Events mark region’s Civil War heritage

13-day program coincides with anniversary of Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence in 1863

Lawrence revisits its Civil War history later this week as it begins a 13-day commemoration of that tumultuous time.

Movies, documentaries, plays, re-enactments, tours and discussions highlight the 12th annual Civil War on the Western Frontier, which starts Thursday and continues through Aug. 21.

The commemoration is built around the Aug. 21, 1863, raid on Lawrence by William Quantrill’s pro-slavery gunmen. As that anniversary nears, inquiries about Quantrill and the Civil War and other programs generally increase at Watkins Community Museum of History, said museum director Rebecca Phipps.

“I would say we get a couple of hundred calls as we get into July and August,” Phipps said.

Many of the Civil War activities are at the museum, 1047 Mass. Last year more activities were scheduled at the museum, resulting in a 60 percent attendance increase from the previous year’s Civil War commemoration there, Phipps said.

This year’s events start at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the museum with a showing of “Dark Command,” a movie about Bleeding Kansas. At 7 that night at the museum local historian Kerry Altenbernd will portray abolitionist John Brown.

“I figured a good way to present John Brown is to have him tell about his own life in kind of a firsthand experience,” Altenbernd said.

Altenbernd hopes to show Brown’s motivations for violence against pro-slavery supporters.

“If you take it in terms of the times and pressures on everyone and what was going on around him, it makes more sense,” Altenbernd said of Brown. “It may not be justified, but you can understand what happens.”

Although Altenbernd has portrayed Brown at a few private functions, this will be is first public appearance in that role.

Most of the events associated with Civil War on the Western Frontier are free.

A new event this year is a territorial dance, set for Saturday on 11th Street between Massachusetts and Vermont streets. Period costumes for participants are optional. A catered dinner in the museum will begin at 7 p.m. before the dance. Tickets are $40 and can be ordered by calling the museum. The event is a fundraiser for the museum.