Lake County Civil War Days canceled for 'security concerns'

Citing unspecified security concerns, the Lake County Forest Preserve District has canceled this year's annual Civil War Days event.

Forest district officials did not detail the nature of the concerns but said they involve responses made after discussions earlier this month that alternately canceled the 27-year-old event, then temporarily reinstated it.

Forest district board President Angelo Kyle on Monday said Civil War Days could not continue because of concerning "vigorous conversations" made about the event. Civil War Days was scheduled for July 13 and 14 in Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.

"Some of these conversations have led to security concerns," Kyle said in a news release announcing the change. "Security concerns must always be taken seriously, making a cancellation of this year's event the prudent decision."

He did not elaborate on what those conversations entailed. Kyle has not returned messages seeking comment.

Kyle ordered the event be canceled in a June 10 posting on the district's website. The move took other commissioners by surprise as they assembled for their regularly scheduled meeting the next day. A lengthy and sometimes pointed discussion followed, traversing not only board procedures but also the value and message of the Civil War re-enactment.

"I believe it has run its course. It has fulfilled whatever its purpose was," Kyle said at the time. He said he had the authority to call off the event and made the decision because the district was under "time constraints" involving contractual agreements.

Some commissioners agreed the event needed a more involved discussion but expressed concerns over how the matter was handled.

After listening to fellow commissioners at the board meeting, Kyle reversed his stance and apologized for the confusion. He said he didn't want to expose the district to legal action regarding outstanding contracts but added "this will be the final Civil War Days."

"This is a re-enactment of a war over the enslavement of African Americans and there are some people who don't want to be reminded of that," he later said. "Some of the things that really happened are not in the history books."

John Tannahill, the district's director of public safety, said Monday there were responses to the June 11 forest district board meeting that were "very concerning," but he did not elaborate. He said there was "tension" around this year's event.

"We consulted with local and state law enforcement agencies that specialize in events like this about the responses. Based on their advice, and in an effort to keep everyone safe, canceling is the best decision," Tannahill said in the news release.

"We are not going to take a risk. It's our job to protect preserve visitors, and our employees and volunteers," he said.

Tannahill did not return messages seeking comment.

Civil War Days is billed as an educational event. Past events have featured battle re-enactments, actors portraying historical figures, period crafts and games and military and civilian encampments.

Jack Pickup, a Lake County resident and a Civil War re-enactor, said the way this was handled "was extremely underhanded."

"When the person in question could not get the event canceled through the board, he had it canceled in other ways," Pickup said. "The way the (forest preserve) president can cancel an event is by claiming it was a security issue."

Lake County Board member Dick Barr said board members received packets containing hundreds of social media posts regarding the issue and the worst he saw were threats that people were planning to demonstrate and protest.

"We live in a country where we have the right to demonstrate, the right to protest and the right to speech," Barr said. "I'm not sure why we had to cancel based on a fear of those rights being expressed."

Barr said the Illinois State's Police and the Lake County sheriff's office could handle issues relating to a protest.

But Lake County activist Ralph Peterson Jr. said in a Facebook post that "canceling was the best decision because many found the re-enactment to be culturally insensitive/not truthful as to what it was really all about and how the slaves were treated before, during and after the war ..."

Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Christopher Covelli said his office did not make any recommendations because it did not receive an official request or any documentation needed to conduct an evaluation and determine the potential credibility of any threats or safety concerns. Covelli said his office did not receive any request to provide manpower on the day the event was supposed to take place.

Monday's news release did not address what this year's cancellation will mean for future Civil War Days events.

End of an era? Lake County may end Civil War Days event

Are Civil War re-enactments culturally insensitive? Organizers say that's not the trouble they're having

Lake County Board member Angelo Kyle
  Confederate troops fire on their battlefield opponents in a portrayal of the Battle of Vicksburg during Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda. Joe Lewnard/, 2015
  A Union artillery unit fires on the Confederate line as they portray the Battle of Vicksburg during Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve ear Wauconda. Joe Lewnard/, 2015
  Ladies lounge during Civil War Days encampment in Lakewood Forest Preserve ear Wauconda. John Starks/, 2018
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