Revisiting 1863

[Photos from the city commemoration of Quantrill's Raid, held in the park this past Sunday.]

My alarm went off at 5:30.  After the requisite "one push of the snooze button" I rubbed my eyes and laced on my running shoes.  It was dark still, so I didn't turn on my music to begin with.  Listening only to the pre-dawn quiet, I headed for Massachusetts Street (the main drag here in Lawrence), the nearest place well-lit enough to run.

The "blue moon" was eerily red-tinged as it shone down on the old courthouse clock.  I shivered a little.  If there was a day for ghosts to be roaming in Lawrence, this was it.

For those of you who slept through Civil War history, one-hundred and fifty years ago today, raiders from Missouri rode into Lawrence, Kansas, led by William Quantrill.  They killed every man and boy they could get their hands on, burned and looted most of the town, then fled.  Some say it was in revenge for similar crimes perpetrated by Kansans; some say that's revisionist history.  It's undoubtedly true that the raid was meant to frighten other people and towns who would take up the abolitionist cause.

Honestly, the "why" doesn't interest me over-much.  In every war in history, feuding sides have committed horrific violence.  Trying to get to the reason of it is like finding logic in a tornado.  You can't make sense of senselessness.

No, what interests me is what happened after, particularly the stories of the women.  

In a town of a little over 1600 people, about 185 people were killed.  Everybody knew somebody.

I read somewhere today that the raid left about 100 widows.  Mary Carpenter's husband was shot as she was holding him in her arms.  Sarah Fitch's husband was killed in her living room, in front of her children.  Her house was then burnt to the ground.  Mary Jones' husband lived, but her baby was burnt to death in the hotel where she worked.  Putting myself in their shoes as I loped up Mt. Oread this morning--thinking of my own menfolk, left at home sleeping--I can't imagine how they kept breathing under the wreckage.

But they did.  And not only that, they buried their dead,  dusted themselves off, and they rebuilt.  

That's the part of the story that always makes my heart swell up big and my eyes get misty.  Because that's the part where I recognize my adopted home city.  Red-headed step-child of the rest of the state.  Crazy liberals and hippies.  Intellectual snobs on the hill.  We're all that, and we're proud of most of it.

We're also a place where people walk outside and say "hi" to their neighbors.  Where people care about things like maintaining green spaces and parks for kids to play in.  And where the average person is  informed about and involved in the civic issues of the day--even though we may hotly disagree as to the proper resolution.

And, like us or not, if 400 demons from Missouri couldn't make us shut-up and leave, no one else has a prayer.