Proclamation of W.Va. statehood celebrated

WHEELING – Dressed in period attire, sporting a beard and standing 6 feet 4 inches tall – the same height as President Abraham Lincoln – Fritz Klein spoke about the Civil War and the importance of uniting the country.

“It’s of inestimable value to continue this struggle to preserve this jewel. It is worth fighting for,” Klein said while portraying Lincoln at West Virginia Independence Hall Museum in downtown Wheeling.

On April 20, 1863, Lincoln proclaimed West Virginia a state, approving its secession from Virginia. On Saturday, Wheeling area residents got the chance to experience that piece of history as Klein, an actor from Springfield, Ill., portrayed the president and read the proclamation that made West Virginia the union’s 35th state. Sixty days later on June 20, 1863, the act went into effect allowing the state to separate from Virginia.

When becoming president, Lincoln said he was asked whether it was possible to preserve the constitution and lose the country at the same time.

“My conclusion was that it was not. … I’ve simply done what I deemed my duty. And I’m gratified the people of West Virginia have done the same,” he said.

And while there was much debate about the reasons for the war, he said the sole purpose was to preserve the union though he believed all should be free.

“We must save the union or we lose all. … It’s perfectly legal for West Virginia to become a state. … If we don’t give West Virginia statehood, we will lose her. That much territory given to slavery now is given to freedom,” he said.

After the event, Klein said he was recruited to play Lincoln 30 years ago in a play after he was spotted acting in a different period production while living in Hawaii. Originally from California, Klein eventually decided to move to Springfield, Ill., where Lincoln started his political career and family.

Other 150th anniversary events upcoming at the hall include: 7 p.m. May 23, “Countdown to West Virginia Statehood” by author Bob O’Connor; 7 p.m. June 6, “The Revolution That Forged a State” by scholar Ronald Lewis; 7 p.m. June 13, “The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln: Emancipation and West Virginia Statehood” by legal and historical scholar Forest Bowman; noon June 20, West Virginia Day, includes historical reenactments, speeches, a West Virginia birthday cake and more; 2 p.m. June 20, the Wildcat Regiment Band will perform Civil War era music at the hall’s third-floor courtroom; 7 p.m. June 21, the Blue-Grey Choir will perform a choral concert featuring Civil War period music, folk songs, spirituals and patriotic music.