One of the most notorious events in Southwest Virginia history was triggered by an event that happened 100 years ago Dec. 16.
A group in Carroll County is kicking off a centennial observance of the Hillsville courthouse shooting, which occurred on March 14, 1912, and left five people dead along with scars that have yet to fully heal.
While the 100th anniversary of the actual tragedy is still more than 15 months away, the Citizens Committee for the Centennial of the Courthouse Tragedy of 1912 says it actually began unfolding on Dec. 17, 1910.
On that date, two teenagers shared an apparently innocent kiss during a corn-shucking attended by many other young people in Cana. A mountain tradition allowed a boy who found a red ear of corn during such an event to kiss the girl of his choice.
But when Wesley Edwards found a red ear, he kissed another youths girlfriend, leading to a heated exchange.
The next day, those hard feelings escalated into a fight during a religious service between the girls boyfriend, his pals and Wesley and his brother Sidna.
When the Edwards brothers subsequently were arrested for their role in the fight, which some believe was politically motivated, their uncle, Floyd Allen, forcibly freed them from deputies hauling the youths on a wagon.
Allen, a prominent farmer and Democrat, later was charged with interfering with the officers and it was during his sentencing in March 1912 that the deaths occurred.
Officials including the judge, prosecutor and sheriff were killed along with a juror and a witness in another case. The fact such an incident occurred in a hall of justice made national headlines for the next month, being bumped off front pages only by the sinking of the Titanic. Allen subsequently was executed in Virginias electric chair along with his son Claude on murder charges resulting from the shooting, and other family members were imprisoned. Floyd and Claude Allen are buried in Cana.
Meanwhile, facts surrounding the tragedy continue to be debated in Carroll County, particularly with descendants of central figures still residing there.
The centennial committee is NOT celebrating this history, but is leading our citizens in an 18-month-long reflection on the significance of this event, explained Gary Marshall, the groups chairman.
We will commemorate the lives sacrificed on the altar of justice; we will honor the service of law-enforcement; we will uphold the principles of our democracy.
Marshall said Thursday that the centennial committee was planning a community corn-shucking in commemoration of the catalytic event on Dec. 16, 1910. But it could not line up musical talent for the gathering along with crafts exhibitors who largely are preoccupied with holiday shows.
To mark the significance of the corn-shucking, the Citizens Committee for the Centennial of the Courthouse Tragedy is launching a series of commemorative postal envelopes that feature the artwork of committee member and tragedy historian Ron Leonard.
Each souvenir envelope contains a two-page flier with a historical description and interpretation of the event being remembered. These history segments are previously unpublished and the work of a balanced committee of tragedy specialists, family members who are involved and others.
The first set of two cachet envelopes were made available Dec. 20 from the Carroll County Historical Society Museum, located in the historic courthouse on Main Street in downtown Hillsville. They can be obtained during regular office hours, Tuesday through Saturday.
Souvenir envelopes also can be ordered by mail at: Centennial Committee, c/o Historical Society Museum, P.O. Box 937, Hillsville, Va., 24343.
Along with the corn-shucking, the souvenir envelopes depict events at Thomas School House, where the Dec. 18, 1910, brawl occurred during the church service.
Marshall said Thursday that various activities are planned between now and March 14, 2012, including a special observance on the eve of the centennial featuring various dignitaries.
A symposium also will be held to allow lingering divergent viewpoints surrounding the tragedy to be aired, Marshall said.
Theres still issues to discuss, to debate, to analyze, to digest, he explained Thursday. I think a scholarly look at them would be helpful.