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West Virginia Independence Hall to host three-day statehood celebration

The celebration of West Virginia Day 2004 will be spread out over three days this year as West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling will feature a Civil War lecture and booksigning, children’s activities, speeches and songs, and a Civil War-era band concert from Friday, June 18, through Sunday, June 20. The events, which are free and open to the public, will mark the state’s 141st year of statehood.

The celebration kicks off on Friday, June 18, at 7 p.m., with author Hunter Lesser of Elkins presenting a talk titled “Four Fateful Telegrams Make a Battlefield Hero: General George McClellan in Western Virginia, 1861,” based on a portion of his new book Rebels at the Gate: Lee and McClellan on the Front Line of a Nation Divided. After his presentation, Lesser will hold a booksigning.

Rebels at the Gate is a haunting exploration of the earliest days of the Civil War. Set in the hills and mountains of Virginia, it recalls fundamental issues so polarizing that the people were willing to divide their state: a decision that would ultimately influence the outcome of the war.

Lesser has had a 20-year career as an archaeologist and historical interpreter. His writings on America’s past have spanned topics from ancient Native American sites to Kentucky moonshine stills. A lifelong student of the Civil War, he has served as a technical advisor for the Conservation Fund’s The Civil War Battlefield Guide.

On Saturday, June 19, from noon to 4 p.m. children’s activities will include clowns, face painting, balloon animals, a coloring circus, craft projects sponsored by the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley, Civil War reenactors, the “Rolling Cone” which will be selling ice cream and sodas and a special 1 p.m. performance by cartoonist J. D. Williamson of Williamstown, who will draw and tell West Virginia and Civil War stories.

In addition, John Mattox, curator of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing, Ohio, will be on hand with artifacts from the museum and to share his knowledge of the Underground Railroad, and Kirk’s Photo-Art store will offer visitors the opportunity to have their portraits taken in Civil War costumes for $2.

Sunday, June 20, activities will take place from 2 - 5 p.m. beginning with a 19th-century rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by the Wildcat Regiment Band, followed by reenactors reciting portions of speeches delivered by state leaders during the original West Virginia Day celebration in 1863. 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.

At 3 p.m., the Wildcat Regiment Band from Home, Pa., will present an authentic Civil War-era concert in the museum’s historic courtroom. Closing out the activities, visitors can have tea with the historic character, Julia Pierpont, portrayed by Jo Ann Lough of Fairmont. Pierpont was the wife of Francis Pierpont, who served as Governor of the Restored Goverment of Virginia from 1861 until 1867. Refreshments will be provided by the Ladies of the 15th Ohio Volunteers, Company E, Civil War reenactors.

In addition, visitors to the museum may view the traveling exhibition Preserving Memory: America’s Monumental Legacy. The exhibit explores the function of outdoor sculptures in America and how they can be preserved. The first panel of the exhibition includes a photograph of the dedication of the West Virginia Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Memorial Day 1884. The monument is located in Wheeling Park. Preserving Memory will be on display at West Virginia Independence Hall through Aug. 15 and is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and developed by Save Outdoor Sculpture!, a joint program of Heritage Preservation and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

For more information about the West Virginia Day activities, call Gerry Reilly, director 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 Department of Arts, Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open daily 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 facility is closed on Sundays in January and February.