Touring Civil War exhibit stops at Watkins Museum

A story is told best through the words and images of those who experienced it.

That's the premise behind "Voices of the Civil War," a new traveling exhibit put together by the Civil War Preservation Trust and a grant from the History Channel. The exhibit opens today at Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass., one of nine sites chosen to display the exhibit during its debut tour.


Melissa Lacey/Journal-World Photo

Nancy Helmstadter, Watkins Community Museum of History board member, is shown with a two-piece taffeta dress made in 1861 and worn to President Lincoln's first official White House reception. The dress is part of the "Voices of the Civil War" exhibit at the museum.

The exhibit made its first stop in May in Washington, D.C., and also will travel this year to Memphis; Port Columbus, Ga.; Middletown, Va.; Rich Mountain, W.Va.; Nashville, Tenn.; Fort Gibson, Okla; and Mamaroneck, N.Y.

The exhibit is expected to continue touring throughout the nation for about 2 1/2 years.

Because of the anticipated interest in the exhibit, the Watkins Museum will extend its hours and be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 23.

Judy Billings, executive director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, is credited with getting Lawrence involved in the touring exhibit.

"The opportunity came out of our contacts with the Civil War Preservation Trust in Arlington, Va.," she said. "I happened on a woman who was involved in the exhibit, who did heritage tourism for the trust."

One thing led to another, and before long Nancy Helmstadter, a board member of the Friends of Watkins, had volunteered to travel to Virginia to see what was being prepared for the exhibit. Not only did Helmstadter go to the nation's capital to see the exhibit, she followed it to the Mississippi River Museum in Memphis to see how it was set up and to determine what would be needed to show it at Watkins Museum.

The exhibit is organized in six thematic sections: "The Battlefields," "Lasting Legacies," "The War at Home," "Citizen Soldiers," "Who Was Gabriel Anderson?" and "Diverging Nations." The sections, which include excerpts from diaries, letters, memoirs and photographs, give an overview of the war and its effects on the country.

Helmstadter, Marsha Goff, Judy Sweets, Polly Reed, Irene Reynolds, Genevieve McMahon, Christine Reinhard and several other volunteers are preparing additional display cases that will reflect Douglas County's tie to the Civil War.

What: "Voices of the Civil War."When: From 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 23.Where: Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass.Ticket price: Free.

For example, one display will tell the story of Capt. Hiram Leonard Marvin, the leader of the 3rd Regiment of North Carolina, who was captured and imprisoned by the Confederates on April 20, 1864. Included among the artifacts are the rifle ball dug out of his jaw after he was captured, the mess kit he used while imprisoned, the epaulets from his uniform and his discharge papers.

Others items include china-head dolls, gun powder flasks, medicine and bitter bottles, an organ, a drum and bullets, period clothing and a pocket watch and compass dropped during Quantrill's raid.

"There is something for the men to enjoy and something for the women to enjoy," Helmstadter said.

A computer will be set up so visitors can find out if they had relatives who fought for the North or the South, and a 15- to 20-minute video about the Civil War made by the History Channel will be available for viewing.


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