Shaft, I believe it was, described Sunday as “London” weather. It was a bit damp and cool. Clouds obscured the sun most of the day, making for a perfect day to be out and about. I, however, spent most of the day in doors with Thomas Skibinski setting up my most wonderful wireless system which will make my blogger world more manageable. Thomas is nice, cheap and good at what he does. I can hook you up if you have networking needs. But I wanted to get out and about in the city.
About the time Thomas finished his work, the Old Gray Lantern and Carriage Tour had begun. Running from 4:00 to 7:00, there will likely never be a need for actual lanterns, but it’s a nice name. It did make me wonder if there couldn’t be an evening event of a different sort. Certainly a ghostly theme would work. I’ve been on night tours many times in Williamsburg, VA which are, indeed, led by lantern bearing guides in period costume. What up, Old Gray?
The basic idea of the tour is the same from year-to-year: Costumed interpreters tell the story of various famous and not-so-famous Knoxvillians buried in the cemetery. Some are very much in character and introduce themselves as the person in question, while others make no pretense of the sort. This year the interpreters were encouraged to focus on their life during the years of the Civil War, to support the “War on the Homefront” theme.
With the changing control of the city, the bitterly divided populace and the occupation, the war really did have a major impact on the city. A very helpful timeline of events in Knoxville and the surrounding area proved very helpful. The stories told included those directly involved in the war and those indirectly impacted by it. Further, it was noted how the city struggled after the war to regain any semblance of civility and unity.
I wish I had the memory and the space to recount the excellent stories I heard and to label the photographs you are seeing appropriately, but I’m afraid I can’t. Everyone did such a good job, I would love to give them appropriate credit. Some of those portrayed have notable Knoxville names or connections to them: Krutch, McClung, Bearden, White and Kern, for example. At least one old and famous Knoxville names could be found among the re-enactors: Riley and Brady Dempster each had a part.
I’ll not go into great detail on the stories because they will be mercilessly mangled by my poor memory, but several did stand out. One woman told of hiding the confederate flag when the Union took over the city. The troops determined she had the flag, but she would not tell them where it was. Eventually, she wound up going to Washington to give Mr. Lincoln a piece of her mind. Incredibly, she was allowed a meeting with him. At some point he leaned in close and asked, “But tell me, where did you hide that flag?” She said, “Why Mr. President, I’m wearing it.” He did not ask her to relieve herself of the garment. This is apparently a well known story and the “flag of Knoxville” is on display in South Carolina where she later settled.
I particularly enjoyed Ed White and Nancy Brennan Strange as Father Abram Ryan and Mary Jane Bower Ricardi. Father Ryan is commemorated by an historic marker beside Immaculate Conception Catholic Church overlooking downtown. He served there just at the end of the war and wrote “The Conquered Banner,” which was recited and sung across the south for decades. His presentation included the fact that abolitionists in the north were also often anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic which he offered as a possible explanation why Father Ryan so supported the opponents of abolition.
The other connection for me, which I knew already, was that Father Ryan served in, was buried in and has a statue erected in his honor in my hometown, Mobile, Alabama. Ed and Nancy ended their presentation by singing a verse of his most famous song and I’ll have to say that with that complicated melody, I believe I would have had to stick to the recitation. I can’t imagine school children following that melody line.
The story of taps was offered and it was played. Peter Kern discussed his illustrious time in Knoxville, which began with his being captured in the city. Cannons were fired periodically and explanation was given of how they worked. The carriage rides came at a price of $5 which was not included in the $10 entrance fee. This was the first year for that extra charge and the purpose was to limit the number of people riding out of concern for the horses. The plan does not appear to have worked, as the line for the carriage rides never diminished throughout the event. That’s a nice bit of extra change for the cemetery, which is a good thing.
Of course you should attend the event next year. There are others they have throughout the spring, as well. Beyond that, you should simply come to the cemetery when nothing is happening. It is one of the most beautiful and tranquil spots in the downtown area. The shade trees are lush, the monuments sometimes ornate and often interesting. Knoxville’s finest and oldest families are represented and there’s always something to learn from their stones. It’s also a great place to photograph, if you enjoy that. I typically walk there from downtown. It’s less than a mile, but it does go through the mission district, so you’ll have to consider how you feel about that. Parking is possible inside the cemetery.