Maybe they could have just yelled “bang!”
A group of Civil War re-enactors were faced with that prospect last Saturday after City Hall leaders unexpectedly told them that they could not fire their weapons with blank ammunition as part of a re-enactment event for the community’s Civil War on the Western Frontier.
Members of the re-enactment group on Monday said those City Hall concerns were the reason the event scheduled for South Park was canceled on Saturday, not because of weather or any scheduling conflicts as was originally intimated by a spokeswoman with the Lawrence Visitors Center.
“We had this on our calendar of events a long, long time ago,” said Brian Cox, a captain for the 9th Texas Volunteer Infantry re-enactment group. “We really wanted to come.”
But Cox said in order to perform any sort of meaningful re-enactment it was going to be necessary to fire at least some blank rounds of ammunition.
Jonathan Douglass, interim city clerk, said the city was notified about one week before the scheduled event that there would be the firing of blank ammunition and a re-enactment of a “skirmish.” Prior to that, the city was under the impression that the event was going to be more of a living history demonstration where the public could view individuals in Civil War dress and view some weapons and artifacts of the time.
“This came up late enough that there really wasn’t time to have enough discussion about the policy,” Douglass said.
He said staff members had concerns that the amount of noise the event may create would be too much for the homes, churches and funeral parlor that surround South Park.
The park does host an artillery group once per year that fires off blank shells as part of a City Band concert that features patriotic music. But Douglass said the length of the re-enactment event made staff members more concerned about the noise issues in this case.
Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she would like the city to consider how re-enactments could work in the future. The community may want to play host to several as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War begins in 2011. Billings is hoping to have a host of events that will land Lawrence national publicity as the birthplace of the Civil War.
“We need to tell our part of the story, and that includes events and re-enactments,” Billings said. “People love re-enactments.”
City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said he’s open to having that discussion because he thinks such heritage-based tourism can be an important part of the Lawrence economy. But he also said the community may need to do a better of job of planning such events in the future to ensure that they don’t catch anyone by surprise.
Billings said the current Civil War on the Western Frontier event lacks a true organizing force. She said she hopes the Watkins Community Museum of History will be able to eventually take over that role once its new board becomes settled.