Community leaders haven’t forgotten that the 150th Anniversary of William Quantrill’s deadly raid on Lawrence is coming up this August.
About 30 members from various organizations across the county gathered Wednesday afternoon to begin planning an entire year’s worth of events to commemorate what most historians characterize as the defining moment in Lawrence’s history.
“The raid created a situation where the community had to come together to survive,” said Steve Nowak, executive director of the Watkins Community Museum of History. “They ended up expressing a desire to not only survive, but thrive. It set the tone for Lawrence.”
The actual anniversary of the attack, which left nearly 200 residents dead, will be on Aug. 21. Nowak said planning for a special evening memorial service in South Park is under way. Names of all the victims will be read.
But group members stressed Wednesday that they want a full year’s worth of events to remind both residents and potential tourists of the importance of Quantrill’s Raid and also of how the city rebuilt itself.
Leaders from several groups participated in Wednesday’s meeting, including the Lawrence Public Library, the Lawrence Arts Center, Kansas University's Hall Center for the Humanities, the KU Spencer Research Library, the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area and the Watkins Community Museum of History.
The city of Lawrence also is playing a major role. City Manager David Corliss said the city is providing $10,000 to fund a part-time position that will maintain a website, 1863Lawrence.com, that will serve as a one-stop shop for people wanting to learn about events related to the raid and the city’s rebuilding.
Corliss also said a city committee is set to begin discussing early next year whether to recommend that the City Commission fund a project that would create some sort of permanent memorial to the 150th anniversary of the raid.
Other organizations are further along in planning events. Some that were mentioned Wednesday include:
• Watkins will open a new permanent exhibit on the museum’s second floor, telling a story of Douglas County leaders and the community’s recovery from the raid.
• A two-day bus tour will be hosted by Watkins and others. The tour will start in Cass County, Mo., where Quantrill’s raiders gathered to make the trip to Lawrence. The tour will follow Quantrill’s route to Lawrence, stopping at historic locations along the way. The tour is set for Aug. 17-18.
• A Civil War fashion show, various book readings and author visits will be held at the Lawrence Public Library as part of a grant from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
• The Spencer Museum of Art at KU plans to hold events around a new piece of art it has acquired that depicts Quantrill’s Raid.
Fred Conboy, president and CEO of Destination Management Inc., which oversees the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the community may be able to garner national attention during the year as well, as interest in the Civil War spikes.
“This is our chance to become a lightning rod in terms of becoming known nationally and internationally,” Conboy said.