Archive for Thursday, June 8, 2006

Visitors flock to 150th Battle of Black Jack celebration

June 8, 2006

By all accounts, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Black Jack Friday was a huge success. The crowds came and the celebration went without a hitch.

One of the biggest draws was the battlefield itself, which had been manicured by the Black Jack Battlefield Trust for the event. Trust Vice President Karl Ridley went so far as to call the area a cathedral. No one argued.

"Karl was right when he said the Black Jack Battlefield looked like a cathedral," said Brenda Day, a fellow member of the Trust who is also curator at Baker University's Old Castle Museum. "And in that cathedral men fought the first battle of the Civil War for freedom and what it is to be a human.

"And in that cathedral, we need to go occasionally to contemplate where and who we are as a nation, a city, a community, a family and an individual," said Day.

There were 350 in attendance at Friday's anniversary event, which included a campfire meal and an appearance by John Brown impersonator Arnold Schofield who read "John Brown's Letter to His Wife," which detailed the battle that occurred June 2, 1856. It was the first armed skirmish between pro- and anti-slavery forces. It is widely regarded as the prelude to the Civil War.

Trust members and volunteers have been working for months to ready the area for Friday's celebration. It was time well spent, but their efforts aren't over yet by a long shot. Eventually it is hoped that they area will gain historical certification and possibly be added to the National Park system.

"Yes, I am relieved that it is over," said Day. "Everyone involved went above and beyond the call of duty. Good job to all involved. I think it was a good celebration -- a good start, not so good that it cannot be better, but good enough that it provides a good foundation from which to build. I am pleased with how it went, but I see room for improvement."

And, there's no rest for the Trust. Now this week the event will be analyzed, critiqued and improvements made.

"Well, you would think we would rest, but no, plans call for each of us to write our thoughts of what happened and what can be improved on, pass them on to Judy Billings (another member of the Trust) who will compile them," she said. "Then, this week, we will get together and see what we can do to improve. I think it is a wonderful way to debrief. So, no, no time off."

In addition to Friday's featured events, there were also events Saturday, including "Breakfast on the Prairie," more portrayals of people from the time, music by the Blue & Gray Brigade, more tours of the battlefield and a motor coach tour of other area sites that tied into the battle. That included a stop at Lane where the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre occurred, which was another trigger to the Battle of Black Jack. All events were well attended, including 100 for the breakfast.

"The number of people who attended all events connected with the 150th Commemoration exceeded our expectations," said Billings. "It's a confirmation of the interest that we believe the development of the site will bring.

"The Black Jack story is one of national importance and once open to the public on a regular basis, it will be promoted along with the Civil War sites that we always hear so much about," she said. "We're bringing to the forefront the events that happened here in Kansas leading up to the Civil War that heretofore have been hidden in the history books."

Part of that was educating Baldwin residents to the battlefield's importance.

"One of our goals was to raise awareness of the importance of this site to the citizens of Baldwin City," said Billings. "We definitely achieved this goal. We were very pleased with the enthusiasm and support shown by the citizens of Baldwin even though there were two other major events happening on the same weekend."

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