Two local gatherings that wrap up Sunday have a common basis in history, but celebrate widely different ideas and thought in our society. Not a bad thing as both attract area residents and visitors, and expose them to not only what these events commemorate but provide everyone a glimpse into a heritage that has shaped national and regional consciousness.
The Emancipation Proclamation Celebration at the Bob Evans Farm marks the freeing of slaves by President Abraham Lincoln that became effective Jan. 1, 1863, but which had been put on paper by the 16th chief executive of the United States the previous September. In Gallia County, Emancipation has been celebrated continuously since the year it took force, a unique and historic distinction certainly deserving of more than a brief notice on the final weekend of this summer. For a visit to Emancipation is a journey into the experience of generations of individuals who seized their sudden freedom to make lives for themselves, worship and establish a culture of their own.
They confronted hardships, hostility and rejection, but became a part of our nation, with an influence that cannot be denied. These are the factors the organizers of Emancipation have brought to each celebration so that all may learn and ponder the lessons the proclamation has offered us. For declaring an end to the slave status of African-Americans in the midst of a civil war was a momentous move not only for U.S. society at the time, but also militarily and politically. Since his election in 1860, Lincoln was pressured to either liberate slaves or leave things as they were, even if the conflict that erupted a month following his inauguration had been inspired by the “peculiar institution” of slave ownership, primarily in the southern U.S. I’ve heard other theories about the causes of the War Between the States, but the record proves the consuming passion of the time was to either abolish slavery or allow it to continue.
Lincoln was not at first anxious to issue a blanket proclamation deciding the fate of the enslaved, but as the war deepened and bode no good fortune to the Union side, the president had to make a decision, one he approached with all seriousness as he considered support for abolition, its opponents and its impact on the national destiny. Upon word getting out about the proclamation, Lincoln was firm in his resolve: “What I did, I did after every full deliberation, and under a very heavy and solemn sense of responsibility.” He added: “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake.”*
Indeed, the weight of Lincoln’s decision is at the very heart of the Emancipation Celebration, but so is a spirit of homecoming, hope and faith underlined with lectures, re-enactors and, of course, music. I might add it’s also a lot of fun, and encourage everyone to attend, join in and honor one of the key moves in our nation’s history.
And now for something completely different, as the comedic group Monty Python used to say, but no less historical in its intent: the Mothman Festival in downtown Point Pleasant, an examination of the events in Mason County and surrounding areas that focused on the widely-reported appearance of a winged creature in 1966-1967. A little bit of UFO convention, a portion of science fiction fandom and a soupcon of everything weird and fantastic, the festival began as a one-day event in 2002 in and around the Mothman Museum on Main Street and has grown in scope and popularity to last two full days on Saturday and Sunday, with a showing of the new documentary “The Mothman of Point Pleasant” held Friday night at the nearby State Theater, also the site for a series of lectures and presentations throughout this weekend.
I can testify from personal experience that it was a pleasure covering the 2003 festival when the Mothman sculpture by the late Bob Roach was dedicated and I had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing “The Mothman Prophecies” author John A. Keel, who passed away in 2009. Keel offered sometimes tongue-in-cheek responses to my questions, not the least of which was his answer when I asked what he thought would happen if he actually met Mothman. “I don’t know,” Keel said with a hint of a chuckle. “He’d probably eat me.”
At the same time, he reflected on his life as a writer of fact, fiction and speculation. He informed me he had written some original paperback novels in their heyday. When I mentioned I had just heard an edition of NPR’s “Fresh Air” on writers of hard-boiled crime novels of the 1950s, he smiled when the name of one of his contemporaries, Marijane Meaker, came up. Now 90, Meaker published such pulp-themed titles as “Dark Intruder” and “Come Destroy Me” under the more masculine-sounding pseudonym of Vin Packer.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I enjoy this kind of thing greatly. Do I believe it all? Perhaps not everything, but as pointed out by so many observers and investigators, there must have been something to it given the recollections of those folks who did encounter Mothman and who wouldn’t tell a falsehood if their lives depended on it. Some of these accounts in “The Mothman of Point Pleasant” were new to me when my wife and I streamed the film through Amazon earlier this year, and added a new dimension to our understanding of Mothman’s purported haunting of the old TNT site.
Volunteers and Jeff Wamsley of the the Mothman Museum, unique in itself as the only such location dedicated to the lure and lore of its subject, put a great deal of effort into the festival and if it’s your cup of tea — or if you’re simply curious — stop by. Like Emancipation, it ends later on Sunday.
* Quoted in Stephen B. Oates, “With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln,” New York: Mentor Books/New American Library, 1978, p. 349.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.