Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS —Taylor Park fills with women in hoop skirts, horses, white canvas tents, actors, re-enactors and school children as the community marks the St. Albans Raid 150th Anniversary Commemoration.
Four years in the planning (including Civil War Heritage Day events over the past three years), the commemoration includes re-enactments of the raid in the park on Saturday (at 2 p.m.) and Sunday (at 1 p.m.), subsequent trial of the raiders, period food, an 1864 church service, a Mayor’s Ball, a half-marathon race, children’s games, songs of the era, an antique and quilt show and more. (See page 2B for schedule).
The commemoration of the Oct. 19, 1864 raid (weather considerations led to an earlier event) was the brainchild of retired Rear Admiral Warren Hamm and former city manager Bill Cioffi. The two octogenarians were sitting and talking when they hit upon the idea of commemorating the raid. “We were thinking very positive that we were still going to be here in five years,” said Hamm, smiling about that first discussion.
“The whole purpose is to try to make the community aware of this significant event,” said Hamm. “The success of this has been the team. They’re super people.”
Mylan Technologies, Inc., the Rotary Club of St. Albans, Peoples Trust Company. St. Albans Town, and St. Albans City were the Legacy supporters of the event, which also drew backing from much of the local business community, whose contributions play out proudly in a raid event program being distributed from the command tent in Taylor Park.
“We’re very proud we were able to get so much support from the St. Albans business community,” said Denise Smith, a member of the organizing committee.
“It’s really a proud moment for us,” said St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache whose enthusiasm and support led to a sold out ball featuring attendees in period garb.
St. Albans Town Manager Carrie Johnson, echoed Gamache, stating, “We’re really proud to show off our town to the greater New England area.”
An influx of visitors is evident in St. Albans this week as the event draws in visitors from many states, including raider family members from the South. Gov. Peter Shumlin will join dignitaries on the Civil War Memorial for the Saturday re-enactment.
Hamm said he would not be surprised if the event draws 3,000 to 4,000 people.
Creating the event meant drawing on the talents of dozens of local residents, from the people who produced the re-enactments to those creating period food (including downtown eateries) and sewing costumes, and those who did marketing, created schedules and organized volunteers.
“The talent is all here,” said Hamm.
Richard Rodriquez, of Jeffersonville, who wrote and directed the re-enactment script, “The Raid,” concurred. “There is a lot of talent in this community,” he said, adding that there was the potential for more events of this kind. “There is a history of theater here,” he added.
Staging a raid
The eight-scene re-enactment script went through 10 drafts, with historians among those who provided criticism, said Rodriquez.
In a scene performed for the cameras on Friday morning, Lt. Bennett Young, the leader of the raid, played by Andrew Wooten, of Enosburg Falls, informed his fellows, “If we don’t play it smart, we’re going to get a lot of resistance.”
The raiders were gathered in front of the Tremont House, where Young stayed in the days leading up to the raid.
“We sure as hell aren’t going on butter day,” replied one of the other raiders. Butter day was when the train carrying butter left for Boston, bringing farmers from across the county to St. Albans business or market area.
Young goes on to explain the reasons for the raid, stating, “We have a responsibility as soldiers of the Confederate Army to bring this war to the North.”
He also mentions that the Confederate Army would benefit from the stolen funds. Early scenes in the re-enactment, such as this one, convey the background of the raid and “give people a little bit of the history,” said Rodriquez, who will also serve as narrator.
Next, are the three bank robberies. Some information is known about what occurred in each of the banks, including the First National, Franklin County Bank and St. Albans Bank.
“This is the bank where they put the tellers into the vault,” said Jill Snapp, who designed and built the building facades, which serve as a set for the re-enactments.
The Franklin County Savings Bank and Trust set opens to reveal the vault, which second and third grade students from St. Albans City School were happy to “rob” during a visit on Friday morning.
The sets were built at the Vermont Structural Builders shop owned by Richard Cummings and the cutouts available for commemoration visitors to poke their faces into were made in the basement of city hall, said Snapp, who did almost all of the work herself.
She used old photos to design the buildings, and “scaled it down to something I could manage,” Snapp said.
The script was the biggest challenge of the re-enactment, said Rodriquez, particularly keeping it both interesting and accurate.
“Finding the actors was the hardest part, working with them the easiest,” he said.
Reenacting the scene
The re-enactments include the raiders taking off on horseback, but the actors won’t be taking on that challenge, explained assistant director Kathleen Hoffman. Civil war re-enactors who recreate cavalry soldiers will do all the riding, but they’ll have to do it without uniforms.
“The raiders didn’t wear uniforms,” said Hoffman. Rather, they pretended to be visitors.
One local rider and horse owner, Neil Gallagher, of Bakersfield, plans on riding his horse Cinnamon in the re-enactments Saturday and Sunday. Cinnamon was making friends with local students, media and park visitors Friday morning.
“She loves anybody,” Gallagher said.
Tim Short, part of the 1st Vermont Calvary, had his two horses, Lefty and Leo, tied next to Cinnamon. Short and nearly 100 other re-enactors will camp out throughout the weekend in their white canvas tents, which dot Taylor Park.
“When the re-enactors get here, it really transforms the park,” said Snapp.
Laine Davidson, a 50-year-old re-enactor from Ajax, Ontario, spent some time Friday morning arranging his bed and clothing and gathering up all his gear, including a gun, canteen, and period sun shades, which he described as more comfortable than regular glasses.
Putting on his whole outfit, Davidson grunted in effort. “It’s unbelievable trying to get all this stuff on.”
It appears Davidson and other male re-enactors have it easy, though, in their hats, vests, suits and soldiers uniforms, when compared to the period dress for women. St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache and other local women walked around Taylor Park in full dress, including hats, gloves, coats, and hoop skirts.
“We stopped traffic on Maiden Lane – it’s not that wide,” Gamache said.
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Further information regarding the event and the raid remains available at www.stalbansraid.com and on the St. Albans – 150th Anniversary Facebook page.