Is Civil Wars Days returning to Lake County? Board directs the staff to plan on it

  • Weeks after calling off this year's event amid safety concerns and complaints about cultural insensitivity, Lake County forest district leaders are poised to resume Civil War Days in 2020.

    Weeks after calling off this year's event amid safety concerns and complaints about cultural insensitivity, Lake County forest district leaders are poised to resume Civil War Days in 2020. Daily Herald File Photo, 2014

Updated 8/5/2019 6:53 PM

Canceled this year over safety concerns and complaints of cultural insensitivity, Lake County's Civil War Days will return next year, most likely at Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.

Exactly what it will entail, however, is to be determined.


After a special meeting lasting more than four hours Monday, Lake County Forest Preserves commissioners gave the district staff the go-ahead to plan for the event's return after a one-year hiatus.

Civilian and military re-enactors, which play a vital role in the event in many ways, are expected to be part of a revised version of Civil War Days. Whether that will include a battle re-enactment, a mainstay of the event for 27 years, remains to be seen.

Details of the event will be worked out in coming months by the forest district board's operations committee, with expected input from an array of perspectives.

"We have a number of names we'll be reaching out to," Executive Director Ty Kovach said after the marathon session, which included public comment from more than 30 people -- an overwhelming majority in support of resuming the event.

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"At this point, our next charge is to bring more community voices into the discussion so we can decide how to move forward," said Nan Buckardt, the forest preserve district's director of education. "We don't know how it will look to a visitor next year."

Forest board President Angelo Kyle, who ignited the debate over Civil War Days when he called for its cancellation in June, said he would abide by the board's decision.

"I will not contest," he said.

Within 48 hours, Kyle reversed his June directive to cancel the event, but then the district staff called it off after a firestorm followed the initial decision. Kyle, who has since apologized to the public, staff and others, was praised Monday by some commissioners for doing that.

"No matter what your position is, I respect your position," he said.

Lakewood, the district's largest forest preserve, is undergoing a master planning process and as a result may not be available for Civil War Days going forward.


About 100 members of the public attended the Monday meeting, forcing the meeting to be moved a larger room at its Libertyville headquarters.

Those who spoke, including several re-enactors, overwhelmingly were in favor of the event returning in some fashion, saying it teaches an important lesson about a tumultuous time in American history.

Forest district staff members and others noted the event is more than just a battle with re-enactors, depicting many facets of that era, including medical treatment, cooking and carpentry, for example.

"The Civil War was not just about the military, and our event isn't, either," Buckardt said during a presentation before public comment.

But a few contended the event had a racist overtones.

"We don't have any problem with the re-enactment, but tell the truth," charged Waukegan activist Ralph Peterson Jr., who told forest board members June 11 that Civil War Days is culturally insensitive to black people. "The whole story is not being told."

George Duberstein, a Hainesville village trustee, said slavery was "an abomination," but canceling the event does not help combat racism.

"'Education' is a key word here," he said, adding that his village will be hosting a Civil War encampment and battle Oct. 19 and 20.

As an intelligence analyst during the Cold War, Duberstein said he studied the Soviet publication Pravda.

"That doesn't mean I was a communist," he said.

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