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Archive for Saturday, March 30, 1996

RE-ENACTORS SEEK PARK CAMPSITES

March 30, 1996

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Two parks at downtown's northern edge could become Civil War camps late this summer.

A Lawrence hotel operator plans to bring the Civil War to the banks of the Kaw River this summer.

Rob Phillips, general manager of downtown's historic Eldridge Hotel, is organizing a weeklong Civil War encampment along the south side of the river, in the city's Constant and Burcham parks.

About 200 Civil War re-enactors -- dressed in authentic and replicated Union and Confederate uniforms -- are expected for "Civil War Days," Aug. 18-25.

"They study this stuff down to very accurate details: the boots, the uniforms, the equipment -- and they go to different communities and re-enact their camps and battles," Phillips said. "This is a living history of how soldiers would have lived in the field during the Civil War in the 1860s."

Phillips will take his request Tuesday night to the Lawrence City Commission, which must approve Phillips' plan to use the parks for the event. The meeting begins at 6:35 p.m. at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.

Commercial interests are welcome to request use of public parks, but Phillips' request does pose some interesting issues, said Rod Bremby, assistant city manager.

Re-enactors plan to camp in the parks overnight, use open fires for cooking and have stable horses, mules and possibly even oxen on site.

"There is some concern about that, but they will have insurance," Bremby said. "Animals and fires will only be in designated places. If there are damages, we expect to be reimbursed."

Phillips said there was little cause for worry. Re-enactors typically are professionals who work by day as doctors and travel on weekends as living reminders of the Civil War past.

Phillips is still working on several events to accompany the encampments: stagecoach rides from Lawrence to Lecompton; fresh 1860s-era foods in the hotel restaurant; and possibly even a Civil War ball.

The Eldridge Hotel was burned during Quantrill's raid, when 294 border ruffians struck Lawrence on Aug. 21, 1863, and killed 150 men and boys in Lawrence.

"Notice we're not calling this a celebration," Phillips said. "It's a learning experience. A lot of people have a hard time realizing that a war was taking place ... and people were killed right here on Massachusetts Street and Old West Lawrence."

Celebration or not, Phillips hopes to make Civil War Days and annual event. While oceans have proven to be the top draw for tourists, he said, history ranks second.

"We're in the tourism business, and we're in the visitors business -- that's the paramount thing we do," he said. "We have, literally, a large amount of untapped potential with our history. ... It can be a large draw."

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