Haralson County Historical Society
On April 19, 2007 in Savannah, at the 168th annual meeting of the
Georgia Historical Society (GHS) - the oldest cultural institution in the state -
the Haralson County Historical Society (HCHS) was
honored with receipt of the prestigious
Roger K. Warlick Local History Achievement Award, for its Media Project,
While the Warlick Award can only be received by an affiliate chapter of the GHS, the story of The 1856 Handbook is more complicated and involves important contributions by people outside of the HCHS - who share in the honor of its receipt by the Society.
The story begins in the May 2006 annual report of the HCHS with the observation that 2006 is the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the creation of Haralson County, and a solicitation for celebration suggestions. At the regular June 2006 meeting of the HCHS, President Karen Higgins began organizing the effort to feature the anniversary at the Society's annual fall edition of Fair on the Square. Various ideas were explored.
A week after this meeting, HCHS Publicity Chair and Webmaster Ron Feigenblatt was attending a meeting of the Advisory Board of the Buchanan-Haralson Public Library, at which he was explained to those present how massive efforts (like the Google Books project) to digitize out-of-copyright books for free publication via the Internet were revolutionizing the provision of reading material to the public. He then noted the county anniversary and spontaneously observed how a selection of such book materials - all published in 1856 - might make for a fascinating exhibit to complement the craft-focused fair plans hatched to date. This nucleus of simple literary matter, online here, was the genesis of The 1856 Handbook.
In July, encouraged by the rich supply of 1856 political materials online, Feigenblatt proposed holding a mock 1856 presidential election as part of the festival, titled Decision 1856, and issued a casting call for participants late in the month. Retired professional actor Benjamin "Buster" Biggers was a "mystery guest" used to draw people to the early August call, which netted Julius Davenport, who would portray candidate Millard Fillmore - and win the mock election that September. The county public libraries and Tallapoosa-based artist Mary Tolleson helped publicize the casting call, while the Haralson County Chamber of Commerce sent its tourism staffer at the time, Monica Turner, to offer its support. Mr. Biggers also did videography of the candidates at the fair, out-takes from which form part of The 1856 Handbook.
Meanwhile, President Higgins was busy leading a "Haralson County 150" task force, which included Janie Holder, Greg Poteet, Gail Priest and Patrick Clarey, besides HCHS members. It was through this task force that Mr. Clarey was recruited for the role of candidate John Fremont, which included authorship of a political brochure, part of The 1856 Handbook, which he would hand out to fair-goers.
President Higgins also set HCHS Secretary Jeri Ezell to the vitally important task of designing and fabricating period costumes for the fair, toward which her husband Chris Ezell also contributed. Mr. Ezell's videography was the source material for snapshot out-takes which were used to support the nomination of The 1856 Handbook for the Warlick Award.
Casting the role of candidate and county-seat namesake James Buchanan proved the most difficult for the mock election. John Norton recruited one man and then suggested recruiting Ward Mabry when the first man could not participate. Mr. Mabry prepared a speech for the campaign which is part of The 1856 Handbook, as is a snapshot of him in costume by Jody Harper.
At the fair in September, Donny Boswell portrayed the specter of county namesake Hugh Haralson, acting as Master of Ceremonies. Karen and Helen Higgins joined Jeri and Chris Ezell in donning original 1856 costumes to enrich the atmosphere of the festival, while Ron Feigenblatt, as an overall-clad farmer of 1856, supervised the polling for the mock election. An 1856-design US flag personally donated by President Higgins decorated the speaker platform used in the mock election.
While the mock election and background political campaign materials form a cardinal feature of The 1856 Handbook, the handbook tries to survey a broad range of matters pertaining to life during 1856, concentrating on source material from that actual year whenever possible. It also boasts a substantial amount of original material by editor Feigenblatt, including an analysis of 1856's presidential voting results.
The version of The 1856 Handbook winning the Warlick Award will be archived for faithfulness, as one expects the work will continue to slowly evolve as new material is occasionally added. Feigenblatt hopes that Decision 1856 will continue to be an annual feature of Fair on the Square in Buchanan every fall, and is even now issuing a casting call for a revised 2007 production.
The Haralson County Historical Society is very proud to have earned the Roger K. Warlick Local History Achievement Award from The Georgia Historical Society for The 1856 Handbook, and sincerely thanks both its members and friends outside its membership who helped make this happy accomplishment a reality.
Dr. Ron Feigenblatt (right), editor of The 1856 Handbook, accepts the Roger K. Warlick Award on behalf of the Haralson County Historical Society on April 19. Presenting the honor at the 168th annual meeting of the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah is Dr. Stan Deaton (center), Vice President for Programs and Scholarship.