The annual celebration of West Virginia Day at West Virginia Independence Hall Museum in downtown Wheeling will be a two-day event on Friday, June 20, and Saturday, June 21. Activities will go on throughout both days from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. The celebration is free and open to the public.
On Friday at 10:30 a.m., visitors are invited to take a tour of the West Virginia Independence Hall Museum led by the colorful 19th-century character, Elizabeth Busbey. Dressed in period clothing, the living history guide brings to life the turmoil citizens of Wheeling felt during the Civil War. Children’s activities will take place from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Grace Nida, a tour guide for the Capitol Complex in Charleston, will lead kids in parlor games such as “Last Man Standing” now called “Musical Chairs,” and “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button.” They can also participate in 19th-century craft activities such as wheat weaving.
At 12:05 p.m., the main birthday ceremony will begin on the north lawn. Jim Stultz of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation will read Lincoln’s proclamation on West Virginia statehood followed by Ralph McCready, a Civil War reenactor, former delegate Chris Wakim and Del. Orphy Klempa (D-Ohio) reading excerpts from speeches 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. Speeches will end with a cannon salute and a patriotic poem. Maria Busick of Wheeling also will lead participants in a sing-along of Civil War and West Virginia songs. Refreshments, including birthday cake and lemonade, will be served. Participants are encouraged to bring blankets or lawn chairs for the outdoor activities.
At 1 p.m., Colerain Consort Connection, a regional band, will perform traditional Civil War-era music in concert in the third floor courtroom.
The celebration continues on Saturday, June 21. At 10:30 a.m., visitors will have another opportunity to tour the Museum with the guide, Elizabeth Busbey, and Grace Nida will repeat children’s activities from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. John Mattox, curator of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing, Ohio, will present a “Freedom Seekers” program for all ages from 10 a.m. - noon. Mattox will tell true stories about slaves who tried to escape to freedom before the Civil War.
In addition, visitors also can have their photographs taken in Civil War costumes by Kirk’s for $2 from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. in the first floor exhibit area. Demonstrations, including butter churning by Becky Vurcelick, outdoor cooking and woodworking by the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and wool spinning by Marty McCarthy, will take place on the grounds from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
At 1 p.m. in the courtroom, guests can see Sue-Beth Warren of Wheeling perform “Stepping Out of the Past: A Visit from Mary Hughes.” Hughes and her husband Alfred were Confederate sympathizers who resided in Wheeling during the Civil War. Alfred was a homeopathic physician who was jailed for treason for refusing to take the oath of loyalty to the Union. Much of the performance is based on correspondence that took place between Mary and her husband.
A special exhibit, The Custom House Through the Years, will be on display on the second floor on both Friday and Saturday. The exhibit consists of postcards and news clippings of West Virginia Independence Hall throughout its history, as collected by Tony Paree of Wheeling. The exhibit will remain on display through July 4.
For more information about West Virginia Day activities, contact Melissa Brown, 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 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. Its administrative offices are located at the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex in Charleston, which also houses the state archives and state museum. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The agency also operates a network of museums and historic sites across the state. For more information about the Division’s programs, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
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