History, hoopla on display at Dover Days Festival

South Dover Elementary School students Jaxon Kopp, center, 9, and his sister Evie, left, 7, practice around the maypole Wednesday afternoon after school with their classmates in preparation for the annual dance on The Green set for 11:30 a.m. Saturday. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

South Dover Elementary School students Jaxon Kopp, center, 9, and his sister Evie, left, 7, practice around the maypole Wednesday afternoon after school with their classmates in preparation for the annual dance on The Green set for 11:30 a.m. Saturday. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

DOVER –– The 82nd annual Dover Days Festival, one of the longest running annual festivals and the largest free festival in the state, is in full swing this weekend.

Although Dover Days is typically known for its colonial theme, this year the festival is taking on a Civil War motif in honor of the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death.

The idea was decided upon through a collaboration of Kent County Tourism, First State Heritage Park and the Department of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

“It just so happened that the Dover Public Library was working on a series of Lincoln-themed events, so everything ended up fitting together well,” said Cindy Small, executive director of Kent County Tourism, producer of Dover Days.

Most of the themed festivities will start Saturday and last through Sunday. At 11 a.m. Saturday, at a replica Civil War encampment on The Green, the story of Private James H. Elbert, an African-American soldier, will be told by re-enactor Willis Phelps, Jr., of the Delaware Humanities Forum Speakers Bureau.

Following Mr. Phelps’ presentation, the Lincoln family will be the spotlight from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at the Dover Public Library, 35 W. Loockerman Plaza.

Jacob Hutchins, left, of Philadelphia, and his brother William race along the brick pathways around the Old State House during last year’s Dover Days celebration. Events are planned this weekend for young and old alike. (Delaware State News file photo by Dave Chambers)

Jacob Hutchins, left, of Philadelphia, and his brother William race along the brick pathways around the Old State House during last year’s Dover Days celebration. Events are planned this weekend for young and old alike. (Delaware State News file photo by Dave Chambers)

Daniel Pritchett will present “The Lincolns as a Family,” a story of the meeting of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd in 1839 and their marriage which began in 1842. The talk will look back at the unlikely pair, their four sons, and the series of tragedies that struck the family before, during and after the Civil War.

The Dover Century Club is also participating in the Civil War theme by putting on a historical play on The Green from 1 to 2 p.m.

The play, “Two Civil War Soldiers,” written by Delaware historians George McDowell and David Price of Newark, and Jack Witzman of Wilmington, is based on factual information about two Confederate soldiers and their experiences after being captured at the Battle of Gettysburg and their imprisonment at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island.

For those looking for a different type of Civil War information, the Delaware Public Archives will conduct a “Behind the Scenes Tour” of the Archives at 1:30 p.m. Led by outreach services manager Tom Summers, the tour will feature a display of Civil War-era documents that aren’t ordinarily on display for public view.

“I think the Lincoln-era artifacts will be really interesting because they aren’t common,” Ms. Small said. “There will also be items on display at the Old State House during Dover Days for the public to view.”

Presentations aren’t the only Civil War-related activities downtown; Civil War-era music will be performed live at the Johnson Victrola Museum, 375 S. New St. at 2 p.m. by Fried Okra, led by local musician Rick Hudson.

A second re-enaction of an African American during the Civil War on Saturday is slated for 2 p.m. at the Dover Public Library. Ron Whittingham will present “Black Delaware Participation in the Civil War.” His first-person portrayal will focus on William Owen, a free black man from Milford who heard Frederick Douglass speak and as a consequence, decided to become part of the 54th Massachusetts, the renowned first black regiment to fight in the Civil War.

For those a little more adventurous, the Second Delaware Regiment Volunteers will be offering candlelight tours of The Green today and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. with a camp band starting up at 8.

“After battles, camp is where the men would unwind, all happening by candle and firelight,” said William Purdy, president of the Living History Society of Delaware. “And they had instruments like fiddles, tin whistles and guitars so they could also play music and sing to relax.”

Fashion of the Civil War era will be evaluated Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Dover Public Library during a presentation entitled, “Close to the Vest and Under the Skirt Tour.” The program headed by the Delaware Humanities Forum Speakers Bureau will discuss the elegance of mid-Victorian style and the historical significance of the looks.

The final lecture of Dover Days is “Delaware in the Civil War,” presented by Dr. Gary Wray of the Delaware Humanities Forum Speakers Bureau from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Biggs Museum of American Art. The lecture examines Delaware’s involvement in the war through the eyes of Delaware’s greatest Civil War soldier Alfred A. Torbert of Georgetown.

The lecture will also include discussions of Fort Delaware, Delaware’s industrial contribution to the war and the geographic importance of Delaware to the Union.

“We were really pleased to see all the different organizations that have stepped up to really bring the theme together throughout the festival,” Ms. Small said.

Aside from the special programming, all of the usual Dover Days favorites will be front and center.

Following tonight’s performance by the Premier Centre of the Arts at 6:30 p.m. and fireworks at dusk on Legislative Mall, the action cranks back up Saturday with the Dover Days Parade and Pet Parade starting at 9:30 a.m.

Maypole dancing on The Green starts at 11:30 a.m. Entertainment will be ongoing all day on the Legislative Mall Stage. Carnival rides, a moonbounce village, a stunt bicycle show, sandcastle building and other events will be part of the day.

Sunday will also be highlighted by the annual Dover Days Car Show and the Dover Days Cup Vintage Base Ball Tournament, both from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For complete details on the whole weekend, visit www.doverdaysfestival.com or see the Delaware State News official program at www.delawarestatenews.net.

 

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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