of the outstanding classic Greek Revival homes in Natchez and is the centerpiece of the Natchez National Historical Park, one of the newest national parks, established by Congress in 1988 and dedicated in 1990.

Melrose was built by the John T. McMurran family beginning in 1841.

The 80-acre Melrose estate contains the main house (Melrose), kitchen, dairy, octagonal cistern houses, smoke house, privy, carriage house, barn, and the last remaining slave quarters in Natchez. Maryland-born builder/architect Jacob Byers designed and constructed Melrose.

The guided tours give visitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of the pre-Civil War American South.

___

Information from: The Natchez Democrat, http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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