Archive for Thursday, August 13, 1998


August 13, 1998


Katie Armitage hopes the week-long series of lectures, tours and workshops will focus attention not only on the history of Lawrence, but on the Civil War's effect on the entire western theater.

As the 135th anniversary of William Quantrill's bloody raid on Lawrence draws near, historian Katie Armitage has been studying how people carry on in tragedy's aftermath.

At least one of her chosen texts isn't a Civil War history; it's Jon Krakauer's bestseller ``Into Thin Air.''

Krakauer's account of a fatal Mount Everest expedition addresses an issue that is central to Armitage's research on Lawrence's most dramatic historical moment.

``The book talks about the guilt felt by the people who survived that expedition,'' Armitage said. ``I think survivors of major disasters, be it the Titanic or the Oklahoma City bombing, have to deal with that guilt. In my own research, I am interested in that same thing -- how the people of Lawrence carried on after this horrible raid happened.''

Armitage, who helped organize next week's observance of Quantrill's raid sponsored by Civil War on the Western Frontier, will give a lecture at 12:45 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 22 at the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass.

``I called my talk this year `Rebuilding Shattered Lives,' and certainly almost everybody in the little settlement of Lawrence had to do that after the raid. Some left, but surprisingly, most stayed.''

Armitage says about 85 women were widowed when Quantrill stormed into Lawrence in the early morning of Aug. 21, 1863, with an army of 200 to 300 guerrillas under his command. Between 150 and 200 Lawrence men were killed, many as they scrambled to defend the town.

``I think what particularly fascinates me, given my interest in women's history, is how did they survive in a tiny western settlement only nine years old, at a time when there was no social safety net except the family,'' Armitage said.

Many of the women became entrepreneurs, opening restaurants, boarding houses, and dress shops. One took a job as the city's first paid librarian. The lives of 44 widows are recounted in an exhibit Armitage put together at the Lawrence Visitors Center called ``Widows, Orphans and Other Survivors.''

The town also founded Oak Hill Cemetery in 1865 as a tribute to the victims of the raid, she said.

``It follows my theory that people need to deal emotionally with the aftermath of a horrible event. The victims were first buried at Pioneer Cemetery, which at the time was far from town. It was hard for people to get to, and was considered barren and windswept.'' Reburial at Oak Hill was a way for the survivors to honor the dead and ``come to grips'' with the raid, Armitage said.

Armitage hopes the week-long series of lectures, tours and workshops will help focus attention not only on the history of Lawrence, but on the war as it was fought across the entire western theater.

``The Civil War out here on the western frontier is so much less known than Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Atlanta,'' she said. ``And in some ways it was so much more violent and horrifying for civilians.''

In addition to Armitage's talk, there will be lectures Wednesday through Saturday. Topics range from Washburn University professor Sara Tucker's discussion of novels set in settlement-era Kansas to ``A Parlor Conversation About Kansas: An African American Perspective'' by Kansas University archivist Deborah Dandridge. All lectures are supported by a grant from the Kansas Humanities Council and are free.

``Period meals,'' which recreate 19th century dishes for a 20th century palate, will precede each lecture. Charges for the meals, which range from dessert to full dinners, will vary.

There will also be events for children, including a two-day session for designing and building a mud fort like the kind erected by early settlers. At the first session, participants will meet at the Eldridge Hotel to design and build a model using mud and sticks. ``The second day we'll be down by the river,'' building a real mud fort, Armitage said.

Pre-registration is recommended for all events. To make reservations or for more information, call the Eldridge Hotel at 749-5011.

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