The ghosts of abolitionist John Speer and his wife, Elizabeth Speer, stood next to their family’s tall stone monument in Oak Hill Cemetery Friday night. In the light of the moon and a small lantern, the two told about coming to Lawrence and living through William Quantrill’s infamous 1863 raid.
With pride in his voice, Speer cried out, “Godspeed to you all and forever Lawrence,” before he led his bride behind the large stone marking his grave and onto the darkened road that winds among the graves of many men and women with ties to the Civil War.
The re-enactors who portrayed John and Elizabeth Speer’s ghosts were among several who brought the pre-Civil War period to life Friday night for about 30 people who devoted about an hour and a half to the Quantrill Raid flashlight tour.
“Oak Hill is where not only victims but so many leaders who rebuilt Lawrence (are memorialized), and that’s the spirit that we want to celebrate,” said tour leader Katie Armitage. The tour was among many events planned for this weekend as the city marks the 150th anniversary of the raid.
Armitage, a local historian and author of multiple books about the raid, had the memorials of eight people or families marked. She guided guests through the graveyard, stopping at each marked spot to explain the family’s ties to Quantrill’s raid or to have a re-enactor explain their significance to Lawrence.
Armitage also drew the tour’s attention to what may be the most important memorial at the cemetery: the Citizens Monument. The original mass grave for raid victims sat on a steep hill and was difficult for Lawrencians to access on horse or by carriage. The bodies in the hillside grave were exhumed and moved over the course of seven years to Oak Hill as a way to honor the more than 180 men and boys who died. The Citizens Monument sits to the west of the spot where the mass grave was recreated and was erected in 1895 by raid survivors.
“Here we celebrate the vision, the idea they had to grieve, but then to immediately begin to look forward,” Armitage said.
Rob Hassig, a history teacher at Free State High School, said in classes on Friday he spent some time talking about Quantrill’s Raid and Lawrence’s history. The tour gave him, and his wife Ronda, who teaches in Overland Park, ideas on how to teach students about the importance of the event and the people involved in the rebuilding of the city.
“It’s our roots here,” Rob Hassig said. “It’s what we’ve been through ... to be a Kansan is something to be proud of.”