By Janet Lyons, Maine Humanities Council’s Consulting Project Coordinator for Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War
Sunday, May 3, was a beautiful spring day in Pittsfield–a day for yard work and outdoor activities–yet about 100 community members gathered at the First Universalist Church forReflections of the Civil War: A Performative Celebration of Our Civil War Heroes and Memories. ABC Fox22 News covered the event.
Team leaders Jane Woodruff (Heart of Pittsfield) and Guangshuo Yang (Chinese teacher, Maine Central Institute), along with team members Tom Brown (Pittsfield Historical Society), Lyn Smith (Pittsfield Public Library), and Jason Allen (history teacher, MCI) created an amazing event.An intergenerational audience of pre-schoolers through senior citizens learned about the Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War team’s project year and enjoyed a variety of performance pieces about Pittsfield’s and central Maine’s contributions to the war. A reception with historically-themed treats followed.
Guang summed up what team members learned in his closing remarks. “It’s not just about battles and great men, but about everyday men who accidentally become heroes and then return home.” He asked the audience to take the time to “look at your heritage and then look at the contemporary connections.”
The afternoon included something for everyone. Vittles Restaurant provided a modern remake of Civil War gingerbread cake to go with NECCO wafers (a popular Civil War candy) and lemonade. The festivities began with MCI Class of 1964 alumni Lee Southard’s “Be Brave Ye Sons of Maine” played on CD. The song recounts Pittsfield soldier Walter Morrill’s prominent role at Gettysburg. (Read more about Captain Morrill in Pittsfield’s online exhibit.) That was followed by MCI teacher Steve Peterson, playing two Civil War songs on his banjo, including “Gray Coat Soldiers” by Gary Brewer, and reading two Civil War poems.
Debra Susi, MCI Theatre Arts teacher, created a multi-dimensional theatrical performance that followed the opening songs. The one-act play, A Veteran Returns, by Maine resident David Greenham, was the focal point of the afternoon.
MCI students Alex Harvey (Tom) and Alexis LaMarre (Fanny) gave a thought-provoking performance as a young couple discussing their futures. Tom, a Civil War veteran, has returned home to Sebec, Maine (about an hour north of Pittsfield, in Piscataquis County), and is wondering whether to stay or to seek his future elsewhere. He and Fanny discuss the changes in Sebec, their families, and the opportunities elsewhere as they try to figure out what their life after war will be.
The play was book-ended by the reading of Civil War letters included in Pittsfield’s Maine Memory Network exhibit, Civil War Soldiers Impact Pittsfield.
Dressed in period clothing, and scattered throughout the audience, students Jesse Langford, Jessica Liebowitz, Emma Zerba, and Jacob Ackroyd took turns reading letters regarding enlistment, recruitment, and other important matters of the day.
The event concluded with Peter Logiodice playing “Taps” and local re-enactors Carmen Kirkpatrick and Brandon Howe reading the names of the 24 local men who died in the war. Kirkpatrick and Howe provided historical color and information at events throughout the year.
Throughout the afternoon, the names of the 200 Pittsfield residents who fought in the war were displayed on a large screen.
This final Local & Legendary event–the first of five throughout May–provided a rousing conclusion to an intensive project year in Pittsfield. Congratulations to the entire team for their hard work and dedication!