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Enjoying freedom, 1860 style

July 06, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. -- On the eve of the Civil war, one year after John Brown raided through the small Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, the town celebrated the wonders of its modern world of 1860.

On Saturday, 148 years later, tourists to the national park in West Virginia were given a taste of the life that war and reconstruction left behind.

The National Park Service hosts an Independence Day celebration each summer to remind America of the world that was lost in the smoke and lead of war.

Lead Park Ranger Melinda Day said life in 1860 was a mix of prosperity and turmoil. On the edge between war and peace, the small town struggled to recover from the 1859 raid of John Brown, which brought death and unrest to its doorstep while at the same time it fought to preserve the lifestyle that its mass-producing U.S. Armory afforded.

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Day said 50 volunteers and staff walked in the shoes of prewar townspeople and militiamen as living historians on Saturday.

"The event lets visitors step into 1860 Harpers Ferry, and hopefully raises respect and esteem for the strength and endurance of the men and women of that era," she said.

The year was one of patriotism and passion, Day said.

Residents of Harpers Ferry did not sit by and wait for war to reach their doorstep, she said, but rather, they formed militia, drilled for the possibility of fire and pillage to their town, and played patriotic music.

On Saturday, tourists participated in many of the drills that Day said the men and women practiced in 1860.

Park Ranger John King, supervisor of the Living History Branch and militia commander, said Saturday that his men practiced hauling buckets of water and firing musket rounds in perfect unison, just as they men did in 1860.

"There was not much target practice for these men," he said. "They would, nine times, load and fire musket balls, and in a line an acre long, you can bet they would hit something."

While the event included demonstrations and talks about prewar life along the Potomac River, Day said the event highlighted the life of Frederick Roeder, a entrepreneur who lost his life on July 4 when he tried to gain one last glimpse of the Stars and Stripes flying across the river in Maryland.

Carlos Gunby of Johnstown, Pa. has come to the celebration many times, and said the story of the small town never grows old.

"No matter how many times I come here, the sights are still spectacular," Gunby said.

The event ended with the Wildcat Regiment Band of the 105th Pennsylvania Infantry playing a mix of songs celebrating America.

"It is great to see this because it ties all the history and the holiday together to reflect on our roots," said Denise Dalbey of Murrysville, Pa.

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