Harpers Ferry gets out the vote,1860 style

October 14, 2000

Harpers Ferry gets out the vote,1860 style

By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

For about five hours Saturday, it was Election Day at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park - but it was the November 1860 election in which people were voting.

On the way to the polling place, some stopped to listen to music of the era and politicians stumping, and to watch fancy-dressed dignitaries and protesters carrying signs.

It was all part of Saturday's annual 1860 election day re-enactment at the park.

The event is the outgrowth of Militia Days, an annual event for more than 20 years, said event volunteer Stan Jordan of McLean, Va.

"Vote Union and you'll have four more years of riot and misrule," read a sign carried by Jordan, who comes each year to volunteer and portray various historical figures, he said. This year he was portraying a supporter of the John Bell for President campaign.


While some take voting for granted, the event is a great way to let children and others see the democratic process in action, Jordan said.

To some, it has even more meaning.

Last year there was a group of Soviet Union residents in attendance. Among them was a woman who had never voted. Jordan led her to the polling place where she cast her first vote, he said.

On Saturday, as in 1860, Harpers Ferry residents could not vote for the eventual president, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was not on the ballot there because he was a Republican in a Democratic region, and was not represented by a local elector.

The election came about one year after John Brown's historic raid on Harpers Ferry. That violent event was still on people's minds during the 1860 elections, and Lincoln's views on slavery did not make him a popular nominee, Jordan said.

Anyone claiming to be over 21 and male could vote Saturday. However, before voting they had to swear they were of sound mind and were not coerced into voting a certain way.

Phil Reuter of Wisconsin said he voted for Stephen Douglas of Illinois.

"He seemed the best of the three candidates, the least objectionable," Reuter said.

He would rather have voted for Lincoln, given the choice, he said.

After listening to the re-enactment of the presidential debate, Reuter's wife, Joyce, was headed to the polls and she, too, planned to vote for Douglas.

Douglas was the eventual winner in Saturday's election.

The Reuters had come to Harpers Ferry unaware of Saturday's event, expecting only to see the sights and learn some history. They were delighted to see and participate in Saturday's event.

"It is really informative and interesting," Phil Reuter said.

Particularly enjoyable, Joyce Reuter said, was seeing the fascinating attire worn by people re-enacting citizens, politicians, soldiers, musicians and others.

Linda Kerr of Baltimore brought her 2- and 4-year-old children with her. All three loved seeing the different period costumes, she said.

How often do people get a chance to not just learn about history but to see it acted out, asked Rebecca Rosey of Charleston, S.C.

"I think it's great that y'all are sharing your history," she said.

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