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'Thunder' rolls today in Charles Town

June 06, 1998

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Pat O'Brien is a peaceful man, but when he needed to he called for armed troops to help save tourism in Charles Town.

O'Brien is president of the Charles Town Heritage Days, the group behind this weekend's Thunder in the Valley activities.

Civil War re-enactors will stage mock battles in the infield of the Charles Town Races at 11 a.m. today and 10 a.m. Sunday.

There also will be an encampment of about 500 Civil War re-enactors outside of Charles Town Races off East Washington Street.

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Thunder in the Valley started in 1996 as the town looked for a way to draw tourists to the community at a time when the town's largest draw, the racetrack, appeared to be dying.

The track's fortunes revived under new ownership, but the annual Civil War re-enactment has continued.

Last year, O'Brien was given the state's highest tourism award for his work on Thunder in the Valley. O'Brien also was president of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau last year.

This weekend, O'Brien expects nearly 5,000 people a day to attend the weekend activities, including the battles.

O'Brien has never been a Civil War re-enactor but he has been a history enthusiast for years.

O'Brien said he grew up in Jefferson County and listened to the old-time residents tell of the county's past.

Twenty-eight different Civil War battles were fought on Jefferson County soil, he said.

O'Brien said more should be done to draw more of the 1 million visitors to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and to other sites in the county.

"We've always said Jefferson County is the best-kept secret in West Virginia," O'Brien said.

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