From a barrage of Civil War-era tweets to burning art, Lawrence residents are working to put their own twist on events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of William Quantrill’s raid of the city.
More than 30 people showed up Wednesday afternoon at the Castle Tea Room to hear updates on how community members are planning to mark the milestone.
“We are getting more and more ideas, and more and more groups and networks to make them happen,” said Brenna Buchanan Young, project manager for the 1863 Commemorate Lawrence Project.
Here’s a look at some of the events being planned to commemorate the Aug. 21, 1863 raid that left more than 150 dead and much of the town in ashes:
• Area residents have heard the story of Quantrill’s raid told in many ways, but probably not through Twitter.
Convention and Visitors Bureau officials plan on changing that. The group — along with members from the Lawrence Public Library, Watkins Community Museum and others — is planning to re-enact the events of the raid on Twitter during the early morning hours of Aug. 21
Members of a local acting troupe have agreed to play the roles of several of the more prominent raiders and victims. But organizers said there will be parts for about 50 other characters, ranging from business owners of the time to women who took unusual measures to hide their husbands from the raiders.
“We’re hoping that this is a way we can share the story of Quantrill’s raid with a much larger audience,” said Christine Metz Howard, communications manager for the convention and visitors bureau.
People will be able to follow along through the Twitter hashtag #QR1863 or through a live stream of tweets on the 1863Lawrence.com Web site.
Howard said she’s not aware of any other community coming together to reenact a historical event on Twitter, although there are several Twitter users who post as historical characters.
She said portions of the idea developed in the Journal-World newsroom, where she previously worked as a reporter. Several editors and reporters commented about what it would have been like to hear the events of Quantrill’s raid unfold through the police scanner that is constantly on in the newsroom.
Howard said she hopes that is some of the feel the Twitter event will create. Organizers are creating a detailed timeline so that tweets about the raid’s details happen at about the same time they happened in real life 150 years earlier.
She said she hopes the storytelling method helps remind people that the raid was more than just an event in a history book.
“When you read the diaries and the letters researching this, you are reading about homes being burned and husbands being killed,” Howard said. “It becomes more than a piece of history. It becomes about a horror and a tragedy.”
Organizers of the Twitter event will be hosting an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Castle Tea Room, 1307 Massachusetts Street, where the available roles will be announced. The group hopes to have roles assigned by June 18, so people can start researching their parts.
• Lawrence artist Gregory Thomas is planning an event that he hopes has all sorts of symbolism for Lawrence and the raid. He’s planning to construct a nearly 20-foot-tall wooden phoenix — as in the phoenix rising from the ashes — and then set it aflame in a public ceremony in late August.
Thomas has teamed up with the not-for-profit South Mass Art Guild to raise funds for the project. Thomas estimates it will take about $6,000 to purchase the materials and build the sculpture.
Thomas’ hometown of Phoenixville, Pa, hosts a similar ceremony that now attracts about 16,000 visitors to the community to watch the spectacle of the wooden piece of art being set on fire.
Thomas said he has a tentative agreement to use a vacant lot near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets — in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District — for the burning. Thomas said he has had preliminary discussions with city officials about the burning idea, but final approvals still need to be granted.
First, he’s trying to raise $2,500 to purchase the materials. Former Lawrence City Commissioner Dennis Constance is helping Thomas raise money for the venture.
“I really can’t think of a more iconic way to celebrate how the city came back from this tragedy,” Constance told the crowd Wednesday.
• A more traditional ceremony will take place on Aug. 18, the Sunday before the anniversary of the raid. The city will host an evening ceremony at South Park at which the city’s band will play and city officials will speak.
Young said organizers, however, are still looking for groups interested in helping expand the event.
“I would really like to see some family-oriented games on the west side of South Park, and maybe some downtown vendors could set up in the park,” Young said. “We’re looking for ways to make it into an all-day event.”
• Several national publications are expected to have articles this summer telling the story of Quantrill’s Raid. CVB officials said the August edition of Wild West magazine is expected to have a lengthy article about Quantrill’s raid, including a look at modern-day Lawrence attractions. The military magazine Armchair General is expected to have a feature about Quantrill’s raid this summer, and the CVB also will have a paid ad in True West magazine about the city’s history.
“We’re hoping all of this acts as the pebble in the pond that starts to spread the word about Lawrence’s history,” said Fred Conboy, president and CEO of the group that oversees the CVB and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.