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West Virginia Independence Hall to host statehood celebration

The annual celebration of West Virginia Day at West Virginia Independence Hall Museum in downtown Wheeling will begin with a Civil War lecture on Thursday, June 16, 2005. The holiday activities will continue on Monday, June 20, with children’s activities, speeches and songs, a Civil War-era concert, a 19th-century tea party, and a Historic Preservation Road Show. The events, which mark the state’s 142nd year of statehood, are free and open to the public.

The celebration kicks off on Thursday, June 16, with Forest Jackson “Jack” Bowman of Morgantown presenting a talk entitled “Confederate Guerrilla Surprise: The Capture of Generals Crook and Kelley” at 7 p.m. The lecture will address how guerrilla warfare affected life in West Virginia during the Civil War and how one 65-man unit surprised a Federal army of 8,000 men in one of the most daring exploits of the war.

The small Confederate unit was part of the notorious guerrilla group, McNeill’s Rangers, who had been wreaking havoc on Union forces in Hardy and Hampshire counties in what is now West Virginia. In perhaps their most infamous raid, this small group of men kidnapped Union Generals Benjamin Kelley and George Crook from their hotel rooms in Cumberland, Md., in the early morning hours of Feb. 22, 1865, destroyed the equipment at the telegraph office, appropriated several fine horses and managed to get their prisoners to Richmond, Va.

Bowman is the Jackson Kelly Professor of Law Emeritus at West Virginia University (WVU) and a life-long student of the life of Abraham Lincoln. He has been deeply involved in the study of the Lincoln assassination, a study that has taken him from the coded want ads of the New York Daily Intelligencer for 1864-65, to handwritten memoirs of a little-known participant in the plotting against the president, to a line-by-line study of the various transcripts of the trials of the Lincoln conspirators. He joined the law faculty at WVU in 1979 and on seven occasions, members of the graduating class named him Professor of the Year. Bowman has received the WVU Foundation’s Outstanding Teaching honor twice and was recognized by the state’s Faculty Merit Foundation in 1988 as Higher Education Professor of the Year for West Virginia.

On Monday, June 20, from 10 a.m. to noon, and again from 1 - 3 p.m., children’s activities will include the WVU Jackson’s Mill Center for Lifelong Learning which will set up a farm wagon on the museum’s north lawn and have docents dressed in 1800s-style clothing lead participants in candle dipping, corn grinding, woodworking and spinning. In addition, the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley will present a frontier craft project and John Mattox, curator of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing, Ohio, will present a “Freedom Seekers” program. Mattox will tell true stories about slaves who tried to escape to freedom before the Civil War. Visitors also can have their photographs taken in Civil War costumes by Kirk’s Photo Art Store for $2.

At 12:05 p.m., the main birthday ceremony will begin on the north lawn with a 19th-century rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by the Wildcat Regiment Band, followed by reenactors who will read Lincoln’s proclamation on West Virginia statehood and excerpts from speeches delivered by state leaders during the original West Virginia Day celebration in 1863. Visitors are invited to participate in the proceedings by cheering or booing, as the original crowd did, at appropriate times during the speeches. Maria Busic of Wheeling will lead participants in a sing-along of Civil War and West Virginia songs, and free refreshments, including birthday cake, will be served.

Participants are encouraged to bring blankets or lawn chairs for the outdoor events. The first 100 visitors will receive miniature West Virginia flags. The caterer, “As You Like It,” also will be on hand to sell sandwiches, salads, hot dogs and beverages from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

At 1 p.m., the Wildcat Regiment Band from Home, Pa., will present an authentic Civil War-era concert in the museum’s historic courtroom. Following the concert, the ladies of the 15th Ohio Volunteers, Company E, Civil War reenactors will treat visitors to tea on the second floor.

Closing out the day’s activities, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History will host a Historic Preservation Road Show from 2 - 4 p.m., in the lower level of the Museum. Members of the SHPO staff will be available to answer questions relating to grants, certified local governments, tax credits, and other resources for preserving historic properties. The program also will serve as an overview of resources available from the SHPO. The Road Show has been partly funded with Federal funds from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior.

For more information about West Virginia Day Activities, contact Gerry Reilly, site manager of West Virginia Independence Hall, at (304) 238-1300.

West Virginia Independence Hall, originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, served as the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, the museum is owned and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the exception of major holidays, and is located on the corner of 16th and Market Streets in Wheeling.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. Visit the Division’s website at www.wvculture.org for more information about programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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Ginny Painter
Director of Public Information
West Virginia Division of Culture and History
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East
Charleston, WV 25305-0300
Phone (304) 558-0220
Fax (304) 558-2779
ginny.painter@wvculture.org