A day of history in Columbia, Richland County (+ photos and video)

ccope@thestate.comFebruary 15, 2014 

— From the Civil War to the Reconstruction era and African-American heritage, South Carolina history came to life Saturday.

We stopped by three commemorations to get a glimpse of the past.

Woodrow Wilson family home

First-grader Will Browder got to meet his favorite president, Woodrow Wilson, on Saturday.

Will attended the grand reopening of Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home after the Historic Columbia Foundation did a comprehensive rehabilitation of the house on Hampton Street. Woodrow Wilson is Will’s favorite president because he is the only one who ever had a doctorate degree, he said.

“I like that his first name started with a ‘W,’ like me,” added Will, who also one day wants become a president with a Ph.D.

Will conversed with a modern Woodrow Wilson, who also goes by the name of Ed Beardly. Beardly retired as a professor from University of South Carolina, where he began dressing up to involve students in history lessons. His acts have included Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“There’s something special about actually playing the person who lived here,” Beardly said.

The renovated house now also will serve as a museum of the Reconstruction period in Columbia and Richland County, with interactive opportunities including a digital touch screen map of Columbia’s streets and buildings from 1872.

“We’ve created a 21st century museum within a 19th century house,” said John Sherrer, Historic Columbia’s director of cultural resources.

It’s not just a house, agreed 84-year-old Fitz William McMaster Woodrow Jr. of Alexandria, Va., whose great-grandfather was an uncle of Woodrow Wilson.

“It’s an educational opportunity for everyone.”

African-American festival

A pastry fork, gas mask and traffic light have one thing in common.

They all were invented by African-Americans.

Audrey Smalls has a collection of close to 200 replicas of items invented by African-Americans, and she displayed them at the Strong Threads African American Heritage Festival & Celebration in Hopkins on Saturday.

The items help young people visualize things that were used by previous generations, such as a traditional ironing board and hot comb, said Venis Livingston, who attended the event.

“I learned how to dance with a hot comb,” Smalls joked. She said she would dance to get away from the hot device her parents used on her hair.

The festival included tours to the Barber House, which was built on land purchased in 1872 by Samuel Barber, a former slave. Tours and other events teach children about African-American history and allow students to live history, said April Morgan, a teacher at Hopkins Middle School.

Byron Brown, a junior at S.C. State University studying drama, portrayed the youngest son of Samuel Barber for the day.

“It’s truly amazing to be a part of history,” Brown said. He also emphasized the importance of remembering what ancestors and generations before him have done. For him, Sidney Poitier, the first African-American actor to win an Oscar, is one of many sources of inspiration.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to break the barriers and have the strength that we have,” Brown said.

Firing on Columbia

No, that was not another earthquake shaking windows and causing loud booms on Saturday.

It was the annual firing on Columbia. Participants re-enacted Gen. William Sherman’s firing on the city from the West Columbia side of the Congaree River.

The first cannon was fired by Billy Williams, an 88-year-old World War II veteran and Silver Star recipient.

“He might have been in World War II, but he ain’t lost the touch,” yelled someone impersonating a Union soldier immediately after the first boom.

Don Gordon, chairman for the event, agreed.

“He does still have it,” Gordon said. “He’s a stud. He was then and is now.”

Williams was a rifleman when he was in the military, so the cannon was a new experience.

“I never have shot one before,” said Williams, who found it to be extremely loud.

Kadence Fitzwater, 8, plugged her ears with her fingers.

“I actually think it’s really cool since I’m really interested in South Carolina history,” she said.

She said she often uses a metal detector in the woods with her grandfather, Gene Wideman, and they occasionally find old shells.

Kadence said it was neat to see the supplies that were used at the bridge that day.

Her grandfather said they had discussed how poor the Confederate soldiers had been and how the Union troops had superior weapons.

But Kadence had an idea for even better weapons.

“How about they think about silent cannonballs?” she said. “Just explode them without the boom.”

WATCH re-enactment

Reach Cope at 803-771-8657 or on Twitter @cassielcope.

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